DevOps Security Challenges and How to Overcome Them


DevOps is helping organizations develop software faster. DevOps is a software development approach that utilizes the Agile methodology to integrate and streamline the development and operations process. The result is a faster and more efficient development process. 

The downside of DevOps is that the fast pace it promotes doesn’t cover security. The solution is to include security protocols and practices across the DevOps pipeline. If you’re interested in adopting the DevOps approach, read on to learn about the challenges that await you, and how to overcome them.

What Makes DevOps Security Different from Traditional Security?

Before the introduction of the DevOps methodology, the development process followed a “waterfall” model. The waterfall model creates a sequential system, divided into phases. The output of one phase forms the input of the next. Teams that follow a traditional waterfall model typically work independently from each other. The waterfall model often introduces security testing only during the last stages of the process. This often results in several changes until the product complies with the recommendations of the security team. The endless changes and patches make the development process longer and more expensive.

Implementing a DevOps model requires collaboration between teams across the software development lifecycle. This approach makes changes part of the development process, which helps produce a secure product faster.

Automation is also a critical part of the DevOps process, through the use of Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD). Continuous testing forms part of the CI/CD model, implementing tests at set intervals during the pipeline.

5 DevOps Security Challenges

DevOps has become the standard of software development in the past years. Introducing DevOps security presents its own set of challenges, as explained below.

  1. Faster development processThe fast pace of a DevOps process can lead to an increase in coding mistakes, which could result in undetected bugs and errors. Attackers look for coding mistakes they can exploit to gain access to digital assets.
  2. Serverless computingThe term refers to a cloud computing model where the cloud provider manages the infrastructure resources. The cloud platform also manages the security of the applications hosted in it. Migrating to a serverless computing environment presents some challenges for organizations. When migrating applications or data to the cloud, you can’t always be sure how the platform’s security work until deployment. Another concern is the exposure of sensitive data during migration.
  3. Collaboration challengesDevOps requires the collaboration of two different teams: development and operations. Considering that they are used to working in a siloed way, unifying their processes can be challenging. Undefined roles and policies can lead to gaps in security.
  4. The interconnectedness of the DevOps processOne of the characteristics of DevOps is that requires the constant collaboration of the teams. This highly interconnected environment allows for the exchange of privileged information. Teams share account credentials, tokens, and SSH keys. Systems such as applications, containers, and microservices also share passwords and tokens. A common pitfall of DevOps environments is poor secrets management. This provides a path for attackers to disrupt operations, and steal information.
  5. Implementing security in CI/CDIn a traditional siloed development environment, security has always come at the end of the pipeline. Typically, a security team performs security testing after the development stage, before sending the application into production.Integrating security into the pipeline can be challenging. By nature, security teams tend to take their time to secure every part of the code, which in turn clashes with the fast pace of the DevOps process. Security risks can arise during the integration stage until the DevOps model is fully implemented and running.

8 Security Tips for DevOps

Ensuring the security of your application development can be a daunting task. The following tips can help you avoid security issues and are a good start to revise your security practices.

  1. Assign security responsibility to one person from your DevOps teamHaving a single person in charge of the security process can ensure that teams don’t overlook security protocols. You can create a new role, or add to the existing functions of a member of the security team.
  2. Identify compliance requirements beforehandPlanning the security policy around compliance requirements saves a lot of time and headaches. You can also automate compliance reports, for maximized efficiency. For example, you can set the audit logs to upload in real-time to a read-only folder shared with the auditor. This can help you avoid the last-minute log search when it’s time for the audit.
  3. Implement threat modelingYou should visualize the entire pipeline process and how it can be attacked. Identify the weak spots, both for the product and the CI/CD pipeline. Then set up your security accordingly.
  4. Verify cloud infrastructureA best practice is to verify the compatibility of cloud security with your application requirements. This will help you ensure that your internal security practices align with the cloud provider’s. This can help you enhance your security posture.
  5. Include security early in the life cycleIncluding security tests early in the software development lifecycle can minimize the number of revisions and patches. This helps you to identify code vulnerabilities as soon as they appear.
  6. Automate as much as possibleDevOps typically promotes the use of automation tools to increase consistency. Automating security processes reduces the chances of human error. Here are some security tests you can use:
    • Static Application Security Testing (SAST)—evaluates the source code, identifying vulnerabilities.
    • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)—evaluates the applications while running, and identifies compliance and security problems.
    • Runtime Application Self Protection (RASP)—analyzes traffic and user behavior while the application is running. These tests can send alerts and respond automatically.
  7. Implement secure coding practiceOne of the core values of DevOps is to follow secure coding practices. Enforcing secure coding policies is especially important when using open-source software. Some tips for secure coding include:
    • Validate input from external sources—input validation tests input.This practice can prevent the majority of source code vulnerabilities. You should use a whitelist approach, meaning only passing data “on the list”.
    • Beware of language flaws—programming languages often have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. For instance, some are vulnerable to buffer overflow while others have flaws that make them open to attacks by code injection.
    • Use secure encryption—using existing libraries can help you ensure the safety of the encryption source. In addition, you can add the encryption faster, as you don’t have to actually create it.
    • Apply the principle of least privilege—this principle implies that every user has the minimum required permissions to complete the job.
  8. Leverage containerizationDeveloping with containers improves collaboration between teams, by letting them share their software with ease. The individuality of container building blocks enables them to be easily isolated, thus supporting security for applications and microservices.

The Bottom Line

Security is not a thing worth procrastinating on, as the consequences of a security incident can be disastrous. When implementing a DevOps model, it makes sense to include security practices and protocols from the start, to avoid stalling the development pipeline with endless changes and patches. You can integrate security testing and controls from the beginning, making changes as you go. This will result in secure and fast product delivery. Use the tips in this article to get started, and make your applications are as secure as possible.

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