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By: on November 23, 2021
A growing number of organizations are suffering security incidents related to exposed secrets in DevOps CI/CD pipelines, according to a recent ThycoticCentrify report.
The study paints a troubling picture: Only 5% of survey respondents said most of their development teams use the same secrets management processes and tools.
The incidents run the gamut, from secrets published in the clear in public cloud code repositories to insecure third-party code to vulnerabilities in the organization’s own code or configurations.
The problem is often made worse by security teams not knowing what to protect because development teams have their own cloud infrastructure or the ability to create internet-facing applications directly without security teams’ knowledge.
“The reason why we see so many security incidents related to exposed secrets in DevOps is that using hardcoded passwords and keys is the easy path to getting things to work,” said Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and Advisory CISO at ThycoticCentrify. “We need to make it just as easy for DevOps to use secrets vaults so even when secrets get compromised they are no longer usable, valid or expired.”
Carson said moving away from persistent privileges to just-in-time, on-demand privileges will reduce these types of misconfigurations and attacks.
“Unfortunately, many developers continue to use hardcoded passwords or static keys that, when compromised, allow an attacker to gain control of the application resulting in either data exposure, ability to change the application configuration or move laterally around the network,” he added.
John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich, said the fundamental problem is that when organizations go to agile and DevOps, they remove all friction to moving code quickly—and that almost always includes removing security.
“That means security is inherently reactive instead of being embedded into engineering, and that’s assuming security even knows what to protect in the first place,” he said. “It’s the natural consequence of removing security from the equation and expecting that it’ll just work on the backend. That approach hasn’t worked for decades; a JIRA board isn’t going to suddenly fix that problem.”
From Carson’s perspective, secrets management is the ability to move away from hardcoded passwords or static keys to just-in-time privileges or one-time-use passwords so even when comprised they cannot be used.
“Many privileged access management solutions that protected privileged access for years have extended functionality to developers to help move the value into DevOps so they can manage credentials for applications, databases, CI/CD tools and services without causing friction in the development process,” he said.
Approaches like privileged access security helps enable API-as-a-service and provides instant availability of secrets, SSH keys, certificates, API keys and tokens.
Bambenek added the problem isn’t choosing a secrets management process or tool, but rather that they aren’t in place at all.
“Pick something that will keep keys and secrets out of public cloud repositories that developers will use that allows for quick and easy rotation of keys as the need arises,” he said. “The most important thing is that it’s the same tool everywhere that operates in a near-invisible process for developers. Four decades of software vulnerabilities have taught me that if you rely on the developers to do the secure thing, you’ll consistently be disappointed.”
Davis McCarthy, principal security researcher at Valtix, pointed out developers are not security practitioners by trade.
“Developers are building new ideas, and no good idea comes without experimentation,” he said. “Experimenting with a new technology stack may lead to misconfigurations that unintentionally expose data.”
McCarthy said shared SSH keys between users create a larger attack surface, and users will store secrets differently creating multiple attack vectors.
If one user’s endpoint becomes compromised and their SSH keys are exfiltrated, it’s difficult to know what the first mitigation steps are. Between insider threats and malware, the wrong step could lead to a breach.
“Whereas a software engineer may hold great knowledge of secure coding methodologies, web application attacks and encryption, they are still focused on executing their craft,” he said. “Organizations that do not build security into the development life cycle create a systemic risk that leads to failures in best practices.”
McCarthy added organizations can centralize and embed secrets management into the tools already in use in CI/CD pipelines by creating an inventory, auditing it and frequently rotating secrets to sensitive environments.
Bambenek said the short answer is to make sure the infrastructure of CI/CD pipelines is centrally managed and controlled without the ability of engineering teams to ‘roll their own.’
“No security control will remain intact if someone can pick their own tools without any real governance,” he said. “CI/CD processes don’t require engineering teams to manage the backend of the deployment pipeline which means someone can ensure those functions are in place to begin with.”
Filed Under: Continuous Delivery, Continuous Testing, DevOps Practice, DevSecOps, Features, Identity and Access Management, IT Security
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