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Securing the DevOps Pipeline: A Guide for IT Leaders

Jul 25, 202310 min read

Dawid Karczewski

Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.

DevSecOps is not just a simple mashup of Development, Operations, and Security; it's a philosophy and a cultural shift.



The digital age is characterized by continuous change, rapid innovation, and an ever-growing demand for new software and services. To stay competitive, organizations have embraced DevOps, a practice that merges software development (Dev) with information technology operations (Ops), to deliver applications and services at high velocity. 


However, while DevOps accelerates the software development lifecycle, it also raises new security challenges, prompting the rise of DevSecOps, a methodology that integrates security into the DevOps pipeline.


Given the speed and scale at which apps and services are deployed and updated in a DevOps model, ensuring security becomes a challenging task. Traditional approaches to security—like manual checks and periodical audits—are neither feasible nor effective in this environment. Security has to be continuous, automated, and integrated at every stage of the DevOps pipeline to effectively mitigate risks and respond to threats in real time. 


The reality is not so ideal in every organization - 70% of businesses lack sufficient working knowledge of DevSecOps techniques. 


In this blog post, we delve into the dynamic landscape of IT security, specifically in the context of DevOps. We are going explore the challenges of DevOps security and the critical aspects of secure code practices, continuous security testing, and automated security tools. 


By the end of this concise guide, IT leaders will have a comprehensive understanding of the principles and practices needed to protect their DevOps pipeline.

Let’s Introduce DevoOps Security


What is actually DevSecOps? It is not just a simple mashup of Development, Operations, and Security; it's a philosophy, a cultural shift, and a set of practices that seek to bake security into the DevOps process right from the start, rather than bolting it on at the end. By this we mean creating a 'Security as Code' culture with ongoing, flexible collaboration between release engineers and security teams.


DevOps, with its focus on continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), rapid iterations, and agile development, has transformed the software development landscape. By promoting collaboration between development and operations teams, DevOps streamlines the development process, reduces the time to market, and increases operational efficiency. 


At the heart of DevOps lies the CI/CD pipeline, a series of processes that developers use to deliver updates more frequently and reliably. We are talking about continuous integration, where developers merge their changes back to the main branch as often as possible; continuous delivery, where the code changes are automatically built, tested, and prepared for a release to production; and continuous deployment, where all changes to the code are automatically deployed to the production environment.


While DevOps methodologies offer immense business benefits, they also present new challenges for security. With increased levels of automation, more frequent deployments, and a complex array of tools and platforms, the attack surface—i.e., the number of potential weak points where an attacker could enter—also increases. Traditional, perimeter-based security models are ill-suited to these highly dynamic, distributed environments.


Applications in a DevOps environment often comprise multiple microservices deployed in containerized and cloud environments. These microservices need to communicate with each other, often across different networks and cloud platforms, leading to an expanded attack surface.



Security problems that devsecops is facing

The Shift of Security in IT


DevOps has revolutionized IT security operations. Traditionally, security was implemented as a separate phase, usually at the end of the development process. However, the high speed and frequency of deployments in DevOps have rendered this approach ineffective. Developers and operations teams are pushing code rapidly, which leaves no room for conventional, standalone security practices. Therefore, a significant shift in the approach to IT security is necessary to keep pace with the rapid development cycles intrinsic to DevOps.


In the era of DevOps, the barriers between developers and operations have dissolved, fostering a culture of shared responsibility. This shift necessitates a similar dissolution of barriers between the DevOps teams and security teams. No longer can security be an afterthought; instead, it must be a shared responsibility that is integral to both the development and operations processes. Security considerations need to be woven into every decision, every piece of code, every configuration, and across the entire CI/CD pipeline.


The advent of DevSecOps provides a viable solution to these challenges. DevSecOps, a philosophy that integrates security into the DevOps pipeline, ensures that every line of code, every configuration, every open source component, and every process is secure from inception through to deployment and operation. 


It embraces a 'Security as Code' culture, where security practices are automated and integrated into the codebase, making security an inherent part of the entire application lifecycle, from design to deployment.


