How to Overcome DevOps Security Challenges

How to Overcome DevOps Security Challenges

How to Overcome DevOps Security Challenges

DevOps is a set of practices that promotes better collaboration between the Development and Operations teams.

Organizations are continuously adopting DevOps as an integral part of their business culture. The integration of DevOps tools and processes is considered an essential step by organizations today. It helps them keep up with the demand to build and deploy innovative applications with greater agility and frequency.

However, with the array of benefits that DevOps offers, (such as a collaborative work environment, and a faster delivery process), the concern for security risks and vulnerabilities is also increasing significantly. 

Traditional security tools and processes are unable to keep up with the rapid pace of DevOps. For example, a code scanning tool may take hours to run, however, this isn’t ideal when the code is deployed 10-100 times a day. 

Malicious attacks on the application layer are on the rise, especially with dynamic business needs and evolving infrastructural changes. 

DevOps tools and processes empower enterprises with innovative ideas such as enhanced collaborations. They can also support faster deliveries. But companies also need to address the security risks associated with DevOps. 

Enterprises need to implement smarter and stronger security measures to ensure secure applications. Adding security measures into a traditional software development lifecycle (SDLC) was difficult enough with monthly or quarterly releases. Now you can imagine how difficult it must be to add security into DevOps, which aims for several releases in a day. 

The fast-paced DevOps workflow calls for tools and processes that are able to keep up with its speed of development and deployment.  

Before we discuss the different types of DevOps security challenges and how to overcome them, let's take a brief look at what DevOps is all about.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices that promotes better collaboration between the Development and Operations teams. It aims to eliminate the silos that used to exist between these teams to increase the speed of delivery and deployment of applications and services. 

As great as it sounds, DevOps teams also have to deal with a number of challenges every day. Some of these complexities include:

  • The challenge of releasing software rapidly
  • The mounting pressure of finding the best tools to automate tasks
  • The demand for continuous deployment

All of these factors along with the high speed of deployments leave developers and security teams with less time to manage security issues.

Potential issues may arise at a later stage in the production environment, and this might lead to an increase in security vulnerabilities, exposing the software to malicious attacks. 

By integrating security into DevOps, you can mitigate these risks and detect potential vulnerabilities early in the development lifecycle.  

You need to ensure that the processes of the SDLC are in place and that each stage is properly evaluated for vulnerabilities. The identification of issues during an early stage in the SDLC not only helps promote faster deliveries but also reduces costs. 

The DevSecOps Community Survey 2018 reported that, although organizations are aware of the importance of security in a DevOps culture, they don’t get enough time to work on security matters.

3 Major DevOps Security Challenges and How to Overcome Them

There are several challenges that organizations may face while working with DevOps. Let’s take a closer look at three of the biggest DevOps security challenges and actionable tips to overcome them.

1. Security Teams Struggle to Work With DevOps Teams

DevOps brings software development and IT teams together to work on a common goal; to make the software development cycle faster and more reliable. 

DevOps aims for Infrastructure as Code (IaC), which is the management of Infrastructure in a descriptive model, as code. 

IaC is a key DevOps practice that is used in conjunction with continuous delivery. It contains networks, load balancers, virtual machines, and connection topology. 

IaC uses the same versioning DevOps uses for source code. An IaC model generates the same environment every time it is used. 

However, security teams struggle with the highly dynamic nature of DevOps and IaC as well. 

Due to this dynamic nature of IaC, multiple servers can come up and go down all at the same time. This frequent movement makes it difficult to implement normal security practices as traditional approaches of scanning, configuring, and hardening servers no longer work as well. 

Implementing IaC as a part of DevOps in security is a major paradigm shift, one which some security professionals struggle with. However, since the servers are defined in code, IaC can actually help security teams detect and see changes in the configuration without much hassle. 

When it comes to the overall security of the software lifecycle, security teams work in a different manner. They often follow a sequential methodology to approach application security in software. They run tests on individual as well as batch units of applications to check if all of the features are working properly. 

This can lead to the delayed identification of vulnerabilities by the security team. That and the rapid deployment by the DevOps team can create friction between the two teams. 

A lack of collaboration closes doors for security teams to work along with DevOps teams at a faster pace. 

Solution

Involving the security team in the software development lifecycle early can assist in the quick detection of vulnerabilities or processes that may have security implications. 

Once the security team identifies potential vulnerabilities or threats to the system, they can then flag them for closer review. This will help them gain insights into the code in a detailed manner. 

