Integrating security into DevOps practices

DevOps as the cultural and technological shift in the software development has generated a huge space for improvements in the neighboring areas. To name one – Application security.

Since DevOps is embedded into every step of an idea on its way to the customer, it can be also used as the framework for driving security enhancements with the reduced costs – since automation and continuous delivery are built for the CI/CD needs. With a gentle security seasoning, an existing infrastructure will bring value to securing the product.

Where to start

As I said, we want security to affect all or most of those steps where DevOps transformation is already bringing value. Let’s just take a look at what we have on an abstract DevOps CD pipeline:

ci_insecure

It is a pretty straightforward deployment pipeline. It starts with requirements that are implemented into the code, which is covered with unit tests and built. The resulting artifact is deployed to staging where tested with automation, and also a code review takes place. When it is all done and succeeded, the change is merged to master, integration tests are running on the merge commit and artifacts are deployed to Production.

Secure CI/CD

Now, making no changes to the CD flow, we want to make the application more secure. Boxes in red are security features proposed to be added to the pipeline:

ci_secure

Security requirements

On the requirements planning stage (it can be a backlog grooming or sprint meeting), we instruct POs and engineers to analyze the security impact of the proposed feature and put mitigations/considerations into the task description. This step requires the team to understand the security profile of the application, the attacker profile and also have in place a classification of threats based on different factors (data exposure, endpoints exposure etc). This step requires some preliminary work to be done and is often ignored in the Agile environments. However, with a security embedded into the requirements, it becomes so much simpler for an engineer to actually fix possible issues before it gets exploited by an attacker. According to the famous calculation of the cost of fixing a possible failure, adding security to the design costs the less and brings most of the value.

In my experience, a separate field in the PBI or a dedicated section in the PBI template needs to be added to make sure the security requirements are not ignored.

Secure coding best practices

For an engineer who implements the feature, it is essential to have a reference how to make this or that particular security-related decision basing on a best practices reference document or guidance.  It can be a best-practices standard maintained by the company or the industry – but the team must agree on which particular practice/standard to follow. It should answer simple but obvious questions – for example, how to secure API? How to store password? When to use TLS?

Implementing this step brings consistency into secure side of the team’s coding. Also, it educates engineers and integrates best security coding practices into their routines forming a security-aware mindset.

Security-related Unit testing

This step assumes that we cover the highly risked functions and features of the code with unit tests first. It is important to maintain the tests fresh and increase coverage alongside with the ongoing development. One of the options is that for some risky features adding security unit tests is required for passing Code review.

Security-related Automated testing

In this step, the tests cover different scenarios of using/misusing the product. The goal is to make sure the security issues are addressed and verified with automation. Authorization, authentication, sensitive data exposure – to name a few areas to start with.

This set of tests needs to exist separately from the general test set providing visibility into the security testing coverage. Needs for implementing new automated security tests can be specified on the Requirements design stage and verified during Code review.

Static code analysis

This item doesn’t exist on the diagram but can also be mentioned. Security-related rules need to be enabled in the Static code analysis tool and be part of the quality gateway which determines whether a change is ready for production. There is a vast amount of different plugins and tools that allow performing automated analysis and fix what human eye may miss.

Security Code review

This code review needs to be done by a security-minded person or security champion from a specific AppSec team (if there is any). It is important to differ it from an ordinary CR and focus on the security impact and possible code flaws. Also, a person performing the review makes sure the Secure requirements are addressed, required unit/system tests are in place and the feature is good to go into the wild.

Security-related Automated testing

Similarly to automated test in the previous step with the only difference that here we test the system as the whole, after merging the change to the master.

Results

After all, we managed to reuse the existing process with adding a few key points related to security with clear rules and visible outcomes. DevOps is an amazing way helping us build a better product, and adding more improvements on this way on-the-go has never been easier.

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