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Integrating Cloud-Native Security into DevSecOps for Application Protection

DevSecOps gives security teams the tools and practices to scale rapidly along with cloud native development. The end result is a robust combination of speed and protection applied from code committed to production runtime.

A Quick Background Story Cloud Native Security

In this decade, you will witness the exponential rise of cloud native companies. The reason is straightforward - it’s easy to build and scale a product. For instance, a solo founder can swiftly go from idea to an implemented product in less than a week. This rapid development is possible because the focus has shifted away from hardware; which is extremely complex and even more difficult to scale. Cloud native technologies abstracts away this difficulty in a way that focuses solely on product and feature development.

Navigating the Cloud-Native Revolution

The modern technology landscape emphasizes rapid feature deployment without compromising application security. Organizations want to avoid the overhead of managing physical data centers and infrastructure. Instead, they are increasingly adopting cloud-native architectures to tap into the versatility and scalability of cloud computing.

For instance - The global Cloud Native Applications Market was estimated to be worth $5.9 billion in 2023 and is poised to reach $17.0 billion by 2028, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 23.7% from 2023 to 2028. Reference.

Companies like Uber, Spotify, and Netflix have exemplified success in leveraging cloud-native applications thanks to managed cloud platforms such as AWS, Azure, and GCP, that provide on-demand access to computing resources and have decoupled feature development from underlying hardware limitations.

Cloud-Native v/s Cloud-Hosted

These terms are often misunderstood -  "hosted on the cloud" with being "cloud-native". Cloud-native applications are specifically engineered to flourish within a cloud environment. This includes adopting serverless architectures, utilizing containerization, leveraging microservices, and orchestrating it all through platforms like Kubernetes.

The Critical Concern

Even with all the advancements, security still remains a critical concern with cloud native applications because there is no off-the-shelf custom security tool common across all businesses.

Here are some of the reasons:

  • Cloud native apps involve many components like containers, microservices, APIs etc. which expand the potential attack surface. More entry points means more opportunities for exploits.

  • The attack surface changes rapidly due to auto-scaling and frequent updates to cloud native apps.

  • Distributed microservices and containers can create blind spots making detecting threats difficult.

  • With many microservices and APIs, proper access controls and identity management become even more important to limit blast radius.

  • Running untrusted container workloads creates risk of breakouts, malicious code execution/injection, vulnerability exploitation.

  • High velocity deployment pipelines need security testing baked in to catch issues early before reaching production.

  • Cloud misconfigurations can unintentionally expose apps and data if not managed correctly.

Let's take a look at this real world example -

Grzegorz Niedziela, a penetration tester secured a $20,000 bug bounty for discovering an S3 bucket misconfiguration. Read the complete story here.  Make no mistake, S3 bucket vulnerabilities can lead to catastrophic consequences such as data leaks, unauthorized data alterations, and malware infiltrations.

This example just highlights one of several reasons why securing cloud native applications cannot be taken for granted and requires a dedicated and comprehensive approach.

The Need for DevSecOps

For security engineers, cloud environments provide opportunities to embed security earlier in the development process. Cloud resources are more organized and scalable compared to on-prem infrastructure. Platform as Service (PaS) and Infrastructure as Service (IaS) cloud services make it easier to rapidly provision and configure secure environments.

DevSecOps gives security teams the tools and practices to scale rapidly along with cloud native development. The end result is a robust combination of speed and protection applied from code committed to production runtime.

This blog provides guidance on strengthening the security of your cloud-native applications. We will cover:

  • An overview of cloud native application architectures.

  • Why security is crucial for these distributed, dynamic environments.

  • How DevSecOps enables "shifting left" and embedding security across the development lifecycle.

  • Real-world examples and case studies of DevSecOps for cloud native apps.

  • Common challenges teams face in securing cloud native systems.

  • Emerging technologies and future directions for cloud native security.

The goal is to give readers actionable insights on architecting, building, and running more secure cloud native applications.

A Quick Tour of DevSecOps

DevSecOps integrates security into DevOps to ‘shift security left’ across the entire development lifecycle. It moves beyond siloed security teams and makes security a shared responsibility across engineering, operations, and security.

