Software firms have long relied on a DevOps approach to enhance agility and collaboration in software delivery. CI/CD pipelines automate processes in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) to enable seamless integration and delivery of new features. While CI/CD pipelines enhance software development through automation and agility, they involve integrating numerous tools and services, which can introduce security gaps. Identifying and remediating these security gaps is key to ensuring secure CI/CD practices. This article presents a general overview of what you need to know as you secure your CI/CD pipeline.
Introduction to CI/CD Security
While CI/CD pipelines enhance the efficiency of software development and delivery through automation, the core stages of the pipeline don't include security by default. CI/CD security is the set of practices aimed at identifying and fixing vulnerabilities without significantly slowing down processes in the pipeline. CI/CD security practices mainly involve injecting penetration tests and active security audits to help reduce bottlenecks caused by late handoffs to security and QA teams. Secure CI/CD pipelines enable software teams to automate security for multiple deployment environments and layers of the SDLC, enforcing agility.
Common Security Threats for a CI/CD Pipeline
Each organization's CI/CD pipeline has unique characteristics based on the business case, workload, and tech stack used. As a result, the implementation of CI/CD security differs based on use case. There are, however, security risks that are common to almost all pipelines, which warrant similar identification and remediation approaches. These risks include:
- Unauthorized Access to Code Registries
CI/CD operations rely on shared repositories to enable collaboration, configuration management, updates, and version control. All source code and configuration files reside on the Git repository as a single source of truth. Public repositories are popular in modern CI/CD pipelines since they reduce development costs and time. These repositories pose a security threat, however, as developers publish source code from their private machines into public, shared folders. Attackers can search through open-source registries as a reconnaissance technique and leverage the data gained for targeted phishing, reverse engineering, and remote code execution attacks.
- Insecure Code
The requirements of rapid development and delivery in CI/CD pipelines have led to the increasing use of open-source, third-party integrations. Some teams may import third-party integrations into the deployment environment without properly scanning the source code for security gaps. These integrations can introduce vulnerabilities into the CI/CD pipeline. Developers may also fail to follow best practices for code security, which increases the attack surface. Common code vulnerabilities include format string vulnerabilities, buffer overflows, improper error handling, and canonicalization issues, among others.
- Improper Secrets Management
Secrets aid in managing access to data and resources within the CI/CD pipeline. These include passwords, tokens, API keys, and other authentication credentials used to validate users accessing sensitive systems in the pipeline. Exposed secrets can, therefore, grant an attacker control over part or all of the CI/CD processes. Secret management misconfigurations include hard-coded secrets, storing secrets in public cloud environments, and manual secrets management, among others.
Key Considerations for Adopting a CI/CD Security Tool
Some factors to consider when selecting a tool to secure the CI/CD pipeline include:
- Scanning coverage
- Ownership costs and licensing terms
- Maintenance and configuration effort required
- Integration with existing development and security stack