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Before we get started Infrastructure as Code Security, l with With the rapid adoption of DevOps by organizations worldwide, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) has become a critical DevOps practice that has strengthened the software development methodology.

Amidst the growing concerns over information security and data privacy, security is now a challenge faced by developers and engineers. The CI/CD cycle is fast and can easily be neglected for security aspects. Thus, integrating security into DevOps and infrastructure as code practices is very important.  

What is Infrastructure as Code Security? 

Infrastructure as Code Security aims to ensure that security best practices and compliance requirements are built into the IaC template files. These best practices and compliance requirements cover various aspects of information security such as data encryption, network segmentation, access control requirements, log collection and retention, and several others. 

Ignoring Infrastructure as Code security can be severe. It can lead to exposure of sensitive data to unauthorized users, data leakage, unauthorized access to business-critical assets and resources, and increased attack surface. This can be evidenced by the Cloud Threat Report by Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 report

Infrastructure as Code and Security

Infrastructure as Code is a crucial pillar that aligns DevOps, Security, and Compliance for Infrastructure Management processes. It enables the organizations to Shift Left security in the development pipeline, including infrastructure security management. The IaC templates used for building any infrastructure can be tested for security and compliance checks before being deployed. When this practice is integrated into CI/CD pipeline and versioning is enabled, it helps the organization enhance the security posture and maintain security and compliance over time while making constant changes as per their business requirements. Therefore security risks, non-compliance, policy violations, and misconfigurations can be prevented before runtime and production environments. It also helps to decrease security posture drifts.

What is the need for IaC Security? 

IaC's blueprint is laid out using tools like Cloud formation templates or third-party solutions like Terraform, and Helm. The whole environment becomes vulnerable to cyberattacks due to one wrong configuration. Thus manually testing on a regular basis is not enough. There are more challenges like 

  1. Testing application in the staging phase is no longer an effective approach due to incremental pushes being needed without putting the application down. 
  2. Continuously changing infrastructure needs over a hybrid multi-cloud environment. 

Infrastructure as Code is becoming more common, and the need for streamlined security measures, enhanced security policies, and equally agile security tests and reviews have become higher as well.

What are the security vulnerabilities in infrastructure as code?

IaC Templates 

The developers of IaC templates may use insecure default configurations and components with known vulnerabilities in the template/script that could threaten the entire environment. Other sources of vulnerabilities may include operating systems or container images from unknown sources. 

Secrets

Secrets Management is one of the leading security risks involved with Infrastructure as Code. This issue's root cause is not the secret but how the developers store and manage these secrets. In most cases, it has been observed that secrets are hard-coded, left in plain-text, or base63 encoded. These secrets involve authentication keys, passwords, access keys, SSH secrets, and access tokens. In a few cases, it has been witnessed that these secrets are even pushed to git public repos.

The Communication Channels 

Most Infrastructure as Code configuration management tools uses master-node architecture where the master is the controller and contains all specifications and configuration files. Security risks are significantly involved if the master is not secured. The communication between master and other nodes is not encrypted, and layered security mechanisms have not been implemented from scratch.

User Access Management

When implementing Infrastructure as Code, you don't require root privileges. Security issues arise when Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC) and principles of most minor rights are not appropriately implemented. Credential sharing is also a significant issue that impacts user access management. 

Drifts in Configuration 

Sometimes, certain situations arise where configurations need to be changed directly in the production environment. In such cases, there is a reasonably positive chance that security risks are introduced into the environment due to drifts in configuration from the defined security posture.

 

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Ghost Resources 

Untagged assets and assets that are not correctly tagged can create ghost resources, making it challenging to monitor and track resources. If compromised, these resources may take very long to be detected and can be potentially dangerous in some cases.

Risks related to Data Transmissions 

Securing data in transit is equally essential as securing data in rest. SSL certificates, when not appropriately configured, can significantly raise the security risks. Another significant security risk associated with Infrastructure as Code is insecure VPN connections and configurations.

Audit Logs 

Using Infrastructure as Code for deployment poses a significant security threat if logging and monitoring components are not deployed to keep an eye on the security risks.

What are the Ways to achieve security in Infrastructure as Code? 

When considering Infrastructure as Code Security, IaC templates are given the highest priority, and organizations mainly focus on the misconfigurations and policy violations in the template. Still, several other factors are involved in Infrastructure as Code security. One of the most essential factors organizations must consider is the least privilege principle. It plays a significant role in limiting damages from poorly configured resources or maliciously modified templates/scripts. The least privileges can be applied to Infrastructure as Code (IaC) at three levels.

Level 1 - Define who is authorized to run the scripts/templates.

Level 2 - Limit the permission to authorized users based on the need to know and perform their tasks.

Level 3 - Implement checks and policies to ensure that created resources have the least required privileges to carry out the workload and compliant configurations properly. 

