Six Best Practices for Securing Your CI/CD Pipelines

January 16, 2022

CI/CD pipeline refers to a series of sequential practices comprising Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment and/or Continuous Deployment (CD). Commonly utilized by DevOps teams, the CI/CD pipeline is one of the most efficient methods to build, test and deploy code, largely via automation tools.

Leveraging CI/CD pipeline has been reliably provided to facilitate the construction and deployment of more updates (and better ones) to software. This is largely because successful CI/CD pipelines require consistent collaboration and honest implementation of Agile and DevOps principles.

Why securing your CI/CD pipelines should be top priority

To start with, DevSecOps a.k.a Development, Security and Operations is a procedural approach to development, automation and platform architecture that prioritizes security in every level of decision-making in the IT lifecycle.

Not only do security vulnerabilities put sensitive data at risk, they are expensive to fix. In 2020, the average cost of a data breach was $3.86 million. By the end of 2021, costs of dealing with cyber crime were expected to reach close to $6 trillion. 90% of web apps are assumed to be unsafe, especially via hacking. 68% of them are presumed to be vulnerable to data breach. On top of that there were more than 1000 data breaches in the US alone in 2020, which impacted over 155 million people.

Source for the numbers above

Naturally, security must necessarily be a priority for DevOps and Agile teams. In fact, a DevSecOps CI/CD pipeline is meant to be a natural extension of DevOps principles, incorporating a layer of security implementation in the existing development process. 

At a high level, the following steps are involved in DevSecOps-based pipelines:

  • Identify security issues (and hopefully solve them) early in the development cycle. This is best done when teams can independently, with minimal friction, perform security-related testing and tasks within the development pipeline.
  • It is best to integrate security-related objectives before coding begins. Incorporate threat modeling when conceptualizing the system. Aim to put linters and static analysis in place so that they can eliminate manageable issues early on.
  • Use software composition analysis to verify that open-source dependencies carry accurate and compatible licenses, and are all clear of vulnerabilities.
  • When code is pushed to the pipeline, use Static Application Security Testing (SAST) to locate weaknesses and perform another layer of software composition analysis. It is best to incorporate SAST tools into the automation pipeline, so that, after each new commit, new code is scanned for errors and exposures.
  • Once builds are completed, leverage security integration tests. Consider executing this code in an isolated container equipped to test input validation, network calls and authorization processes.
  • Move on to testing access controls and logging protocols. Ensure that access is limited to only the relevant user subset, and that the software logs necessary security and performance metrics accurately, every time.
  • Set up security tests to continue running post-production. Automate patching and configuration management so that the software has access to the latest and most secure versions of all its dependencies.

A DevSecOps CI/CD pipeline blends security objectives and measures into every stage. By leveraging automated tools, it allows rapid product delivery without compromising data defense and safety measures.

Best practices for CI/CD pipeline security

Implement the following CI/CD pipeline security best practices to ensure data safety, authenticity of processes and get the best out of DevSecOps practices.

Start with Research

Before writing a single line of code, identify key threats to the security of the pipeline and the software being developed. Locate the junctures at which additional security might be necessary, conduct threat modeling and keep a close eye on security updates and verification protocols.

Generally, any point at which the pipeline connects to a third-party tool/framework/facilitator will be prone to threat. Ensure that security patches are installed and updated regularly. Blocky all devices and connecting software that does not meet security benchmarks.

Implement rigorous access parameters

Ensure that everyone accessing the pipeline is sufficiently authenticated. Measures like one-time passwords and authenticators should be mandatory for human agents participating in the pipeline’s process.

When it comes to securing non-human access to the pipeline, i.e. access required by third-party automation tools and frameworks, evaluating machine identity is also important. Use authenticators to verify that the attributes of a container (requesting access to the pipeline) matches the attributes previously specified to the pipeline’s recognition systems.

Destroy all containers and virtual machines after they have served their purpose.

Be cautious with offering access

Be consistently aware of which individuals have access to which levels of the pipeline’s functionality. Divide and distinguish access levels based on individual roles, time of access or specific tasks. Maintain a comprehensive database for access management, and ensure that information is segmented based on access level. This is one of the most effective CI/CD security best practices that can be applied via intelligent team management. 

Implement “least privilege” as a practice

The practice of least privilege entails giving access to only the information that is needed for a particular role or task. In other words, an individual is given access to a restrictive dataset and section of the CI/CD pipeline - as much as is required to accomplish tasks or goals assigned to them. 

The practice should also extend to connected systems, devices and applications as they require permission and varying levels to access to get things done. Make sure to regularly survey and review access levels to fortify least privilege and keep the ecosystem safe. 

Keep your Git secure

For obvious reasons, Git is heavily targeted by hackers and other security threats. Every developer and tester in a project must be thoroughly educated on how to safely use Git, avoid common security pitfalls, and best practices to safeguard code on Git. 

Remember to leverage the .gitignore file to avoid accidentally committing generated and standard caches files. As part of your larger backup mechanism, implement and use a locally stored and secure backup repository. 

How Opsera can secure your CI/CD pipelines

Incorporating DevSecOps into a development pipeline can be fairly complex, especially for a team new to the approach. In fact, without the right approach to adoption, friction is a real possibility within the team. 

Start with assorting the entire adoption process into small, achievable steps. This will allow teams and stakeholders to get acquainted with DevSecOps tools, principles and practices, thus bringing about a change in team culture and individual mindset. 

At Opsera, we’ve helped numerous organizations set up a solid DevSecOps strategy. With speed and productivity at the core, Opsera helps companies use automation and DevOps principles to bring security into the development pipeline. 

Whether you’re in the planning phase or are stuck with choosing the right tools, we can help you streamline your DevSecOps adoption; and help you manage your new pipeline.

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