Securing Infrastructure as Code: Best Practices

Table of Contents

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) has fundamentally transformed how organizations manage and provision their IT infrastructure. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is pivotal in DevOps by enabling consistent, reliable, and automated infrastructure provisioning and management. By defining infrastructure resources using code, IaC fosters consistency, repeatability, and automation, enhancing efficiency, agility, and cost savings. 

However, despite its numerous advantages, IaC also introduces new security risks that organizations must acknowledge and address. For instance, misconfigurations are often incorporated into supply chains via IaC templates, and organizations may not consistently conduct thorough inspections of these packages. As a result, security vulnerabilities can unwittingly infiltrate the system and remain undetected. It underscores the importance of implementing robust security measures to protect IaC from cyberattacks.

What is Infrastructure as a Code Security

Infrastructure as Code (IaC), also known as Software-Defined Infrastructure (SDI), is defined by NIST as the process of managing and provisioning an organization’s IT infrastructure using machine-readable configuration files instead of physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. IaC allows the faster configuration and consistent deployment of infrastructure components by allowing them to be defined as code and also enables repeatable deployments across environments. 

IaC security encompasses a comprehensive set of practices, methodologies, and actions employed to safeguard the configuration and deployment of cloud infrastructure utilizing machine-readable configuration files. This involves scrutinizing IaC files for security flaws and enforcing stringent security policies throughout the provisioning and deployment phases.

IaC security is instrumental in thwarting security breaches and ensuring the integrity of cloud environments. By embedding security checks into the IaC process, organizations can swiftly identify and rectify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. This proactive approach proves to be more efficient and effective than relying on conventional manual security audits, which often take place after infrastructure has been deployed.

IaC Security best practices

The 2023 State of the Cloud Report highlights security as one of the top cloud challenges for companies. OWASP provides security recommendations for integrating IaC into the SDLC.

Immutability of Infrastructure Approach

This approach enhances consistency and reliability across environments by ensuring that configurations are not altered after deployment. This uniformity reduces discrepancies between development, testing, and production, leading to fewer integration issues and a smoother deployment process.

Moreover, immutability mandates providing infrastructure components in a rigid and unchangeable state, safeguarding against unauthorized or unintended modifications once established, and making systems less vulnerable to configuration drift and malicious attacks.

By enforcing this unchanging and unalterable state for infrastructure components, immutability effectively mitigates the risk of security vulnerabilities and unintended modifications that could jeopardize the infrastructure’s integrity.

Version Control

Version control plays an instrumental role in IaC by providing a centralized repository for storing and managing modifications to infrastructure configurations. It is an irreplaceable tool for maintaining a comprehensive audit trail of infrastructure changes, enabling teams to track and revert to specific revisions as required. This capability is invaluable for troubleshooting issues, debugging infrastructure problems, and ensuring rollbacks in the event of deployment errors.

For effective collaboration and traceability, it is essential to incorporate IaC changes into the same feature branches’ philosophy in a version-controlled repository as the related application code alterations. It ensures that infrastructure configurations are synchronized with the development of application features, preventing inconsistencies and maintaining a unified state throughout the development cycle. 

The primary advantage of this approach is that it provides a detailed audit trail of all changes made to the infrastructure code. Each modification, whether an addition, deletion, or alteration, is tracked and attributed to a specific individual. This level of transparency deters potential tampering and enables quick identification and reversal of unauthorized or erroneous changes. Moreover, version control systems enforce a review and approval process for changes, ensuring that all updates undergo rigorous scrutiny before being applied. This gatekeeping mechanism significantly reduces the risk of introducing vulnerabilities or inconsistencies in the infrastructure.


Adopt the Principle of least privilege

Adopting the principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) applies to the IaC ecosystem and the infrastructure deployed by these scripts and processes.

Application of the Least Privilege approach in the IaC ecosystem brings to the organizations:

  • Security Enhancement: Restricted access rights within IaC environments significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access or malicious actions. For instance, if a user’s account is compromised, the damage they can inflict is limited to the permissions of that account. This minimizes potential harm from both internal and external threats.
  • Error Reduction: Limiting privileges to enable changes within a specific area of expertise or responsibility reduces the likelihood of errors or misconfigurations arising from unauthorized or uninformed modifications to the entire infrastructure.
  • Reduced Attack Surface: By implementing PoLP, the number of points where an attacker can access sensitive systems is reduced. This is especially important in IaC, where automated scripts and processes can potentially expose vulnerabilities if not properly secured.
  • Change Management Control: With limited access, infrastructure changes are more controlled and can be better managed, ensuring that changes are intentional, documented, and traceable.
  • Infrastructure Stability: PoLP helps maintain the stability and reliability of the infrastructure, ensuring that only authorized personnel make changes to critical infrastructure, avoiding unplanned downtime and service disruptions.

Additionally, IaC configurations should ensure that the infrastructure deployed considers this approach internally to avoid delivering vulnerabilities at scale. For that, provide a proper analysis to avoid misconfigurations and vulnerabilities.


IaC Static Analysis

Static analysis is a valuable method for identifying and resolving security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in IaC code before deployment to production. Semantic and policy-based analyses are the two primary types of static analysis that can be employed for IaC security. 

