Penetration Testing In DevOps

As per Wikipedia, a penetration test, colloquially known as a “pen test”, pentest or ethical hacking, is an authorized simulated cyberattack on a computer system, performed to evaluate the security of the system. Not to be confused with a vulnerability assessment which is is the process of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing the vulnerabilities in a system

Pentest activities performed either from the outside of the target system (external) or within the target system (internal) typically result in Pentest Report which consolidates the findings and recommendations around the efficiency of existing security controls and defence mechanisms of the targeted system.

DevOps is all about efficient and speedy completion of development processes for faster delivery of products and services. Avoiding or missing security considerations in general in a DevOps cycle may lead to serious quality issues of final deliverables. Security vulnerabilities not discovered and fixed on time typically lead to a sizable technical debt which at the end becomes very costly to resolve and usually holds baggage of “credibility loss” of the software vendor.

In order to ensure that security is embossed into DevOps, pentesting should be performed on an ongoing basis to keep up with the continuous developments. Obviously performing it manually can be a burden as it might slow down the development process leading it to be of no value at all. It’s a no-brainer to state that it has to be automated as much as possible. 

To do this you need to start with knowing exactly your development methodology and the environment. An Agile developed cloud-hosted system would have security challenges very different from those of the system “hidden” from the internet behind a set of firewalls and segregated VLANs. Such understanding of circumstances and associated risks will define the scope of your pentesting and you have to be very careful in choosing methods that will be the most effective, i.e. giving you back the most value of pentesting while fully respecting the speed at which DevOps has to work. Think about the network exposure, connected interfaces, data flows, access control etc. as well as your internal company security requirements.

Once the scope is defined, lookout for the best possible tool you can use. Sometimes a fully automated one may not be the best choice. Since your requirements could be specific, it is best to go for the tool which can take in customized input (e.g. scripts) and follow your definition of severity levels. Sometimes the very basic can work (e.g. CIS-CAT benchmark), you need to invest time in understanding your own needs and benefits.

All this makes the “planning” of pentesting in DevOps critical for the success of the investment. 

Even though you can defining gating of the development progress on some types of such automated pentesting results I’m afraid that off-line educated analysis of results cannot be avoided and have to be done with care. The loop has to be closed back to both your code changes and in some cases your pentest automation. Engaging with the development teams is essential to make sure security becomes part of their daily code development “thinking”

In Summary

Pentesting as such adds massive value to the quality of your software and also the credibility of your organization.

When embedded in your DevOps cycle it has to be automated to a large extent, planned carefully in terms of methodology and tooling so it is the most effective choice as it must not slow down your development cycle.

Analyze results carefully, discuss and bring the design organization with you on fixing them and continuously improving your code and DevOps cycle.

Dragan Nikolic
Security Specialist | Ammeon

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