With DevSecOps, security is not an afterthought or just a pre-production checklist item. Instead, it becomes an integral part of every phase, from planning to code. commits to deployment, and runtime monitoring. This integration is especially critical for cloud native architectures. Challenges like visibility gaps, policy fragmentation, configuration drift, and release velocity strain traditional security models.

In essence, DevSecOps enables security to be as agile and scalable as the cloud native architectures it protects. It makes security everyone's responsibility by collaborating, automating, and integrating protection seamlessly into existing workflows. Adopting DevSecOps is not optional in the cloud native world - it's an imperative for managing risk and innovation velocity.

Let's take a look at this mind map attached below. It’s a comprehensive visualization explaining the fundamental aspects, best practices, challenges, and future directions of DevSecOps.

DevSecOps explained

Exploring the Cloud-Native Ecosystem

Diving into cloud technologies can feel overwhelming. Well, honestly, sometimes it seems they're designed that way. Every cloud provider has this knack for crafting their own signature names for practically identical services. It's like hearing a dozen fancy titles for what's essentially a good old relational database. But if you look at the fundamentals, you'll find common ground. Let's decode the cloud jargons with the diagram I created for my own understanding of cloud technologies, shall we?

Landscape across major providers

The image is a mind map for highlighting the cloud-native offerings across major cloud providers: AWS, Azure, and GCP

The understanding of these tools is needed to better manage and secure cloud native applications. A collective understanding of these tools can be a game-changer in securing a cloud landscape using DevSecOps based approach.

In the next section, we will see how these tools are utilized as a part of DevSecOps strategy.

Strategies for Securing Cloud-Native Applications

Securing cloud-native applications in a DevSecOps environment involves addressing unique challenges and implementing best practices that integrate security throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Some of the key strategies for securing cloud-native applications include:

Adopting Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

IaC tools like Terraform, Ansible etc. provide ability to programmatically define and provision cloud infrastructure and configurations. It supports a wide range of cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. This removes reliance on manual processes which are error-prone and hard to scale.

With IaC, infrastructure components like networks, virtual machines, and security groups can be codified. This machine-readable definition of infrastructure as code provides important benefits:

  • Consistency - IaC ensures environments adhere to approved configs and standards.

  • Version Control - All changes are tracked enabling auditability and rollbacks if issues emerge.

  • Automated Validation - Security flaws and drift can be detected automatically vs manual reviews.

  • Collaboration - IaC code can be shared and reviewed cross-functionally across teams.

However, IaC also introduces security risks that must be mitigated:

  • Securing Terraform state: Store Terraform state files securely, using remote backends that support encryption and access control, such as AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage, or Google Cloud Storage.

  • Untrusted Modules - Publicly available IaC modules often contain vulnerabilities or misconfigurations. Report shows - 44% of the 2,600 modules for Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google Cloud support were misconfigured. Reference

  • Drift Detection - Continuous validation should check for IaC drift from approved definitions.

  • Scan Terraform Files - All IaC code must be scanned for security issues and compliance before deployment. Tools like Terrascan, Checkov, and Snyk can help identify potential security issues and ensure that your infrastructure is configured securely.

Utilizing Policy as Code

Policy as code is the practice of codifying security policies, controls, and governance rules so they can be automatically validated and enforced. It is a crucial capability for securing cloud native applications. For instance, tools like Open Policy Agent (OPA), Chef InSpec and Conftest let us define policies as declarative code.

Some examples where policy as code shines:

  • Require least privilege IAM for AWS/Azure provisioning.

  • Scan Kubernetes clusters against config benchmarks with OPA.

  • Validate Ansible playbooks adhere to hardening before deployment.

  • Only approved Docker base images get used.

  • Continuously scan Terraform plans against security standards.

The big benefits of policy as code:

  • Prevent insecure changes before they are applied.

  • Policies become living documentation of security standards.

  • Testing and reporting embed nicely into CI/CD pipelines.

  • Changes are tracked enabling audits and rollbacks.

Policy as Code vs LAC

Policy as code differs from IaC in a few key ways:

  • IaC provisions resources whereas policy as code just evaluates state.

  • IaC executes initially i.e before deployment whereas policy as code validates later.

  • IaC focuses on reproducibility whereas policy as code focuses on compliance.

