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Top Eight Methods to Secure DevOps Pipelines

DevOps has been gaining great popularity in recent years because IT decision-makers have started realizing the benefits that it offers. DevOps is based on automation and cross-functional collaboration. However, not many IT executives are aware of the security risks in a DevOps pipeline. This article reviews the basic concepts of a DevOps pipeline and suggests eight ways for securing your pipeline.

What Is DevOps?

The term DevOps merges software development and information technology (IT) operations into one unit. The goal of the DevOps methodology is to improve the speed of software delivery by creating a continuous loop of collaboration and feedback. This continuous loop is achieved through the integration and automation of different development pipelines.

A DevOps software deployment pipeline is a set of solutions and practices that enable developers to quickly build, test, and deploy code. Different software development approaches use different pipelines to achieve their goal.

A traditional waterfall approach separates project activities into sequential phases. Each phase depends on the outcome of the previous one. For example, developers are responsible for stage one. The testing department handles stage two, and the operations handles stage three. The operations team has to wait until development and testing are done with their tasks. If the testing is delayed, operations won’t be able to start on time.

A DevOps pipeline is based on the agile approach. The DevOps pipeline creates a continuous feedback loop in all development stages. The DevOps pipeline eliminates backlogs by providing a clear workflow and communication. The most popular DevOps pipeline is Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD).

Four Basic DevOps Pipeline Stages 

Develop

Software developers write their code and push it into a source control repository system like GitHub. After the code is uploaded to the repository, developers implement a source code integration. There are many different code repository and version control services available on the market. Consider factors like your project and team size, release schedules, and so on, before selecting the most suitable service for your needs.

Build

After development, developers use the integrated code in the source code repository from the previous phase to build the application.

Test

Testing is the next step in the DevOps pipeline. Testers execute different tests like functional tests, unit tests, and system tests on the build from the previous phase. Any issues found at this phase are sent back to developers for resolution.

Deploy

Once the operations team creates and configures the production environment, they can deploy the final version of the build.

To conclude, the DevOps pipeline starts from uploading the code into the source control repository, and ends when the product is released to end users. However, this is not a consecutive work process. The feedback loop connects all DevOps pipeline stages and ensures a continuous application delivery process.

How to Secure the DevOps Pipeline

The following tips can help you address DevOps pipeline security risks and ensure that any vulnerabilities are handled properly.

1. Adopt a DevSecOps Culture

Effective collaboration across different teams is the key to integrating security into the entire DevOps pipeline. This requires a culture in which everyone complies with organizational security practices. Security professionals and other employees need to obtain new skills and to adopt the DevSecOps approach through dedicated training. Security teams need to learn how to write code and work with APIs, while developers need to learn how to automate security tasks.

2. Establish Credential Controls

Security managers need to make sure that the controls and access to different environments is centralized. To achieve this, managers have to create a transparent, and collaborative environment to ensure that developers understand the scope of their access privileges.

3. Shift Security Left

Shifting security left means prioritizing security as a part of the application’s design instead of leaving it to the end of the development pipeline. Traditional security is established in the form of policies and guidelines. However, these policies are checked only after the development stage.

The “shift left” method encourages developers to implement security requirements as part of the application's design. As a result, security requirements are met earlier in the development pipeline. Achieving a shift-left approach in security, and overcoming DevOps security challenges, requires sharing of security knowledge and strong teamwork.

4. Consistent Management of Security Risks

Establish a clear, easy-to-understand set of procedures and policies for cybersecurity such as configuration management, access controls, vulnerability testing, code review, and firewalls. Ensure that all company personnel are familiar with these security protocols. In addition, you should keep track of compliance by maintaining operational visibility.

5. Software Supply Chain Security

Developers frequently use open-source frameworks, libraries, and code to increase speed and efficiency. There are millions of open source projects that provide convenient access to ready-made functionality. However, the integration of open source components into the software supply chain creates many challenges for security teams.

Security teams need to prevent open source vulnerabilities in DevOps supply chains with clear guidelines and policies. You should encourage visibility into all software dependencies by using build automation tools. Container technology can also help isolate vulnerabilities and reduce potential damage.

It is also prudent to advise developers that they should only use open source components that they fully trust. This means applying the latest security patches promptly to existing components and regularly checking vulnerability databases for disclosed vulnerabilities before using new open source components.

6. Automation

Security operations teams need to keep up with the fast pace of the DevOps process. Automation of your security tools and processes can help you scale and speed up your security operations. You should also automate your code analysis, configuration management, vulnerability discovery and fixes, and privileged access. Automation simplifies the process of vulnerability discovery and identification of potential threats. Moreover, automation enables developers and security teams to focus on other tasks by eliminating human error and saving time.

7. Vulnerability Management

You should have a mechanism in place to assess, scan, and remediate vulnerabilities across the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This mechanism ensures that all code is secure before deployment. The process usually involves attack simulation techniques like penetration testing to identify weaknesses so you can fix them. Security teams should continue running tests to identify vulnerabilities and other issues after deployment. These tests enable them to apply patches when needed.

8. Privileged Access Management

You should limit privilege access rights to reduce potential attacks. For instance, you can restrict developers and testers access to specific areas. You can also remove administrator privileges on end-user devices, and set up a workflow check-out process. Additionally, you should safely store privileged credentials and monitor privileged sessions to verify that all activity is legitimate.

DevOps pipelines enable teams to automate software development workflows and save time. The fundamental value of DevOps is speed to market. However, companies that do not incorporate security into every stage of their development and operations pipelines risk losing the value of DevOps. To ensure a secure pipeline, you need to adopt a DevSecOps model, enable privileged access management, and secure your software supply chain.

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