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How practicing DevOps can help to secure your Cloud Infrastructure?

Written by Umair Khalid on Aug 28, 2020

There is no doubt that the cloud computing industry is thriving. Businesses are choosing to migrate core business functions to cloud services in considerable numbers, and the uptake is growing rapidly, day by day.

Providing robust security within a cloud infrastructure is a major objective for all business teams but in particular the IT operations, developers, and security teams. Over recent years, many company IT departments have undertaken vast change initiatives to transfer skill sets away from the traditional, monolithic IT operations approach, to an agile and interchangeable DevOps methodology.

Digital transformation initiatives are driving this transition, and cloud computing is accelerating the entire digital transformation process. This synergy requires a skilled team of DevOps engineers who are capable of managing on-demand computing resources, scaling up a microservices architecture, or administering the cloud layer to facilitate continuous delivery, collaboration tools, or possibly containerized applications.

DevOps is a series of processes and tools that encourage collaboration between developers, operations, and security teams. Underpinning the entire DevOps ethos is the need for all new technical services to be delivered quickly, but they must be inherently secure at all times.

The physical security of hardware is rarely an issue with cloud computing. One of the key selling points of leveraging a cloud provider is the excellent layers of security that have already been put in place. This will include stringent building security controls, protected and monitored 24/7 by security personnel.

Only approved users will be added to building and server room access control lists, and only a minimum number of authorized engineers will even be allowed near your physical cloud compute nodes that will reside within a datacenter in your chosen location.

Essentially, as a cloud customer, you outsource the physical security responsibility to the cloud provider. For this reason, make sure you choose a provider that has a strong track record for securing cloud assets, allowing you to focus on making your business IT infrastructure work for you.

The process of build automation can create a uniformed and secure cloud infrastructure platform where all virtual servers and applications are built from the same security approved blueprints.

Developers use automation to control commits to version control repositories (GitHub) when compiling code or running tests against the software. This is often referred to as Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery (CICD) within the DevOps community.

Common DevOps tools that are great for CICD include Jenkins and Bamboo. These applications allow for multiple teams to contribute to a primary build. The software can be signed off by security prior to being published into production.

Similarly, Infrastructure as Code is a popular build automation technique used in IT operations. It can be used to create an identical server infrastructure that adheres to company security guidelines. This commonly includes server patch levels, operating system updates, server hardening policies, and security profiles.

Tools such as Ansible, Chef, Puppet, and Salt all use the concept of infrastructure as code to configure and maintain systems. Once an organization has created the blueprints, building, and configuring cloud infrastructure is a rapid and repeatable process.

Another major security benefit of practicing DevOps is using tools that prevent configuration drift. This term defines how cloud infrastructure can change from its intended configuration. This might be caused by unexpected manual updates, server issues, or it may happen as a result of day-to-day administration.

If core IT systems become out of sync, it can cause unexpected downtime and application failures, and it will create a major security headache. Left unchecked, servers, and applications that lag behind on security updates create unnecessary risk and exposure to the organization.

Hackers can target weak and legacy versions of applications that are more likely to be susceptible to security exploits. Tools such as Ansible, Chef, and Puppet are great at running scheduled configuration management tasks to report or take correctable action on any identified configuration drift from a pre-defined system baseline.

When integrating security into DevOps’ best practice, embracing the DevSecOps ethos can create security awareness and best practices that can be integrated within an organization. To make this work, there must be buy-in from the very top levels of the business.

Thankfully, most organizations are already prioritizing cloud infrastructure security as one of their top business agenda items. With executive input, awareness of top security practices can cascade throughout the business.

This approach should be backed up with clear and enforceable security processes. This incorporates all key workers’ understanding of what the minimum security criteria of the business are.

This might be decisions about the level of encryption to use, what cipher suites will protect web servers, or clearly defining what the password complexity must be from day one. The process should be simple, well documented, and shared within a secured repository that relevant employees can access for reference.

When the security processes are in place, the DevOps teams must incorporate the defined security policies into their work (applications and server builds). The creation of blueprints or playbooks is a great way to have a common ground that all interested personnel can approve.

The final piece of the puzzle is testing. For DevOps to work well, User Acceptance Testing must be the foundation of the entire process. Code must be regularly reviewed and tested, commonly within DEV, SIT and UAT environments, prior to pushing live into production.

At each stage, a testing team should follow a predefined testing process ensuring that the application or server is compliant. Using infrastructure-as-code will make this entire process fast and streamlined. Combining code review with infrastructure testing, penetration testing, and auditing will ensure a hardened cloud environment.

The business organization and the cloud provider both have a shared responsibility to protect cloud infrastructure. Incorporating DevOps methodology correctly within your organization will provide greater in-house and application layer security. It will help limit the risk of a data breach, ensuring everyone must work together to make the entire process a success.

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