Security Policies and Configuration Checks must be developed and implemented to

  1. Check for network exposures in IaC templates. Insecure IaC templates can expand the      attack surface and pave critical attack vectors. Security Groups, open ports, publicly accessible services and internet-wide accessible storage databases are some of the critical things that must be checked.
  2. Check for vulnerabilities in container images in the IaC template and disallow images from untrusted registries.
  3. Check for privileged accounts and other snippets that could lead to privilege escalation.
  4. Check for the immutability of infrastructure. Every change must be provisioned through the security pipeline, and no configuration changes should be directly made. 
  5. Check for tags and labels. Untagged or unlabelled resources must not be deployed.
  6. Check for compliance violations. The policy checks and configuration checks should be by various compliance standards such as ISO 27001, GDPR, SOC2, PCI DSS, HIPAA, etc.
  7. Check for data security and data storage configurations. Data encryption is only one aspect of data security. Other misconfigurations in storage services and storage clusters can lead to data exposure.
  8. Check for hard-coded secrets and plain-text passwords in IaC templates.
  9. Check that logging and monitoring components are enabled across the environment.
  10. Check those components from untrusted and unverified sources are not being used. Follow whitelisting approach instead of blacklisting.

What are the enablers of Security in Infrastructure as Code?

Automated IaC Governance 

The policies and configuration checks should be automated to save time and avoid manual evaluation and human error. For a single IaC template/script, there may be more than 100 policies to be checked. Finding misconfigurations and policy violations manually will leave security gaps and weaken the security posture.

Governed in Code, secured in Code 

The most critical key to implementing infrastructure as Code is to implement the right tool to identify the issues with IaC templates/scripts and use the same approach to fix them. i.e. fixes and updates must also be applied through Code. The aim of infrastructure security as a Code should be to automate the governing process of the entire infrastructure with the help of Code by setting policies and configuration checks to govern the infrastructure workflow.

Continuous Workflow  

Infrastructure as Code security should be embedded into the tools and day-to-day processes. The most common method to maintain continuous workflow with infrastructure as Code will be to set up CI/CD pipelines with policies and configuration checks to validate each pull request and commit. It will help you identify new violations quickly, and new misconfigurations can be prevented, which will eventually help you avoid cloud drift.

What are the benefits of achieving Infrastructure as Code Security?

Continuous Compliance 

Achieving continuous compliance while using Infrastructure as Code is a fundamental requirement. When security policies and configuration checks are written in Code, putting security compliance controls in place becomes much more accessible and more streamlined security processes. Automating these configuration checks and policy requirements by using CI/CD pipelines makes the security flow even more streamlined. Thus, continuous compliance can be achieved with minimal manual intervention.

Continuous Risk Assessment and Threat Modeling 

Continuous Risk Assessment and Threat Modeling help to continuously assess security loopholes with different levels of risk, and any required preventive action can be taken immediately. It eventually helps to minimize the attack surface and discovers possible attack vectors.

Continuous Risk Assessment and Threat Modeling should cover all the environmental components, and this entire process must be automated for optimal risk assessment and threat modelling. Infrastructure Security as Code helps to closely evaluate the public-facing features or services and limit the exposure to malicious and unauthorized access and cyberattacks.

Data Encryption as a Requirement 

Data encryption is one of the critical requirements achieved with Infrastructure Security as Code. Business-critical data and Personal Identifiable Information (PII) must be encrypted by default. Data in transit must also be encrypted as it is vulnerable to attacks and sniffing. Infrastructure Security as Code helps to ensure that data encryption is enabled by default on data in rest, and data in transit use encryption with secure protocols and robust cryptographic algorithms.

Automated Monitoring and Alerts 

 In any environment, monitoring and alerts play a vital role. One of the major requirements that must be fulfilled in complex environments is automated monitoring and alerting. Automated monitoring and alerting not only helps to identify attacks and weaknesses but also helps to identify threats in their early stages. Deploying Infrastructure Security as Code in an environment helps monitor critical infrastructure and generate near real-time alerts based on evaluation frequency, which can be hourly, daily, or weekly, making the entire workflow more efficient and secure.

Conclusion

Infrastructure Security as Code is a new concept, and the biggest challenge that organizations face while adopting and implementing Infrastructure Security as Code is the proper integration and workflow development. The main reason behind this issue is that the security policies and configuration checks have to be written as Code which isn't straightforward in complex and interconnected environments.

There are security gaps, and adopting Infrastructure Security as Code takes planning, time, and collaboration between different teams is not as simple as it seems. These gaps lead to confusion, which affects the organization's security posture. The only thing organizations need to focus on is correctly determining how and where the resources need to be provisioned, governed and secured.

If deployed efficiently and effectively, Infrastructure Security as Code will eventually help you determine and find issues before they're deployed, help you implement continuous compliance, and automate your monitoring and alerting process for all existing and new resources.

What's Next?

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