Together, IaC and policy as code allow us to provision and validate a secure cloud foundation rapidly and reliably. This allows development velocity without compromising security guardrails.

Shifting Security Left in CI/CD

A core DevSecOps strategy is to shift security left by embedding it directly into continuous integration and delivery workflows. Here are some key ways to integrate security automation into the pipeline:

SAST Scanning

Perform static analysis security testing on source code during pull requests to uncover bugs like SQLi or XSS before merges. Tools like Veracode Greenlight provide fast feedback.

Container Scanning

Scan Docker images during image builds to identify OS and library CVEs. Anchore and Snyk can help analyze images before they get deployed.

IaC Scanning

Scan Terraform, CloudFormation, Ansible templates for security misconfigurations and compliance issues before infrastructure changes are applied.

DAST Testing

Conduct dynamic application scanning on staging environments to probe running apps for exposures like injection flaws or weak authentication.

Orchestration

Orchestrate scans with CI/CD tools like Jenkins and auto-gate unsafe code from moving forward. Generate tickets to remediate findings.

Centralized Reporting

Aggregate scan results in systems like Jira to optimize metrics like mean time to remediation. This provides visibility into pipeline security hygiene.

Embedding API Security Scans in Your CI/CD Pipeline

Running API scan checks earlier in the pipeline means any flaws can be fixed fast and cheap. After new code is deployed, an API Security scanning platform such as Akto can automatically kick off API scans of your staging or production environment. Just trigger scans via API calls using 100s of pre configured tests in Akto.

For simplicity, leverage Akto's GitHub Action to directly embed scanning into your pipelines. The action handles all the API orchestration behind the scenes. Once scans are complete, dig into the test results and trends right within the Akto dashboard.

You can learn and experiment more here: https://docs.akto.io/testing/run-tests-in-cicd

By baking robust API security testing into your continuous delivery lifecycle, you can ship confidently knowing risks are surfaced early. Akto helps weave security into your pipeline workflows for frictionless protection.

Securing the Container

Containers have become a cornerstone of cloud native application delivery. However, containers also introduce new security risks that must be addressed. As organizations accelerate their adoption of containers and orchestrators like Kubernetes, implementing strong container security is crucial. Here are key steps organizations should take:

Secure the supply chain

  • Scan container images for vulnerabilities during the build process to catch issues early. Identify CVEs and prioritize risks for remediation.

  • Scan Dockerfiles during the build, and scanning container registry images before deployment.

  • Use trusted private container registries rather than public repositories. Limit access to push/pull images.

Harden container hosts

  • Minimize host OS attack surface by removing unnecessary packages, kernels, tools.

  • Apply security hardening guides for host OS like CIS Docker Benchmarks.

  • Ensure container engines are running the latest patched versions.

Limit container permissions

  • Run containers as non-root users with least privileges whenever possible.

  • Define restrictive Pod Security Policies in Kubernetes to limit risky actions.

  • Segregate containers from host OS via namespaces and control groups.

Monitor runtime behaviour

  • Collect logs, metrics, events related to container activities to establish baselines and identify anomalies.

  • Adopt runtime protection tools like Falco that detect suspicious container behavior.

One of the biggest problems for enterprises is managing Container Security at Scale. Here are some of the techniques that can be adopted -

  • Centralize configuration and policy management using tools like Kubernetes Configuration Management solutions.

  • Maintain a consistent container security baseline across environments by codifying Kubernetes configs.

  • Use admission controls to enforce policies like image signing before deployment.

  • Aggregate container logs, events, metrics across clusters for unified visibility.

  • Implement controls and automation uniformly across on-prem and cloud environments.

  • Promote security configuration reuse and sharing through helm charts and templatization.

The security community shares some of the Kubernetes Security Best Practices. This includes but is not restricted to -

  • Enable Pod Security Policies to restrict privileged access, host mounts, allowable capabilities.

  • Define Network Policies limiting ingress/egress connectivity between pods based on least privilege.

  • Remove unnecessary Kubernetes Services, exposed ports, features to reduce attack surface area.

  • Leverage Kubernetes RBAC for least privilege role-based access control.

  • Use Kubernetes Secrets to avoid exposing credentials in plain text.