Introducing DevSecOps requires a shift in mindset, encouraging development and operations teams to work in unison with security teams. It necessitates continuous collaboration, early integration of security measures in the development process, and frequent communication between all stakeholders.


In a DevSecOps model, security checks are automated and run as part of the build process in the DevOps pipeline. This includes static application security testing (SAST), which analyses source code to identify vulnerabilities, and dynamic application security testing (DAST), which tests running applications to detect security issues. Both these methods, when integrated early in the CI/CD pipeline, can significantly reduce security vulnerabilities.


What is more, automated security tools and practices enable security operations to match the speed of DevOps. They can automatically enforce security policies, detect and respond to threats in real time, and provide actionable insights for constant improvement. By integrating security into the DevOps pipeline, DevSecOps not only helps to identify and mitigate risks but also contributes to faster recovery from potential security breaches.


To successfully implement DevSecOps, IT leaders must foster a culture of shared responsibility for security and encourage continuous collaboration between developers, operations teams, and security teams. They must integrate security operations into the development process and the CI/CD pipeline and leverage automated security tools to ensure continuous security monitoring and testing. By adopting DevSecOps, organizations can enhance their security posture, mitigate risks, and deliver secure, high-quality software at the speed of DevOps.


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What are the DevOps Security Challenges?


In the fast-paced world of DevOps, the age-old saying, "More haste, less speed," is a sobering reminder that speed without security can have devastating consequences. 


Despite the transformative impact of DevOps on the software development process, it also presents novel challenges to security operations, rendering traditional security management solutions inadequate. Understanding these difficulties is the first step in formulating effective strategies to build security into the DevOps pipeline.


Traditional security practices often fail to keep pace with the dynamic and iterative nature of DevOps. They are typically reactive, slow, and manual, ill-equipped to handle the scale and speed of modern development and operations. Conventional security solutions typically involve lengthy security audits and checks performed at the end of the software development lifecycle, which can create bottlenecks and delay deployments in a DevOps environment.


Privileged access management is a significant challenge in DevOps security. The high-velocity nature of DevOps requires both human and machine entities to have elevated privileges. Human access in this context pertains to DevOps practitioners who require privileged access to various resources across the development and production environments. 


On the other hand, machine access refers to automated processes and tools requiring elevated privileges to function without human intervention. This includes automation tools like Ansible, Puppet, and Chef, CI/CD tools such as Jenkins and Azure DevOps, and container management and orchestration tools like Docker, Kubernetes, and Red Hat OpenShift.


The privileged credentials used by humans and machines in DevOps are a lucrative target for cyber attackers. Once an attacker obtains these credentials, they can gain unfettered access to sensitive data, DevOps pipelines, and even the entire cloud environment. The risk is exacerbated when these privileged credentials—such as passwords, access keys, SSH keys, and API keys—are poorly managed or left unsecured in the DevOps environment, leading to scenarios like data breaches, cryptojacking, and intellectual property theft.


Another notable challenge arises from the cultural emphasis on speed within DevOps teams. In the race to deploy faster and meet business demands, security often takes a backseat. Developers, focused on delivering functional code, may overlook security best practices. For instance, secrets (sensitive data like API keys, passwords, etc.) may be embedded directly into applications or configuration files. DevOps teams might also use open-source components or third-party libraries without properly scrutinizing them for security vulnerabilities.


Finally, a tool-centric approach to secrets management can create security gaps. While DevOps tools often come with built-in security features, they usually fall short of providing comprehensive protection. These built-in features typically do not support interoperability, making it difficult to securely share secrets across different tools, platforms, and clouds. Additionally, managing secrets within individual tools can make monitoring and managing them uniformly a significant challenge.


To address these challenges, it is crucial to integrate security at the heart of the DevOps processes and foster a culture of shared responsibility for security. By embedding security in the DevOps pipeline, using automated security tests, and implementing robust secrets management, organizations can bolster their DevOps security and safeguard their valuable assets. 


