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By Jared Hrabak, Consulting Cybersecurity Engineer
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Although it was several years ago now, there’s no doubt that the SolarWinds hack left a lasting memory for most of us in the industry when they unknowingly sent malicious code to more than 18,000 customers while updating their software. Clients impacted by the malicious code included the U.S. Department of Homeland Security themselves and other government agencies, as well as private entities such as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Deloitte, and more. The unprecedented size and seriousness of the attack served as a reminder of what could happen if we don’t adequately prepare.

At the time, many questioned why six months wasn’t enough time to detect, stop, and remediate a broad-scale attack; however, in the complex world of software and application development, it clearly was not. That is why those of us involved in DevOps processes must be so vigilant in order to protect our companies and our clients.

With that in mind, here are four key tips to help secure your DevOps processes so you can minimize risk and hopefully NOT be the next company to end up making worldwide notoriety for the wrong reasons.

Tip #1: Integrate Security as an Inherent Part of DevOps from the Start

DevOps requires speed and agility and is far too important to leave out of the security mix. Moreover, DevOps teams have some unique needs and are often under pressure to release code updates, so it’s not uncommon for engineers to shortcut and sidestep typical security processes to meet deadlines.

78% of IT professionals globally feel that their organization is vulnerable to a multi-staged security attack that would affect the full application stack over the next year.
Cisco AppDynamics

DevOps teams are essentially ‘caught in the crossfire’ between a demanding and relentless release schedule and trying to follow security best practices that are often perceived to slow them down. You can understand why this kind of culture and mind shift is necessary.

However, many organizations are now seeing the forest through the trees and are focusing on “DevSecOps” in a deliberate effort to embed security in their processes and culture. While DevSecOps isn’t universally adopted, it’s rapidly gaining traction. Industry leaders like Google, Netflix, and Amazon have successfully implemented DevSecOps, demonstrating its effectiveness in large-scale environments.

What’s more, DevSecOps can provide beyond security. Gartner studies show it can lead to faster development cycles by minimizing bottlenecks and rework and fewer vulnerabilities by remediating security issues before they reach production. When security becomes a core principle, the overall quality and reliability of the application are improved.

Tip #2: Avoid Common Security Shortcuts Across the Board

Given the relentless pressure DevOps teams are faced with, it’s easy to understand why they sometimes sidestep and shortcut common security protocols. I recommend spending some critical thinking time on how to avoid security missteps such as:

  • Insecure container image registries: These repositories often lack robust access controls, allowing attackers to inject malware into container images used in applications.
  • Weak API authentication mechanisms: APIs without proper authentication and authorization can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or functionalities.
  • Hardcoded credentials: Storing credentials directly in code is a security nightmare. If an attacker gains access to the code, they can easily steal the credentials and use them to compromise systems.
  • Pairing auto-scaling servers with secrets management: When auto-scaling servers are provisioned, they may require access to secrets like database credentials. If secrets management isn’t integrated with the auto-scaling process, these credentials could be exposed or stored insecurely on the newly provisioned servers.
  • Short-cutting privileged access management (PAM): PAM solutions centralize and manage privileged accounts, ensuring only authorized users have access to critical systems and data. Bypassing PAM by granting excessive permissions to regular user accounts creates unnecessary risk and increases the attack surface.
  • Avoiding encryption methodologies: Data encryption, both at rest and in transit, is fundamental to protecting sensitive information. Skipping encryption steps to save time or resources leaves sensitive data vulnerable to unauthorized access or interception.

The truth is that security needs to be baked into the process, not bolted on as an afterthought.

Tip #3: Leverage Advanced Application Security Tools

Applications are a top attack vector, and researchers are finding more and more security flaws not only in traditional web applications but also in the APIs and open-source software (OSS) used to accelerate time to market. According to the Verizon 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, web applications accounted for more than 60% of breaches. The ubiquity of OSS in today’s codebases presents even more concern as a staggering 84% of the audited codebases had at least one known open source vulnerability, and 74% contained high-risk vulnerabilities, according to the 2024 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis report.

These studies highlight the potential for serious security breaches and the need to mitigate security threats in the application development process. However, as the security world evolves, new categories are emerging to help answer the call. Alongside Application Security (AppSec) and Application Security Testing (AST), operations teams can leverage technology to ease and automate SecDevOps practices, such as:

  • Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP): Tools that continuously monitor applications at runtime, detecting and blocking attacks in real time.
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Security: Tools that integrate security checks into the IaC pipeline, ensuring infrastructure configurations are secure from the beginning.
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Tools that continuously monitor cloud deployments, identifying misconfigurations and potential security vulnerabilities.

The adoption of these types of tools and platforms is likely to emerge as a new baseline standard in DevSecOps, and I’m sure it will continue to mature over time. The big message here is that you’re no longer on your own when it comes to application security, and IT can ease the burden by facilitating a tool evaluation based on your unique environment and needs.

Tip #4: It’s Time to Shift-Left

The Shift-Left model means moving your security protocols into the early development phase of your software development life cycle. It emphasizes integrating security testing and practices throughout the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC), as opposed to solely focusing on security during the later stages. This means proactively identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities as early as possible in the development process before the code is even written, helping reduce risk, provide faster remediation, and improve efficiency.

Shift-Left benefits not just security but also developer experience and overall software quality by providing:

  • Early Feedback: Security issues are identified and addressed early in the development cycle, preventing costly rework later.
  • Developer Empowerment: Developers are equipped with the tools and knowledge to write secure code, fostering a culture of security ownership.
  • Improved Application Quality: Security becomes an integral part of the development process, leading to more reliable and secure applications.

As mentioned earlier, the key to effective security lies in baking security in rather than bolting it on. Deploying pre-release testing tools and embracing the value of early remediation are crucial aspects of the Shift-Left approach. This proactive stance helps mitigate risks and ensure the delivery of secure and reliable software applications.

Embrace Security as a Key Component of Your DevOps Process

Don’t wait for security vulnerabilities to surface later in the development process—or worse yet, to land you in the headlines. Implementing these four key tips will help you lay a strong foundation for securing your DevOps and organization as a whole.

How secure are your DevOps practices?

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If you need help evaluating your DevOps security process and protocols, our team of experts is ready to help. Contact us today at (800) 544-8877.

“As a Cybersecurity Engineer, Jared partners with clients to help them identify product solutions that match their cybersecurity governance, risk and compliance objectives. He enjoys educating and advocating for a successful cybersecurity practice by focusing on client success. Jared brings a wealth of experience in content filtering, cybersecurity operations, and military service to help put clients on the path to success.”

Jared HrabakConsulting Cybersecurity Engineer

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