  • Scan Kubernetes YAML configs for security issues like permissive permissions.

  • Leverage tools like Falco to monitor Kubernetes behavior and events at runtime.

With proactive scanning, hardening, monitoring, and runtime defenses - enterprises can benefit from the velocity of containers while keeping risk under control.

Scaling security across Micro services

With microservices becoming the preferred architecture for agile cloud apps, new security challenges emerge. Every microservice and API expands the potential attack surface. Just look at tech leaders like Netflix and Spotify - their microservices environments see massive scale and complexity.

As engineers, we know adding more moving parts introduces risks. Each microservice component and communication channel represents a possible entry point for bad actors. If one service is compromised, how do we stop lateral movement across the environment? And with dependencies constantly changing, how do we gain visibility across ephemeral infrastructure?

This is where DevSecOps helps immensely. We need to bake security practices like microsegmentation, service identity management, and runtime application self protection into our CI/CD pipelines. Shifting security left allows us to release features quickly while limiting blast radius. Tools like service meshes, API gateways, and advanced monitoring give visibility across microservices chatter. To elaborate further -

  • Open source service meshes like Istio help transparently secure service-to-service communication via mTLS, authorization, and encryption between microservices.

  • Harden container infrastructure with tools like kube-bench to scan Kubernetes configs against security best practices. Limit IAM roles and privileged containers.

By combining infrastructure automation and next-gen application security, we can confidently scale microservices without spiraling complexity.

Adopting the Zero Trust Architectures

Zero trust is becoming the heart of securing modern dynamic environments. The old castle-and-moat security mentality is obsolete. Perimeters are blurring in the cloud native world. Zero trust dictates that we should never implicitly trust anything - whether inside or outside the network. Verify explicitly. Least privilege access is key. Encrypt all traffic and inspect for anomalies constantly.

Architecturally, we focus on protection at the application layer as opposed to just the network edge. Tools and techniques that include - API gateways, service identity verification, and micro segmentation limit lateral exposure. However, the Hackers will inevitably breach the perimeter - but zero trust principles allow us to minimize blast radius.

  • API and service access can be secured via API gateways like Ambassador, which limit north-south traffic to microservices through authN/authZ and quotas.

  • BeyondCorp from Google and the Zero Trust model from Forrester provide proven open source zero trust frameworks to evaluate when architecting an approach.

  • Tools like SPIRE from SPIFFE can issue and verify cryptographic identities for establishing zero trust connections between microservices and hosts.

By adopting zero trust models powered by DevSecOps automation, we can thrive in the world of microservices and cloud velocity. Our applications are resilient regardless of inevitable threats.

Let's Explore Some Real-World Case Studies

Augment your app security framework by developing a DevSecOps approach | David Cafaro - Capital One

In this presentation, David from Capital One emphasizes that DevSecOps is a total mindset shift - everyone owns security. He shares some great practical tips:

Augment your app security framework by developing a DevSecOps approach | David Cafaro | Capital One

Some key technical insights shared by David, include

  • Leverage static analysis in coding to catch issues early. Flag and remediate vulnerable libraries before builds to avoid cascading failures down the pipeline.

  • Testing stage offers opportunities for dynamic scanning and fuzzing. Failures found here can inform regression test cases to prevent future recurrences.

  • At packaging time, scan libraries and containers for CVEs using tools like WhiteSource or OSS Review Toolkit. Plan processes for streamlined patching/updates outside of full pipeline runs.

  • Feed monitoring results like vulnerability scans back to devs in an actionable way. Don't just hand them a report - integrate into existing systems so improvements happen seamlessly.

  • For deployment, enforce security policies in code via Infrastructure as Code. Leverage Kubernetes admission controls to mandate things like pod security contexts.

  • Container runtime security is crucial - scan images, sign them, limit privileges. Lock down Kubernetes network policies. Minimize external access to only essential services.

  • Pick tools that integrate well with existing systems - one size doesn't fit all. But transforming team mindsets is even more important than technology.

  • Change management processes balance business needs with security. Risk frameworks guide rapid adjustments when needed.

  • By embedding security across the entire pipeline, CapOne has reduced risk without compromising velocity. DevSecOps done right empowers innovation at scale.

