Security Challenges with IAC and How to Overcome Them

Infrastructure as a Code or IAC has changed the way we deploy environments for web services and software. Developers don’t need to deal with hardware configurations or work on actual devices and operating systems; there is no need to have an in-house team of infrastructure specialists either. Instead, everything is done via software now.

There are more configuration orchestration and management tools available than ever before too, so the whole IAC approach is simpler than ever. That simplicity though can lead to concerns about security and reliability, with the former being the more prominent concern of the two. What are the security challenges with IAC and how can we overcome them?

Human Error

It is necessary to admit that the primary security issue in IAC environment is, well, the people that come in to contact with the servers. It may be an incorrect upgrade applied at the wrong time or a critical file that gets accidentally deleted, but the simplest human error can lead to a catastrophic failure.

Fortunately, there are many ways to mitigate this particular risk. For starters, you can limit the number of people with administrative access. Meticulous identity access management or IAM is also a must for better protection and improved security.

This is an issue that can also be mitigated with the help of Amazon Inspector. The tool automates security checks and maintenance almost entirely. In an EC2 instance, for example, Inspector can do assessments and discover unintended network accessibility. All you need to do then is fix the configuration of your cloud server accordingly.

Unauthorized Access from Within

Identity Access Management(IAM) is also handy for managing security risks caused by poor access regulations. Ingress to different parts of the cloud environment must always be limited and managed in great detail. Only then can you fully protect the entire ecosystem.

Compartmentalization is the key here. Even on a user level, detailed and fully regulated access management can help prevent major security breaches such as information copying and unauthorized admission to sensitive materials. Since there is no physical server to access, adding a good layer of IAM is the way to go.

Amazon GuardDuty is just one of the measures to deploy if you want to mitigate this risk further. While GuardDuty is mainly designed to spot unauthorized deployments and API calls, the tool can be configured to identify user-related anomalies in the hundreds—thousands—of server activities it monitors.

Physical Access to the Servers

Convincing stakeholders, particularly top management and business leaders, about data security when migrating to IAC is not always easy. The big question remains the same. If others have physical access to the servers, what guarantees do we have that they will not access the sensitive information in the servers directly?

This is where security standards come in handy. The implementation of good data security practices and robust security measures can help reduce the risk. It is all about implementing the right security policies and standards.

There are a lot of established standards to follow too. When comparing cloud providers, for example, you can focus on providers with ISO 27017:2015, ISO 9001:2008, and the Multi-Tier Cloud Security Standard Level-3 certifications.

You can then add your own layer of security on top of these guarantees. Adding strong encryption with private keys, for instance, can further fortify your cloud server and prevent unauthorized physical access from ever posing a risk.

Data Transmission Risks

Keep in mind that securing servers alone isn’t enough. There are also risks of data transmissions being sniffed and the information transmitted being stolen. The increasing number of cyber attacks happening recently is a clear indication that this type of security challenges needs to be taken seriously.

There are many ways to mitigate this risk. The obvious one is by using VPN and SSL encryption to protect data transmissions. These are not always the most practical solutions to use, but they add an extra layer of protection and prevent unwanted information theft from happening during data transmissions.

Another way to reduce this risk is by encrypting data or files before they are transmitted to the server. The encrypt/decrypt process can be moved to the client’s side rather than being configured to run on the cloud servers. This too adds an extra layer of protection.

The latest trend, however, is to use Cloud Access Security Brokers or CASBs to take things a step further. CASBs can identify potential threats by analyzing data from different sources. They are also capable of tracking user movements and understanding the security risks those movements create.

Multi-Environment Challenges

The security challenges with IAC are even more difficult to handle when you start using multiple cloud services and environments. The main reason behind this is the lack of communication and standards between cloud providers and IAC services.

When using different cloud services for different purposes, for example, data transmissions between those servers are not always encrypted, even when you have encryption set up for the clients or users. The lack of standardization means you cannot use the same approach or use security configurations from one vendor for the other.

This is where solutions like AlienVault come in handy. In the case of AlienVault, you can configure automatic asset discovery to run correctly, use the endpoint detection and intrusion detection as added security measures, and have all of your environments fully protected from attacks and intrusions.

While, admittedly, there are some serious security challenges that come with the use of infrastructure as code. These tips and tricks will help you deal with those security risks—and other risks associated with IAC use—without a problem.

For more on improving security controls within your architecture, read our post on Best Practice CIS Amazon Web Services Foundations Security Requirements.


Ibexlabs is an experienced DevOps & Managed Services provider and an AWS consulting partner. Our AWS Certified DevOps consultancy team evaluates your infrastructure and make recommendations based on your individual business or personal requirements. Contact us today and set up a free consultation to discuss a custom-built solution tailored just for you.

Kiran Sangeetam

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