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SecOps: The Next Stride for DevOps

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Global IT spending is now touching a figure of $4 trillion. In today’s technology-intensive environment, data is the biggest commodity, more valuable and powerful than ever. And like Peter Parker’s uncle Ben noted, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Security has always been a big concern for valuable things and IT is no exception. IT as a whole is trying to push security left in the development cycle―trying to involve it in every step of the development cycle. And just when development and operations teams are getting used to the “esprit de corps” we call DevOps, I think it’s time we add the third musketeer: security.

What is SecOps?

SecOps is a collaboration between security and operations teams, just like development and operations teams collaborate on DevOps front. SecOps is a set of practices organizations need to follow, processes they need to execute and tools they need to use to ensure the security of their application environment. SecOps is making sure organizations do not sacrifice security to attain set performance and uptime indexes.

In a typical development cycle―requirements gathering, design, development, testing, implementation or deployment and maintenance―security normally is introduced in the later stages, somewhere between testing and deployment or even later. But SecOps is all about making sure to introduce aspects around security much earlier or at each stage of the software development life cycle (SDLC).

I know what you are thinking: This is going to complicate things and increase the time to delivery. This is where operations and development teams need to join forces to uncomplicate the things and make it time efficient practice. Next thing you must be thinking of is, Why so much hassle? Think of it the other way. Wouldn’t it save more time when you address the security concerns at much earlier stages than at the time of delivery or implementation? All it takes is an amalgamation of the security group, development team and operations team; a little bit of planning; and a whole lot of execution.

SecOps + Containers

Containerization is slowly but steadily moving from an alternative to full virtualization to a serious platform for running your applications. Containers have some obvious advantages including scalability and flexibility, and this solves most of the problems related to resources in case of application development. Reduced size; reduced time to provision application environment and testing; platforms including Docker, Solaris Zones, BSD Jails; and orchestration platforms including Kubernetes, CoreOS Fleet, Amazon ECS and OpenShift make containers a more preferred option for application development environments.

This increased traction toward containerization points to the increased need to concentrate on security aspects. Here are some best SecOps practices for container environment you and your organizational teams can follow:

Authentic sources and images: Always check for authenticity of container images. There are various tools such as Docker’s security scan. With Docker Cloud and Docker Hub you can scan images to check for potential security vulnerabilities. Most images are built from some base image and not built from scratch, so there is always a threat with the used images. Vulnerability management tool: There are tools available in the market to analyze container image formats and libraries for threats before you actually start using them. Follow benchmarks and hardening guidelines: Always make sure you do the checks and follow hardening guidelines for containers, images, hosts and platforms before you start with production. There are few standards and benchmark checks for containers such as CIS’s Docker security benchmark, PCI compliance checklist, etc. Periodic auditing: Regular auditing of your application environment can help you save yourself from the future troubles. Moreover, automation of auditing process can help in detection of unused images and containers. Use of management frameworks: Use frameworks that can automate behavior profiling and control all the users, authorize the access to the containers, images and hosts. Security built in to container engine systems and third-party security solutions: Third-party vendors have a number of applications for container security in addition to security systems of container management platforms. Dev + Sec + Ops

With the continuously increasing business demands for new applications and software, and new practices and development trends such as DevOps, Agile, cloud, automation, CI/CD and others, traditional security needs to upgraded in the new paradigm. Thankfully, some of these practices facilitate the security. Consider CI/CD as an example: Continuous integration requires continuous integration tools, or what we call build servers. Some popular examples are Jenkins, TeamCity, GitLab CI, Travis CI, Bamboo, Go CD, CircleCI and Codeship. The best SecOps practice is to check and fix vulnerabilities at early stages as a part of CI/CD workflow. Integration between authentication, scanning, management tools and CI/CD pipeline tools could be the best possible solution to your security-related problems. Some easy-to-implement solutions can include automated security testing, static code analysis, authentication checks and login tracking.

SecOps enable organizations in lifecycle management, analysis of security threats, incident management, optimizing and measuring the effectiveness of security controls, reduced breach response time, reduced security risks and increased business security. The basic principle on which SecOps works is Avoid, Analyze, Respond, Review, Repeat. By analyzing the security events and data, you can build incident response plans to avoid future unwanted events.

Frameworks and Tools

Now that you have a clear understanding of why you need your security, development and operations teams to work together, let’s see what tools and frameworks you can use.

Docker-native tools: If you are using Docker as a platform then you can use few security tools provided by Docker itself for the security of production environment: Docker Bench and Docker Notary. Docker Bench is a script that checks common best practices around deploying Docker containers in production. Docker Notary enables you to check whether content is from a trusted publisher. Chef: Chef provides different tools including Inspec to automate security testing. Puppet: Puppet provides security compliance and policy defining frameworks. Ansible: Ansible provides system tracking, setting up firewall rules, user lockdown and compliance automation solutions. CoreOS Clair: CoreOS Clair is an open-source project for vulnerability analysis in applications and Docker containers. SaltStack: SaltStack can help in orchestration and automation of security practices solutions for containers.

This is just a look at some of the most popular ones. If you want, there are a number of others that can look after the security of your application environment.

The main motive behind implying SecOps practices in any organization is involving security team at all possible stages to remove any ambiguity in any stage of development rather than security team providing analysis reports to the operations team and then sitting back and enjoying the show. When these teams perform in a synergistic manner, the business focus can be shifted

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