Similar to the DevOps approach, security teams should adopt automation tools and tactics that can help test code and find vulnerabilities. This can enable them to work along with the DevOps team so that businesses don’t have to compromise security.

Developers should also utilize tools to identify and remediate coding errors while they are writing the code. This will reduce minor bugs and threats that may arise at a later stage in the SDLC. 

Adapting to new development technologies such as microservices, containerization, and design patterns such as feature toggles can also help secure DevOps. 

DevOps teams should also take equal responsibility for security instead of putting it on the security department alone. Collaboration between teams is an integral part of building a secure system known as DevSecOps.

2. Lack Of Security Professionals 

According to ESG’s recent survey of IT professionals, 53% of respondents raised their hands for a lack of cybersecurity skills in their organizations.

In times where enterprises are looking for quick and better software deployment solutions, it becomes difficult to scout for knowledgeable security professionals fit for DevOps.

In DevOps, security teams need to be embedded with infrastructure and developers. But there is a huge scarcity of experienced security professionals which makes it difficult for organizations to integrate DevOps throughout their SDLCs. 

Additionally, the lack of security awareness and training among developers and operations teams leads to more responsibility for the security team. In fact, in many organizations, the security team is solely responsible for maintaining security standards and monitoring the overall security of the organization. 

Solution

Security professionals need to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving DevOps industry. As an organization or a business leader, you should consider investing time and resources into teaching your security team about relevant tools (e.g., IaC) and processes that can be used in DevOps. 

DevOps with IaC is a powerful tool that enables the security team to easily read the code and understand the application’s configuration. It lets them know exactly when a server is being brought out of a standard approved configuration. 

Similarly, more security training and activities should be conducted to educate the development and operations teams about better security. This will enable your DevOps team to help facilitate security without relying completely on the security team.

Moreover, it will also allow security professionals to focus on more troublesome aspects of security.

Learning a new methodology such as DevOps might seem a bit intimidating at first. However, DevOps is here to stay and it’s completely worth learning how it can transform your business workflow and increase efficiency.

3. Organizations Still Use Outdated Security Practices

According to new research by Cyber adAPT and Ovum, 31% of organizations still use outdated cybersecurity tools. Having poor cybersecurity practices or outdated tools in place can put your organization and its data at risk of cyberattacks.  

Some of the common attacks include fileless attacks. These types of attacks are known for their notoriety as they don’t install new software on the user’s computer, and may go undetected by antivirus tools. 

Fileless attacks also dodge whitelisting, a process that only allows authorized applications to run on the system. Instead, they take advantage of whitelisted applications that are already authorized and installed on the system.

For instance, fileless attacks can target the already existing browser vulnerabilities to run malicious code, or use weaknesses in Microsoft's Powershell utility, or Microsoft Word macros and access the user’s data. 

Attackers exploit these types of software weaknesses to gain access to the user's data or system. Therefore, a lack of better security practices for DevOps processes makes the software more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Solution

In the current business landscape, where organizations heavily rely on DevOps and Agile processes, security practices should also be updated so that they can be seamlessly integrated into the rapid deployment and development processes of DevOps and Agile, respectively. 

Organizations should also educate their security teams about new types of cyberattacks and how to protect their software from them. 

For instance, to combat fileless attacks, major antivirus vendors such as McAfee are adding behavior-based analytics in addition to signature-based defenses. You should also ensure that your operating system and software applications are continuously patched and updated.

Along with this, continuous tracking of whether all security protocols are being followed helps build overall better security for the organization. 

Moreover, update your cybersecurity methods and integrate automated security testing tools to help your team. Many of these automation tools upgrade themselves based on current security demands, which can be a huge advantage for them.

Secure Your DevOps Culture Now

The DevOps approach has led to the rise of many security challenges. However, it also gives you ways to overcome them.

You can adopt new automation tools and tactics to cope with the current DevOps security challenges. You need to ensure that your security team and DevOps team work together to enhance productivity without compromising software security.

Are you facing any other DevOps security challenges that have not been mentioned above? Please feel free to discuss them in the comments below.

Posted by Aaron Cure

Aaron Cure

Aaron Cure is the Principal Security Consultant at Cypress Data Defense and an instructor and contributing author for the Dev544 Secure Coding in .NET course.
After 10 years in the U.S. Army, I decided to switch my focus to developing security tools and performing secure code reviews, penetration testing, static source code analysis, and security research.

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