CI/CD Security - How to Secure Your CI/CD Pipeline

August 26, 2021

Introduction

The CI/CD pipeline is the pillar of software development and one of the main components of the DevOps pipeline. The continuous integration/delivery (or deployment) process defines a series of steps for software engineers to deliver new programs.

Although the production efficiency increases with CI/CD, this process is prone to security neglect. Databases, proprietary code, credentials, keys, secrets, and passwords used in the production and testing environments are also a security risk.

This article explains CI/CD security, the challenges, and best practices to secure your software production pipeline.

CI/CD Security - How to Secure Your CI/CD Pipeline

What is CI/CD security?

CI/CD security represents the steps to protect the automated software production pipeline. Although overall software security is important, the delivery line for software updates and patches must be reliable as well.

The CI/CD pipeline is the flow of automatic application integration and delivery (or deployment). The method implements frequent updates and bug fixes to fit clients' needs. As a result, the main focus is on the complete software delivery automation for continual production.

However, the overlooked factor in the CI/CD pipeline is the pipeline the security itself. Through test automation and continual monitoring, security administrators should implement vulnerability assessment through various steps in software development.

Common Security Challenges in a CI/CD Pipeline

There are numerous security challenges to consider when shielding the CI/CD pipeline:

  • Data compliance in the non-production environment is a crucial challenge. The more people work on the same project, the higher the number of possible breach points appear.
  • Well-defined access control rules and password policies for all users are a must-have. In case of compromise, a prepared incident response plan should exist.
  • Automation and orchestration require numerous pieces of software and one-off code bits. Continual monitoring and auditing of code and third-party software are necessary.

The fast-paced environment with constant updates leaves a lot of room for accidents and unintended compromises. The best practice is to build security into the pipeline.

CI/CD Security Pipeline Best Practices

The best CI/CD security practices depend on the infrastructure of the DevOps channel. Below are ten general good-to-know guides to securing the pipeline when working in a CI/CD environment.

1. Map and Model Threats

Conduct research into potential security threats. Identify points where additional security layers are necessary, model those threats, and create exercises to raise awareness of potential security problems.

Most security threats are at connection points. Anything that connects to the pipeline should be patched and updated regularly. Block any devices that fail to meet security requirements accordingly.

2. Safeguard Before Committing

Create security checks before committing code to a version control system. Most IDEs provide security plugins and warn of code vulnerabilities as you type.

Peer-review work from inexperienced developers before committing code to Git. Use smaller chunks of code and checklists to ensure the code follows all security protocols and standards. Also, avoid copying and publishing API keys, tokens, and other sensitive data.

3. Review Committed Code

Once you commit the code, review again to confirm everything is reasonable. Use static code analysis tools to receive feedback for the commit. Analysis tools do not require the application to be running, and many provide helpful advice along with the report.

Send the code scan reports to the security team to check for any follow-ups. Use bug tracking systems and log the results to ensure any bugs are fixed and not forgotten. Furthermore, analyze the Git history for any suspicious activity.

4.  Secure your Git

Git is a notably a high-value target for hackers. Make sure developers are educated about how to use Git and informed about the company procedures at all times.

Use the .gitignore file to prevent accidental commits of standard and generated cached files. Have a locally stored and secured backup as part of the overall backup policy.

5. Check for open-source vulnerabilities

Open-source libraries are a crucial component in building applications. However, third-party software is prone to code changes, which can impact the security of your application indirectly.

Make sure to analyze and scan open-source packages for known security issues. Use software composition analysis tools to analyze third-party software, components, and files.

Lastly, flag all issues to keep the code quality at a maximum.

6. Automate with IaC

Infrastructure as code (IaC) provides consistent development and testing conditions. Instead of manually setting up the environment, IaC tools such as Ansible, Terraform, or Puppet help continually supply a secure infrastructure automatically.

As an added benefit, IaC works seamlessly in the DevOps toolchain. Continually tested reusable configurations and enforced procedures assure excellent production results and quality code.

7. Monitor After Deployment

After deploying an application, scan and monitor continually to prevent any threats. Monitoring helps discover and remediate suspicious activity based on provided data. 

Grafana and Kibana monitoring tools interface comparison for CI/CD Security

Use the tools such as Grafana or Kibana to create interactive visual dashboards to get alerts of any suspicious activity.

8. Separate Tasks and Enforce Permissions

Permissions slow down and even interfere with the testing process. However, establishing and enforcing permissions to execute only the essential tasks is crucial from a security aspect.

When it comes to Git, define access roles per repository and implement two-factor authentication for each commit. Try to separate tasks to keep the pipeline secure while still having continual delivery.

9. Keep Credentials Safe

Secure all credentials that provide access to software and services, such as API tokens, passwords, SSH keys, encryption keys, etc. Improperly securing credentials provides the path for hackers, leading to data breaches and intellectual theft.

Therefore, use a key management platform to access keys in a secure and automated fashion. The software ensures secrets are used when explicitly requested. For managing multiple complex passwords, use password management software.

10. Diligently Clean Up

In a CI/CD environment, processes and tasks move quickly without the proper clean-up. Make sure to shut down any leftover temporary resources such as VMs, containers, or processes. Moreover, implement appropriate security maintenance in general and remove any redundant utilities and tools.

Conclusion

The CI/CD pipeline security is a process that varies from system to system. This article provided an insight into the procedure of securing a CI/CD pipeline.

If you're ready to research specific tools, check out our list of the 22 best CI/CD tools.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is an aspiring technical writer at phoenixNAP and a data nerd. Her background in Electrical Engineering and Computing and her teaching experience give her a unique set of skills - being able to easily explain complex technical concepts through her content.
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