What Is IaC Security, and How Does It Work?

Infrastructure-as-Code, or IaC, is a great way to add speed and efficiency to the complex work of managing infrastructure. But IaC also introduces some unique security risks – which is why IaC security has become a critical element of cybersecurity at organizations that adopt modern approaches to infrastructure management.

Keep reading for a breakdown of what IaC security means, why it’s important, and best practices for getting the most out of IaC security tools and processes.

What is Infrastructure as Code Security?

IaC security is the process of securing resources and processes associated with Infrastructure-as-Code, or IaC. But to understand in detail what that means, let’s first define IaC.

IaC is the use of code to configure and manage resources. With IaC, engineers write code to define how servers, containers, storage volumes or other infrastructure resources should be configured. They then apply their desired configurations automatically using a tool like Terraform or Ansible (two examples of popular IaC tools in use today). They can also update configurations by changing configuration code and reapplying it to their environments.

There are two approaches to IaC: Imperative and declarative. The imperative model involves spelling out the steps required to provision or configure infrastructure, while declarative IaC describes the desired state of resources and relies on an automated process to make infrastructure match them. Either way, however, infrastructure is configured using code, and configuration can take place automatically.

The goal of IaC is to avoid the need to configure infrastructure manually, which is a time-consuming process – as well as one that increases the risk of insecure or inconsistent configurations, since engineers could make mistakes when manually setting up infrastructure. With IaC, teams can define a desired configuration once, and then apply it automatically across as many resources as they wish.

IaC security meaning: Security concerns for Infrastructure-as-Code

The major security risk surrounding IaC is that any vulnerabilities or risks within the code that powers IaC-based approaches to infrastructure management will impact resources configured using IaC.

For example, imagine that an engineer creates a Terraform template to set up storage resources hosted on Amazon S3, an object storage service in the Amazon cloud. The engineer accidentally includes code in the template that makes the S3 storage buckets viewable to anyone on the Internet. If the engineer then applies the template to deploy a set of storage buckets, any data stored in them would be exposed to the public at large – a potentially serious security risk in the event that the S3 buckets contain sensitive data that is supposed to be accessible only to internal users.

As another IaC security example, consider an engineer who writes code to configure containers, but specifies an outdated base image that is subject to a known vulnerability. Since container base images help define which code is included in a new container, any containers deployed using this IaC code will be vulnerable to attack.

Why is IaC security important?

IaC security is important because it helps teams detect and mitigate the unique risks that arise when engineers use IaC to manage infrastructure resources.

As we mentioned above, IaC itself can help mitigate some security issues, like the risk of accidentally misconfigurating resources when setting them up manually. However, IaC heightens security risks in other ways because a single oversight within IaC code could trigger vulnerabilities across hundreds or thousands of resources that are managed using that code.

The purpose of IaC security is to provide an opportunity to detect risks in IaC code before it is applied, helping teams avoid introducing serious risks into their environments.

How does IaC security work?

IaC security works in a straightforward way: Using IaC security tools, teams automatically scan IaC code for vulnerable configurations. In particular, IaC scanners can detect risks like the following:

  • Insecure access control configurations, such as those that allow unauthenticated users to view sensitive data.
  • Insecure applications or dependencies that are deployed using IaC code.
  • Insecure user accounts, or users who receive excess permissions (a violation of the principle of least privilege).

To work efficiently at scale, IaC tools should scan configurations automatically. In addition, scans should run as an integrated part of the software development process, ensuring that whenever developers or IT engineers create new IaC code, it is validated to check for risks.

Benefits of IaC security

While protecting against risks in IaC code is the main purpose of IaC security, the benefits of IaC security extend beyond simply detecting risks.

IaC security is also beneficial because it enables an efficient, centralized way to scan configurations across all facets and layers of your environment – provided you rely on IaC to manage all parts of your environment. If you configure everything using code, you can scan the configuration code before applying it to detect risks.

This also means that IaC security helps teams adopt a shift-left approach to security because they can detect problems before applying the code to live environments. This is preferable to configuring a resource manually, and then scanning it to check for risks – a practice that may expose your resource to attack during the time between when you finish configuring it and when you scan it.

Best practices for securing Infrastructure-as-Code

To get the most value out of IaC security practices, consider these best practices:

  • Integrate IaC scanning into the SDLC: Don’t treat IaC scans as a siloed process. Scan IaC code during the software development lifecycle (SDLC) as part of your broader set of software tests.
  • Scan whenever code changes: In addition to scanning newly written IaC templates, scan code again whenever you update it. Changes could trigger new security vulnerabilities.
  • Align IaC security scans with context: In many cases, whether an IaC setting is insecure depends on context. For example, a publicly accessible S3 bucket is not a security problem if you plan to use the bucket to host information that should be public. Thus, it’s important to factor context into IaC security.
  • Standardize IaC practices: Using a standardized set of IaC tools and templates across your organization helps ensure that you can validate all settings using IaC security in a consistent way.

Managing IaC security risks with Checkmarx

Checkmarx IaC Security provides advanced scanning, proactive vulnerability identification, and robust misconfiguration detection to help teams manage IaC risks at any scale. With scanning capabilities that support all major IaC frameworks and the ability to triage and alert about IaC security risks based on severity, Checkmarx makes it easy to mitigate IaC security issues efficiently no matter where they arise.
To learn more, request a demo.

The post What Is IaC Security, and How Does It Work? appeared first on Checkmarx.com.

Article Link: What Is IaC Security, and How Does It Work? | Checkmarx.com