Build Security: A Practical Guide to Protecting Software Supply Chains Using NIST SP 800-204D

Table of Contents

Cloud-native applications, comprised of various independent components known as microservices, are created using the agile software development approach called DevSecOps, which emphasizes collaboration and security throughout the entire process.

One crucial aspect of developing cloud-native applications is using Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines. These pipelines enable developers to seamlessly integrate new code changes and continuously deliver updates to the application. However, recent studies have highlighted the importance of considering the entire software development life cycle (SDLC), known as the software supply chain (SSC), regarding security.

In the ever-evolving landscape of software development and security, staying ahead of potential threats is crucial. That’s why the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has taken a significant step by publishing NIST SP 800-204D, incorporating software supply chain security (SSCS) measures into CI/CD pipelines. This document builds upon the foundation of the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF), also released by NIST.

For organizations seeking to enhance their supply chain security posture, this new resource from NIST comes as a timely and valuable asset. In recent years, we have witnessed numerous sophisticated attempts to compromise software supply chains, emphasizing the urgent need for improved security measures. A staggering 82% of CIOs have expressed concerns about the vulnerability of their software supply chain to potential attacks.

If you are worried about the security of your supply chain, it’s important to remember that many organizations share these concerns and seek ways to mitigate risks and fortify their software supply chains. Let’s delve deeper into the strategies and considerations to integrate SSCS measures into your DevOps day-to-day operations.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to define a supply chain attack and the specific Software Supply Chain Security Threats that arise during the source stage.

SSCS and CI/CD Pipelines: The Heart of DevSecOps

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Pipelines have revolutionized the software development process, acting as the backbone of the DevSecOps agile paradigm. These pipelines are intricate systems that handle code from various sources, including first-party in-house repositories and third-party open-source or commercial ones. 

The build process within these pipelines is a complex dance of application logic-driven dependencies, generating builds from many individual source code artifacts. Once these artifacts are created, they’re stored in dedicated build repositories, undergoing rigorous testing before being packaged. These packages are stored in specific repositories, scanned for vulnerabilities, and finally deployed in testing or production environments. Platforms like GitHub Actions workflows, GitLab Runners, and Buildcloud have supported these workflows.

For SSC security within these workflows, generating extensive provenance data is paramount. This data ensures traceability and accountability throughout the pipeline, acting as a beacon of transparency. It’s essential to address both the internal SSC security practices for first-party software and the security practices concerning third-party software modules. The overarching goals are twofold: 

  • Implement defensive measures to prevent tampering with software production processes and deter the introduction of malicious software updates.
  • Uphold the integrity of CI/CD pipeline artifacts and activities by defining roles and authorizations for all actors involved in the pipeline.

DevOps Infrastructure: The Foundation of CI/CD

The tools and technologies underpinning DevOps operations are the silent workhorses of Continuous Integration. Their configuration and maintenance are paramount for the security and integrity of the entire CI/CD process. Regular audits and updates of these tools are non-negotiable to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed proactively.

Automated vulnerability scanners have emerged as invaluable allies in this endeavor. By continuously monitoring DevOps tools and configurations, they can identify potential vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in real-time. This proactive approach provides insights into the overall security health of the DevOps environment, allowing for timely remediation.

Furthermore, choosing plugins in the DevOps toolchain can significantly impact security. While plugins enhance functionality, they can also introduce vulnerabilities if not appropriately vetted. It’s crucial to assess plugins based on their reputation, security track record, and community support. Regular reviews and updates of these plugins can further fortify the security landscape.

 

Security in CI/CD Pipelines: A Non-Negotiable

Every stage of the CI/CD pipeline, from code building to handling code commits and pull-push operations, demands rigorous security measures. Secure code commits form the foundation of these pipelines. Enforcing code reviews, malicious code detection, and adherence to security guidelines can significantly reduce vulnerabilities.

Pull-push operations, which involve code changes, must be fortified with secure authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), to prevent unauthorized access. The building processes within the pipelines should be conducted in isolated, secure environments. Using secure build agents, updating build tools and dependencies regularly, and ensuring the integrity of the build process are all pivotal steps in this direction.

Furthermore, the integrity of attestations and evidence in software update systems is crucial. Verifying the authenticity and integrity of software updates ensures that they remain untampered during the deployment process.

Build Attestations: The Guardian of the CI/CD Process

Attestations are the unsung heroes in securing the software supply chain. These authenticated collections of metadata, generated by specific processes, can be verified by consumers, providing a layer of trust and transparency. As organizations prioritize securing their software supply chain, collecting metadata related to the build process and application creation becomes paramount.

Metadata around the build process offers insights into the tools, versions, configurations, and dependencies used, acting as a blueprint for the build. Similarly, metadata on application creation provides a snapshot of the development frameworks, libraries, and third-party dependencies used. This comprehensive data collection offers unparalleled visibility into the origin and integrity of the codebase.

By leveraging attestations and diligently collecting metadata, organizations can significantly enhance their software supply chain security. This approach not only provides transparency and verifiability but also lays the foundation for effective monitoring, auditing, and security analysis throughout the software development lifecycle.

Final remarks and next steps

Recent analyses of software vulnerabilities and attacks have spotlighted a pressing concern for companies developing software under the agile DevSecOps paradigm that leverages Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines. Both government and private-sector organizations are now zeroing in on the activities spanning the entire SDLC, collectively termed the software supply chain (SSC).

The integrity of each operation within the SSC is paramount to its overall security. Threats to this integrity can emerge from malicious actors exploiting vulnerabilities or from oversights and lapses in due diligence during the SDLC. Recognizing the gravity of this issue, initiatives like Executive Order (EO) 14028, NIST’s Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF), and various industry forums have delved into SSC security, aiming to bolster the security of all deployed software.

This heightened focus underscores the need for actionable measures to integrate SSC security assurance into CI/CD pipelines seamlessly. Such integration is vital for organizations effectively addressing SSC security as they develop and deploy cloud-native applications. Building a formidable SSC security infrastructure demands the incorporation of various artifacts, including a software bill of materials (SBOM) and frameworks for software component attestation. As these specifications and requirements continue to evolve through collaborative efforts in government and industry forums, they remain pivotal in shaping the future of SSC security.

Ready to explore the intricacies of integrating SSCS measures into DevOps? Download Xygeni’s comprehensive paper today. Delve into detailed insights, best practices, and actionable strategies to fortify your DevOps processes. Equip your team with the knowledge to embrace SSCS measures seamlessly and lead the way in software supply chain security. Don’t miss out—Download Now.

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