Tools like Xygeni offer a comprehensive IaC security solution that assists organizations in identifying, preventing, and resolving misconfigurations before they reach production. This helps to guarantee that infrastructure is deployed securely and follows organizational policies regarding to:

  • Identification of Security Vulnerabilities: The primary objective is to detect any security flaws within the IaC scripts, including exposure of sensitive data, insecure configurations (such as open ports or unencrypted data storage), and other potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
  • Enforcement of Security Best Practices: The scanner should ensure that IaC scripts adhere to established security best practices. This involves checking for the use of secure protocols, proper encryption methods, minimal privilege settings for services and users, and adherence to the principle of least privilege.
  • Secure Resource Management: Analysis should include checks for proper security group and network access control configurations, ensuring that resources are not unnecessarily exposed to public access or overly permissive internal access.
  • Detection of Misconfigurations: A significant part of securing infrastructure involves avoiding misconfigurations. Static analysis tools should be able to detect common misconfigurations that could lead to security breaches, such as using default credentials, allowing privileged containers without setting resource limits, inadequate network policies, and public read or write access in AWS S3 or Azure storage, among others.
  • Infrastructure as Code Linting: Like code linting, IaC linting should identify script parts that don’t conform to security best practices or coding standards that emphasize security.

Additionally, IaC scanning solutions can consider advanced features such as anomaly detection to identify deviations from established security patterns or baselines, which could indicate potential security risks or misconfigurations.

Protect Secrets Properly

Secrets Management is a fundamental practice in IaC. Any IaC tool should flag the improper management of secrets, like using hard-coded secrets such as passwords, tokens, or API keys directly in IaC scripts, which can be exposed in source code repositories and lead to credential theft.

Authentication tokens, passwords, and SSH keys are crucial to modern software development. However, storing these sensitive data elements in plain text or version control systems like Git poses significant security risks. If unauthorized individuals access these repositories, they can easily exploit the secrets to infiltrate systems, disrupt operations, or steal valuable information.

Use a Secret Scanning Tool to Prevent the Leakage of Secrets. Xygeni’s Secrets Security tool is a comprehensive solution beyond simply protecting secrets to ensure the modern Software Supply Chain’s continuity, security, and resilience. It is not just a detection tool; combined with the developer ecosystem, it is a commitment to a zero-hardcoded-secrets policy, achieved through a series of standout features that proactively secure the software development lifecycle.


Scan container images

Consistent image scanning as part of the IaC process aligns with the shift-left security paradigm. Integrating security early in the development cycle can mitigate potential risks long before the infrastructure is deployed. This proactive approach reduces the likelihood of security incidents and minimizes the need for reactive measures post-deployment, which can be costly.

Container image scanning is a vital security practice that involves analyzing container images for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and potential risks, which is particularly crucial in securing containerized infrastructure. This process ensures that containers and VMs, which often come from various sources such as public registries, third-party vendors, or internal development teams, are deployed without known vulnerabilities and are configured securely. Scanning is essential for identifying and rectifying security flaws that attackers could exploit.

Lastly, regular and automated scanning of images as part of IaC practices instills a culture of security within the organization. It reinforces the importance of security in every aspect of infrastructure management and development. Teams become more aware of the security implications of their work, leading to more secure development practices over time.


Artifact signature and Attestation Verification

To secure the IaC delivery stage, a combination of artifact signing and attestation security can be employed. Artifact signing digitally verifies the authenticity and integrity of IaC templates, preventing them from being tampered with during delivery. This approach ensures only trusted and uncorrupted templates are deployed to production environments. 

Build attestation goes a step further by providing a detailed record of the build process. It includes information such as who initiated the build, what source code was used, what dependencies were included, and what security checks were passed. Verification of build attestation before deployment ensures that the artifact was built securely and compliant, adhering to the organization’s policies and standards. If the attestation does not meet the required criteria – for instance, if it indicates the use of outdated or vulnerable dependencies – the artifact is not deployed.

This multi-pronged approach safeguards the IaC delivery stage from unauthorized modifications. It ensures that only secure artifacts (verified for integrity and authenticity) and compliance (built according to organizational and regulatory standards) are deployed to production. 


Use Inventory and Visibility Tool

Leverage inventory and visibility tools to gain comprehensive oversight and control over the entire IaC lifecycle. Inventory management is pivotal in IaC by providing a centralized repository of detailed information about the infrastructure resource governed by IaC templates.

By integrating inventory management tools like Xygeni Inventory, organizations can optimize their IT operations and fortify their security posture. It offers visibility into IaC assets, tracks changes, enforces security policies, generates SBOMs, and automates security assessments. These capabilities empower organizations to adopt a proactive stance on IaC security, preventing vulnerabilities from infiltrating the system and mitigating potential threats.


Continuous monitoring

Continuous detection, reporting, and response to changes and potential security threats in the infrastructure ensuring that it remains secure and compliant over time, is paramount in IaC. 

The relevance of continuous monitoring in IaC is multifaceted. It provides real-time visibility into the infrastructure. Environments are dynamic and can be modified frequently. Continuous monitoring tracks these changes, ensuring they are intentional, authorized, and compliant with security policies. This real-time oversight is crucial for detecting unauthorized modifications or potential vulnerabilities early, enabling swift remedial actions.

Furthermore, continuous monitoring strengthens the security posture by integrating with other security practices, like patch management and incident response. It ensures that security patches are applied on time and that incident response plans are triggered effectively when anomalies are detected.

By embedding continuous monitoring into IaC processes, organizations can achieve operational efficiency and maintain robust, secure, and resilient IT environments.

Final Remarks

In conclusion, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) has become essential for managing and provisioning cloud infrastructure. However, it also introduces new security risks that organizations must address. By implementing the IaC security best practices discussed in this article, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches and ensure the integrity of their application environments.

Here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • Embed security checks into the IaC process to identify and remediate vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.
  • Adopt a secure IaC development lifecycle that includes secret protection, static analysis, image scanning, and continuous monitoring.
  • Implement a robust security framework with an immutable infrastructure approach and signature and build attestation security.

By following these best practices, organizations can maximize the benefits of IaC while minimizing the security risks.

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