Despite the challenges, with a strategic and structured approach to implementing DevSecOps, organizations can maintain the speed of DevOps without compromising on security.


Components of DevOps pipeline (1)

Do you Know the Secure Code Practices in DevOps?

In the relentless pursuit of speed and efficiency in DevOps, it's easy to lose sight of a foundational aspect of cybersecurity: secure code practices. The concept of "building security in" emphasizes the necessity of incorporating security measures at every stage of the development process, starting with the coding itself.


Secure coding practices involve developing software in a way that guards against security vulnerabilities. The importance of secure coding cannot be overstated—it prevents, detects, and mitigates security risks before they become a significant issue, thereby safeguarding your application, your data, and your users

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) are two key methods employed in secure coding. These two methodologies, often used in tandem, form a comprehensive strategy for identifying and remediating security vulnerabilities in your code.


  • SAST, often referred to as "white-box" testing, involves analyzing source code, bytecode, or binary code to identify vulnerabilities without actually executing the code. By scanning the code in the early stages of the development process, SAST can catch issues like buffer overflows, SQL injection, or insecure cryptographic storage before they make their way into the production environment.

  • DAST, on the other hand, is a "black-box" testing method. It involves testing a running application from the outside in, looking for vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. DAST can identify issues like cross-site scripting (XSS), session management vulnerabilities, and other threats that could be missed by SAST, as it simulates the tactics used by attackers.


Open-source components are a double-edged sword when it comes to security. On one hand, they can greatly enhance development speed and efficiency by providing pre-built functionalities. On the other hand, they can also introduce security vulnerabilities if they're not properly vetted or updated regularly. It's vital to maintain an up-to-date inventory of all open-source components used and routinely check them for vulnerabilities.


Training development teams on secure coding is a vital aspect of DevSecOps. Providing regular training and workshops can help developers stay updated on the latest security threats and mitigation strategies. Additionally, organizations can implement a "security champions" program, where selected developers receive advanced security training and act as the go-to security resource for their team.


Integrating secure coding practices into the DevOps pipeline is no small feat, but it's a crucial step towards implementing DevSecOps. By catching security vulnerabilities early and often, organizations can ensure a more secure development process while still enjoying the speed and agility benefits of DevOps. Secure coding practices, when used effectively, act as a robust first line of defense against security threats.

Continuous Security Testing Made Simple


Continuous security testing essentially extends the concept of Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) to security. Just as developers integrate their changes into a shared repository multiple times a day and these changes are automatically built and tested, security tests also need to be run continuously to ensure that new changes don't introduce new vulnerabilities.


In the context of the CI/CD pipeline, security tests can be integrated at multiple stages. In the continuous integration stage, this could involve static application security testing (SAST) to scan the codebase for potential vulnerabilities as developers push new changes. In the continuous delivery and deployment stages, dynamic application security testing (DAST) could be performed to test running applications for vulnerabilities. By integrating security testing into the CI/CD pipeline, organizations can ensure that security is a constant consideration throughout the development process.


Automating security tests is crucial to the continuous security testing strategy. They can be run at high frequency and at scale, providing immediate feedback to developers and operations teams. By automating these tests, organizations can keep pace with the high-speed development and deployment cycles typical in DevOps environments without compromising on security.


Security vulnerability assessments should be an ongoing activity in any organization following DevOps practices. You should:



One crucial aspect of ongoing vulnerability assessment is the need to continually update your threat models and security tests in response to evolving threat landscapes. Security is not static—new vulnerabilities are discovered every day, and attackers are continually devising new methods to exploit systems. 


To remain secure, your DevOps processes need to keep up with these changes.


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Automating Security in DevOps with the Right Tools


Automated security tools are crucial for implementing a DevSecOps strategy. Given the speed and scale at which DevOps operates, manual security checks can't keep pace. Automated tools are essential for continuously testing, monitoring, and alerting teams to potential security issues. From identifying code vulnerabilities to spotting misconfigured settings, these tools help maintain security without slowing down the development process.


