6 CI/CD Pipeline Security Risks (and How to Mitigate Them)


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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Is your CI/CD pipeline vulnerable to any of these common security risks - and if so, do you know what to do about them?

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6 CI/CD Pipeline Security Risks (and How to Mitigate Them)
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Continuous integration and continuous development, otherwise known as CI/CD, has become an essential part of the way software applications are built and maintained in today's highly demanding environment.

This offers a range of benefits over more traditional step-by-step approaches, especially when it comes to efficiency. However, if firms aren't careful, it can lead to new issues, especially in areas such as data protection, compliance and security.

6 threats to your CI/CD security - and best practices to fix them

One major challenge is the security of the CI/CD pipeline itself. This will allow employees access to highly valuable data, including source code, databases, trade secrets and other material that would be highly tempting for hackers. If firms haven't taken the time to build security processes into this from the start, it could pose big problems.

Here are a few of the most common missteps that could leave your CI/CD processes open to cyber threats, and how you can minimize these risks.

1. Unsecure connections

The biggest potential risk for any CI/CD development is the connections to your pipeline. Every one of these is a potential entry point for threats, so this must be a primary focus of your security efforts.

To address this issue, it's best practice to conduct a threat modeling exercise to fully map your network and identify every touchpoint into your pipeline. You can then spot where additional security layers will be necessary and put in place a plan to regularly patch and update these protections.

2. Poor access controls

Ensuring your pipeline is only accessible to those with the right authorization is another key aspect of securing the CI/CD environment. As is the case with any other sensitive data, poor practices such as shared or weak passwords can leave your CI/CD operations highly vulnerable to unauthorized access.

As well as critical steps such as the use of multi factor authentication (MFA) and complex, frequently-changed passwords, which can be achieved with the help of a password manager, it's also useful to ensure you have a comprehensive monitoring and logging solution in place. This can instantly detect any suspicious activity - such as systems being accessed from odd locations or at unusual times - and send out automatic alerts for further review.

3. Open permissions

A related but separate issue is if people are able to make changes to elements they shouldn't have access to. If it isn't clear what every member of the team is supposed to be doing, organizations may decide the best approach is to simply give everyone access to all parts of the pipeline.

This can help speed up processes such as testing and remove bottlenecks, but it goes against the principle of least privilege - the idea that employees should only have access to the tools and resources necessary to do their job and nothing more. Prevent this by setting out a clear separation of duties for the entire team and then ensuring they have only the credentials required for these activities.

4. Unlocked code repositories

Resources such as Git are a vital lifeline for CI/CD operations, but if you don't take care to secure these properly, they can be hugely tempting targets for hackers. These services often store proprietary information such as source code and either intellectual property. Therefore, securing these solutions is a must.

Again, practices such as strong permissions and MFA are essential, as are options such as signed commits - which ensures there’s a complete record of who has authored any changes. It also pays to ensure your team knows how to use the .gitignore file, which prevents accidental commits of files. Meanwhile, securing local backups for your commits is also critical in avoiding issues such as ransomware.

5. Losing track of your coding processes

By its nature, CI/CD is a constantly evolving process, and this can make it very easy to lose control if you aren't careful about tracking and logging your activities. As well as ensuring that security tests are carried out before committing any new code, this should be reviewed again once committed using technologies such as static code analysis tools. These don’t require the application to be running, so can spot bugs before they have a chance to open any vulnerabilities.

It's also important to maintain constant monitoring of your code after deployment. This should also help you identify any temporary resources that are no longer needed, such as containers and virtual machines, which could also leave you at risk of security breaches if left alone.

6. Open source vulnerabilities

Open-source libraries offer huge benefits when building applications, providing a wealth of resources that means users don't have to create code from scratch. But using third-party software can bring a new set of risks. These may see frequent code changes that could introduce new vulnerabilities to your applications.

Prevent this by ensuring you regularly analyze any open-source code for known security issues. The use of software composition analysis tools to scan third-party software, components and files can prove highly useful in making certain these resources aren't used as a backdoor into your systems.

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