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Is DevOps good or bad for security?

Mary Branscombe | March 11, 2016
Does DevOps give you better security through agility or make development and deployment too fast to secure?

In a traditional system, with manually configured servers that are all different, there might be vulnerabilities on different systems, and attackers can see admins trying to track or block them. “They're exceptional measures going on in the static slow moving network, but with DevOps you have a very fast automated release pipeline, you're constantly redeploying,” says Guckenheimer. “If you are deploying everywhere on your net it doesn't look like a special action taken against the attackers.”

Don’t automate secrets

If DevOps ought to improve security, why doesn't that always happen? Sometimes the problem is that companies are using DevOps tools but not really understanding DevOps.

Upguard’s Sharp-Paul says “The primary error we hear about is the attempt to automate before you know what you’ve got. Someone got a budget for DevOps and went out and picked up Puppet Enterprise or Chef and wound up hitting roadblock after roadblock because they don’t understand the actual working nature of their infrastructure. They just bought into the sense of urgency to “do DevOps” and jumped into the deep end without looking.” The security of that approach should be fairly obvious by now.

Guckenheimer agrees. “I don’t think DevOps replaces any good security practices like key management, key rotation, changing defaults or what have you. I do think it changes the pace at which things move; I store more as code and I rebuild the infrastructure all the time, because I’m treating the infrastructure as code whether I'm doing PaaS or Chef or Puppet. That way, you can apply the good practices better. If you ignore them you're vulnerable. The security problems are there and they're exacerbated or alleviated; [with DevOps] I think you have an amplifier.”

There are some common security mistakes. If your build automation means putting your cloud credentials in your code repository or your deployment script, they’re vulnerable. Searching GitHub for AWS and Azure credentials reveals that many people are making the same mistake as Ashley Madison, Uber and D-Link.

Ashley Madison’s leaked code included hard-coded AWS tokens, database credentials, certificate private keys and other credentials. Uber had a database containing personal information about drivers compromised in 2014, after storing the key in a publicly available repo and D-Link recently published its private code signing keys in the open source code for a firmware update. Your cloud credentials are likely to end up subsidizing Bitcoin miners, who scan GitHub for keys and use them to run up hundreds or thousands of dollars of bills.

 “What people are not necessarily doing in DevOps which they ought to be doing, is doing good secrets management, using Azure Key Vault and equivalents. What I need to do is keep all the secrets external and as I go from environment to environment though the release pipeline, I need to bind the secrets separately for each environment and make sure those secrets are all external, secure, encrypted and rotated continually,” Guckenheimer says.

 

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