Configuration management tools like Ansible, Puppet, and Chef play a critical role in maintaining security within the DevOps environment. They allow IT teams to standardize and automate settings across their infrastructure, which can include servers, containers, and cloud environments. By keeping configuration settings consistent, organizations can prevent security vulnerabilities that could arise from misconfigurations.  


Automated code analysis is another important aspect of DevSecOps. Tools for static application security testing (SAST), such as Fortify and Checkmarx, and dynamic application security testing (DAST), such as OWASP ZAP and Nessus, can automatically scan application code for potential security vulnerabilities. They help to identify issues like injection flaws, cross-site scripting (XSS), insecure direct object references, and others even before the application is running.


Integrating security tools into the DevOps pipeline can be achieved using a variety of methods. Continuous integration (CI) tools like Jenkins, Azure DevOps, and Bamboo can be configured to automatically run SAST and DAST tools as part of the build process. Security-focused plugins for these CI tools can further enhance the pipeline's security. For instance, container security tools can scan Docker images for vulnerabilities, configuration issues, and malware.


Secrets management tools, such as HashiCorp Vault and CyberArk Conjur, help manage and control access to sensitive data like API keys, credentials, and certificates, eliminating the need to hard-code these secrets into application code or configuration files.


Best Practices and Recommendations for DevOps Security Strategy


In the world of DevOps, a clear and concise strategy for implementing DevSecOps is not a luxury but a necessity. The journey begins with understanding that it is not a tool or a set of tools but a culture that requires a shift in mindset. It's the integration of security principles, practices, and tools into the DevOps process from the start, not an afterthought.


Building security into the development process is a key factor in implementing DevSecOps. This implies incorporating security elements at every stage, from initial design through coding, testing, deployment, and operation. 


Developers should be educated on secure coding practices and equipped with tools like SAST and DAST to find vulnerabilities before code is deployed. The use of open-source components should be monitored, with established procedures for managing the security risks they can introduce.

Security teams 

In a DevSecOps environment, security teams play a crucial role. Instead of acting as gatekeepers who sometimes halt the development process for security reviews, they should become enablers who work alongside the DevOps team, providing guidance and expertise to build security into the process. This collaborative approach helps to integrate security and ensure that it’s continuously addressed throughout the CI/CD pipeline.


For developers and operations teams, cooperation is key. By breaking down the silos and promoting cross-functional collaboration, teams can collectively respond to security challenges. Developers should understand the production environment to avoid security misconfigurations, while operations teams should be aware of security practices to maintain and improve the security posture.


Integration of security into the DevOps pipeline is the cornerstone of DevSecOps. Automated security tests should be incorporated into the CI/CD pipeline. Security checks should not slow down the deployment but be part of it. Tools like configuration management and code analysis should be automated, continuously scanning the codebase and configurations for security issues.


Do not forget that the ultimate goal of DevSecOps is to improve security without sacrificing the speed and agility that DevOps offers. Regular communication and collaboration among developers, operations, and security teams, combined with the right tools and processes, will enable your organization to realize the benefits of DevOps while keeping security front and center. 


It's about building a culture of shared responsibility for security, where everyone involved in the development and operations process plays a role in maintaining and improving security. With these best practices and recommendations in mind, IT leaders can successfully navigate their DevSecOps journey and build a stronger, more secure future for their organizations.


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What is Lying Ahead DevOps Security?


We explored the transformative approach of DevSecOps - integrating security into DevOps methodologies to provide both agility and robust security. By implementing secure coding practices, continuous security testing, and automated security tools within the CI/CD pipeline, organizations can proactively mitigate risk.


Collaboration between development, operations, and security teams, along with common tools and practices, is the foundation for success.Moving forward, DevSecOps will continue to shape the management of IT and drive the convergence of speed, efficiency and security. Remember, the road to DevSecOps is a marathon that requires culture change and continuous improvement.


By starting small, embracing the challenges, and reaping the benefits of improved security, organizations can thrive in our interconnected world.

Dawid Karczewski

Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.

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