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IaC Security Explained

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security is the practice of securing cloud infrastructure by embedding security controls into IaC templates and scripts.

4 min read

What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Security?

Infrastructure as code (IaC) consists of the management and configuration of infrastructure using instructions in the form of scripts or files. Infrastructure encompasses virtual machines, containers, databases, and networking. These are the main assets a company needs to secure due to their impact on operational efficiency, scalability, and data integrity.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security is the practice of securing cloud infrastructure by embedding security controls into IaC templates and scripts.

The first step when implementing IaC in an organization is to identify and prioritize infrastructure elements that are best suited for automation. The most common uses of automation are for creating and deploying resources and for setting up the software running on the infrastructure. Other good candidates for automation are scaling, monitoring, logging, testing, security, compliance, back-ups, and disaster recovery.

IaC security risks and challenges 

Although automation boosts productivity, scalability, and reliability, it also brings some challenges that need to be overcome. 

Misconfigurations in IaC templates 

IaC templates are code-based templates applied to several resources. Development teams use them to simplify the configuration of cloud resources and deploy applications in a more efficient way. However, a misconfiguration in one can create a snowball effect. For example, consider a company using AWS CloudFormation for IaC on a new SaaS application. An incorrect security group setting in the CloudFormation template will allow public access to a database containing sensitive user data, opening the system up to potential cyberattacks.

Configuration drift 

Another challenge is configuration drift. This is usually connected to human input in production environments, poor setup of the cloud infrastructure, and applications experiencing unintended changes. As an example, think about opening a port on a firewall to make an application work correctly. If it is not properly added to the documentation, auditors may have a hard time finding why this port was opened and what risks are associated with this configuration drift. 

To mitigate the associated risks, it is important to continuously monitor the infrastructure, as well as establish an updating process that does not involve making changes directly in the production environment.

Ghost resources 

Even though IaC applies new changes to every resource connected to it, it’s still essential to tag all your resources to avoid ghost resources. For instance, take a marketing agency using Azure Resource Manager without adequately tagging its storage resources. Over time, these ghost resources could become numerous, and if left running, they could not only add extra costs but also enlarge the attack surface, highlighting the importance of proper resource tagging.

Exposed secrets 

IaC uses secrets to connect and manage infrastructure. If secrets are saved in plain text or in any other insecure way, these could be read by malicious actors, resulting in a privilege escalation attack

Say an e-commerce platform is using Ansible to manage their cloud resources and is keeping their API secrets in plain text within its configuration files. An audit could reveal this security gap, exposing the risks of a potential privilege escalation attack if those secrets were leaked. To mitigate this risk, they should start using a vault service to securely store and manage these secrets.

Excessive privileges

Last but not least, the management of users is an issue that is always present in any platform. Organizations must adhere to the principle of least privilege to restrict users to the minimum privileges necessary to perform their daily tasks. 

Giving an excessive amount of privileges should always be avoided.

Pro tip

The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is a network and cybersecurity principle that advocates for allocating only the bare-minimum privileges required by each user, software service, and connected device in order to prevent security breaches or minimize their potential impact.

Learn more

Benefits of IaC Security

Centralizing data in one location brings several significant benefits: 

  • Enables you to view and manage your entire cloud environment comprehensively, offering a clear and detailed inventory of all digital assets 

  • Allows you to conduct scans of a centralized repository to identify any misconfigurations that might exist within the infrastructure automatically

  • Ensures that systems are properly set up and aligned with established security standards

  • Uses advanced security tools and methodologies to analyze vulnerabilities that may potentially compromise the integrity of your environment

  • Helps allocate resources to effectively mitigate vulnerabilities based on their potential scope and impact 

The ability to visualize, scan, and analyze cloud infrastructure from a centralized repository ensures a proactive and robust approach to safeguarding your digital assets and maintaining a resilient and secure environment.

A few simple IaC security best practices

Below are a few essential best practices for IaC security:

  • Use a single source of truth for your IaC. This will help to ensure that all of your IaC templates and scripts are consistent and up-to-date.

  • Implement a least privilege model for your IaC. This will help to reduce the risk of accidental or malicious changes to your infrastructure.

  • Use a centralized policy engine for your IaC. This will help to ensure that all of your IaC templates and scripts are compliant with your organization's security policies.

  • Use a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline to deploy your IaC. This will help to automate the deployment of your infrastructure and to ensure that security checks are performed at every stage of the pipeline.

  • Use a cloud security posture management (CSPM) tool to monitor your IaC for security vulnerabilities. This will help to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

The Wiz approach to IaC security

Wiz helps with IaC security in a number of ways:

  • Comprehensive scanning: Wiz can scan IaC templates and scripts for a wide range of security vulnerabilities, including misconfigurations, insecure defaults, open source vulnerabilities, and container image vulnerabilities.

  • Context-rich insights: Wiz provides context-rich insights into the security vulnerabilities that it finds. This helps organizations to understand the impact of the vulnerabilities and to prioritize remediation efforts.

  • Policy-based enforcement: Wiz can enforce security policies on IaC templates and scripts. This helps to ensure that organizations' security requirements are met.

Wiz also offers a number of features that are specifically designed to help with IaC security, such as:

  • Golden VM Image Pipeline: The Golden VM Image Pipeline feature helps organizations to ensure that their VM images are secure and compliant before they are deployed.

  • Runtime-to-code feedback: Wiz provides security feedback on running cloud environments. This feedback can be used to improve the security of IaC templates and scripts.

  • Integration with CI/CD pipelines: Wiz can be integrated with CI/CD pipelines to automate the security scanning of IaC templates and scripts. This helps to shift security to the left and to prevent security vulnerabilities from being introduced into production.

Overall, Wiz is a powerful tool that can help organizations to improve the security of their cloud infrastructure by automating the detection and correction of misconfigurations in IaC templates and scripts.

To see for yourself how an IaC security solution can work in your environment and what value it brings, schedule a Wiz demo today.

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