By embedding security everywhere in the pipeline, Capital One has reduced risk without stifling innovation. For David, DevSecOps is the key to confident velocity.

Reviewing the Veracode and AWS case study

Link: Embracing DevSecOps: Building Security into Cloud-Native Development Workflows | AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog

The Veracode and AWS case study showcases DevSecOps in action by embedding security scans natively into the pipeline. Some key takeaways:

  • SCA, SAST, DAST scans are woven into CodeBuild and CodePipeline to shift security left. Testing is orchestrated using CloudFormation for standardization.

  • Scans act as security gates at multiple points: during coding, commits, pre-release. This enables finding issues cheaply when they emerge vs later.

  • Scan types like IDE, pipeline, and policy scans map neatly to existing developer workflows and feedback loops.

  • Innovative serverless-based approaches like Lambda demonstrate next-gen scanning methods unique to cloud environments.

  • Hands-on cloud security training gives developers relevant skills and experience aligned to tools they use daily.

  • By integrating security tools into existing CI/CD processes, there is no disruption to developer velocity or productivity.

  • Protection is built into the full development lifecycle, not just pre-production. A culture and mindset shift occurs.

The case study highlights how purpose-built solutions can embed security seamlessly into modern cloud-native software delivery. Security transforms from an obstacle into an enabler of innovation and speed.

Challenges in Implementing DevSecOps in Cloud-Native Applications

Transitioning to DevSecOps and cloud-native security has some common growing pains. It’s not easy learning and implementing production grade technologies and code overnight. Its weeks of practice and effort along with making mistakes and learning in the process.

  • It requires a culture shift towards shared responsibility for security across teams. Breaking down old silos can be tough, especially in big enterprises.

  • Resistance to change is expected. Hence it's important to demonstrate value early and showcase impact via security metrics.

  • Blending security into new workflows takes time. Clear communication, collaboration and support smoothens the path.

  • With the rise of custom built tools, policies and IaC code, tech debt has increased and will continue to increase. Operational overhead and on-call responsibility can be exhausting for a security engineer.

  • Continuously learning new tools and API contracts with changing cloud providers can be rough as well.

But all the above reasons are what make DevSecOps dynamic and fun. You will rarely work on the same problem and solution for a long time. Challenges also result in skill acquisition and levels up as security engineers. With the amount of resources available at your fingerprints, the only challenge I see is investing time and energy.

The Future of DevSecOps and Cloud-Native Applications

Looking ahead, DevSecOps and cloud security will see big changes as threats evolve and reliance on open source grows. We need to shift left on security more than ever.

  • Organizations are already accelerating DevSecOps adoption to embed protection from the start.

  • Security will be baked into software and operations intrinsically - DevSecOps replacing DevOps outright. Protection will be built-in from the ground up.

  • Sophisticated AI-driven attacks means fighting back with AI-enabled defense. Leveraging machine learning to spot threats in real time will be critical.

  • We'll see zero trust models take over - verifying all users and devices explicitly, encrypting everything, and limiting blast radius.

It’s clear that the present and the future is DevSecOps and Cloud Native and the security engineer will have to work at the intersection of AI, Software Engineering and Cybersecurity.

Conclusion

There's no question that adopting DevSecOps is critical for securing modern cloud native applications. By shifting security left, we can find and fix issues sooner while automating protection throughout the pipeline.

  • For companies, DevSecOps boosts ROI by reducing deployment risks and costs. For developers, it fosters instinctive security-first thinking. A win-win for both business and technology.

  • For security pros looking to level up, immerse yourself in the latest threats and innovations. Share your knowledge to spread a culture of security.

  • And for aspiring DevSecOps engineers, connect with leaders in the field. Stay on top of trends shaping this exciting space at the intersection of security and agility.

The best part is that the security community is very helpful and collaborative. People love giving back to the community and sharing and learning new skills. The future is bright when we come together and commit to building security into everything we do.

Further reading

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Gartner estimates that by 2025, less than 50% of enterprise APIs will be properly managed.

Gartner estimates that by 2025, less than 50% of enterprise APIs will be properly managed.

Protect your APIs from attacks now

Protect your APIs from attacks now

Protect your APIs from attacks now