Infrastructure-as-code: the next logical step | #cloudsecurity

Almost every organisation now has a cloud-first strategy and a new deployment has moved from a lengthy purchase order process to a handful of commands. This speed of digital transformation will move us into a world where anything that isn’t cloud-native will be considered legacy. With that velocity, infosec teams need to change the way they operate to keep pace and even create points of leverage.

As the adoption of cloud-native architecture increases and matures, organisations are faced with the challenge of ensuring that security best practices are embedded into systems that are under frequent change.

Development outpacing security

Currently, the speed at which development teams are pushing out new products and features is outpacing security. This wonderful ability for speed enables organisations to scale up their infrastructure quickly, but it’s this speed that often results in a huge number of configuration inconsistencies across the cloud stack.

These configuration issues occur because deploying cloud-native technologies isn’t always a simple process, and high-privileged users are caught acting in a state of emergency by changing configurations through an on-demand basis. Different technologies require different levels of attention to detail, and with more than one person performing configurations, inconsistencies and discrepancies are almost unavoidable. As a result, these misconfigurations are likely to generate future vulnerabilities and IT management cost issues.

Traditionally, security tools to address this issue have been very limited in their view and context, typically lacking the understanding of the controls available to address issues. This lack of context makes it impossible for security professionals to fully understand the true risk of the environment. Moreover, using legacy solutions that don’t address security at the time that the code is written can also pose some serious security risks to a business. Cybercriminals looking to steal sensitive data and other pertinent information could potentially breach the cloud server, wreaking havoc on a business and its customers. And infrastructure misconfigurations caused by human error can provide pathways for cybercriminals to launch attacks through exposed networks and configuration drifts.

The only way to achieve true cyber resilience is for cloud-native infrastructure to heal itself by codifying security throughout the development lifecycle. In cloud environments, cloud infrastructure needs to be born secure. Enter infrastructure-as-code (IaC).

What exactly is infrastructure-as-code? And why do CISOs need it?

IaC is defined as the process of managing and provisioning computer data through machine-readable definition files, rather than physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. Put simply, IaC refers to the management of IT infrastructure using configuration files and defined as code.

With IaC, all resources and respective configurations are defined in code. This means scanning can easily determine what controls are available and what they’re able to address. It also means that if a vulnerability is found, the impact on the broader environment can be quantified. The ability of a software tool to automatically detect issues and remediate them before deployment is at the core of building a highly effective DevSecOps team.

How? IaC provides the information required by IT professionals to both visualise and analyse breach paths, giving security teams better visibility into risk when deciding whether specific issues need to be fixed immediately or how to eliminate risk with the least disruption. This streamlined approach gives security professionals more time to address the more complicated vulnerabilities and cloud misconfigurations.

One of the main benefits of IaC is undoubtedly the lower costs of infrastructure management. By employing cloud computing along with IaC, organisations can dramatically reduce costs. It also gives IT and security professionals time back in their day to focus on pressing issues, instead of error-prone, manual tasks. And using IaC to execute a developer-first approach allows teams to deploy as quickly as fixes are implemented, without worrying about overwriting runtime configuration changes.

Finally, IaC gives organisations a better understanding of their security risks, while driving next-generation capabilities related to advanced security threat modelling and breach path prediction. Most importantly, it enables cyber resilience through self-healing as organisations embrace cloud-native infrastructure, allowing them to innovate in the cloud with confidence.

What are the possible ways to approach IaC?

IaC involves using software tools to automate specific tasks through a version control system. There are generally two approaches to writing the code.

The first is a ‘declarative’ approach. This is often the preferred approach of the two because of the flexibility it offers. This approach involves users only defining the end or ‘desired’ state. Meanwhile, the tool or platform being used takes care of the steps needed to achieve the end result.

The second approach is an ‘imperative’ approach. This method involves users determining the specific commands needed to achieve the end or ‘desired’ state. In this approach, the platform or tools do not deviate from those specific commands.

Embracing infrastructure-as-code

Cloud systems and solutions have had a truly remarkable impact on business innovation and development. But to move forward and reach the next stage of cloud efficiencies, IaC is the next logical step.

It’s essential for CISOs and DevOps teams to see IaC as the connected link between cloud-native systems and DevOps success, with one unable to function without the other in the new era of digital transformation. With this shift in mindset, cloud computing and security will be given room to reach their fullest potential, making reactive actions to issues and breaches a thing of the past.

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