October 3, 2023 By Josh Nadeau 4 min read

According to the 2023 Thales Data Threat Report, 55% of organizations experiencing a data breach have reported “human error” as the primary cause. This is further compounded by organizations now facing attacks from increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals with a wide range of automated tools.

As organizations move more of their operations to the cloud, they must also become increasingly aware of the security risks and threats that come with it. It’s not enough anymore to simply have a set of policies that human operators must follow. Today more proactive and automated strategies must be implemented. This is where Infrastructure as Code (IaC) can play a pivotal role.

What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

Infrastructure as Code is a key practice in the world of DevOps that involves managing and provisioning computer data centers through machine-readable definition files or scripts rather than relying on physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. To put it simply, IaC is the process of managing your IT infrastructure — servers, networks and databases — using code, much like software.

Traditionally, setting up and managing IT infrastructures was a manual and complex process, often resulting in inconsistencies and inefficiencies due to human error. However, with IaC, this process is automated, streamlined and more reliable. An IaC model means that every aspect of your infrastructure is written in code and can be quickly, reliably and safely deployed and redeployed as needed.

What role does IaC play in cloud security?

While IaC has been primarily used to help organizations automate their infrastructure processes, it can also be a powerful cloud security tool. Below are a few of the ways where IaC can play a critical role in securing cloud environments:

Streamlining compliance and auditing

One of the primary roles of IaC in cloud security is streamlining compliance and auditing processes. Modern businesses are often subject to various industry data security and privacy regulations. With IaC, the entire infrastructure setup is coded and version-controlled. This allows for easy tracking of all changes and maintains an audit trail, simplifying the process of ensuring compliance.

Most importantly, IaC provides a transparent and readable layout of the infrastructure. This transparency is extremely beneficial for auditors who need to review systems to ensure they meet specific security standards. It saves time, reduces the risk of oversight and ensures that every aspect of the infrastructure is scrutinized effectively.

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Enforcing consistency

IaC plays a crucial role in enforcing consistency across all environments. Consistency is a fundamental aspect of maintaining secure IT systems. Traditionally, IT infrastructures were susceptible to configuration drift — a situation where running servers diverge over time from their original configuration due to manual updates and patches. This drift often led to a variety of security vulnerabilities.

However, with IaC, this risk is effectively eliminated. By defining the infrastructure in code, every environment is identical, reducing inconsistencies. If a security issue is identified in one environment, the necessary fix can be applied to the IaC scripts and consistently deployed across all other environments.

Automating security policies

The automation of security policies is another important aspect of IaC. In traditional IT setups, security policies had to be manually enforced, which was prone to human error or oversight. With IaC, security policies can be codified into the infrastructure, ensuring their consistent enforcement across all environments. This automation reduces the possibility of human error and ensures that all deployments adhere to the company’s security standards.

Facilitating immutable infrastructure

IaC also facilitates the implementation of an immutable infrastructure. In these types of models, servers are never modified after they’re deployed. If a change is required, new servers are built from a common template, and old ones are decommissioned. This approach enhances security by reducing the attack surface for potential threats.

Any unauthorized changes or anomalies can be quickly detected and addressed because the infrastructure remains consistent. It also prevents unauthorized access or modifications since each deployment is new and does not retain potentially compromised configurations from previous versions.

Accelerating incident response

In the event of a security incident, IaC allows for rapid response. Infected servers can be immediately decommissioned and replaced with clean instances using IaC scripts. This quick response minimizes downtime and potential damage, allowing businesses to recover swiftly and continue operations with minimal disruption.

By allowing for speedy remediation of security threats, IaC enhances the resilience of cloud infrastructures against cyberattacks, providing businesses with the confidence to operate in the digital space securely.

How can IaC be incorporated into an organization’s security strategy?

IaC is an effective tool for enhancing cloud security, but it must be properly and strategically incorporated into an organization’s security strategy. Below are a few best practices to ensure successful implementation:

Adopt DevSecOps principles

DevSecOps, a philosophy integrating security practices within the DevOps process, is crucial in incorporating IaC into your organization’s security strategy. DevSecOps, security checks and controls are integrated into the coding process rather than being added at later stages.

Using IaC in a DevSecOps context means that your infrastructure setup becomes part of the codebase, allowing continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD). Any changes can be reviewed, tested and deployed in a streamlined fashion, ensuring that your infrastructure remains secure and up-to-date at all times.

Maintain a security-centric mindset

A security-centric mindset is essential when incorporating IaC into your security strategy. This means considering security from the very beginning of the infrastructure development process and not as an afterthought.

With IaC, you can code security controls and policies directly into your infrastructure setup. This ensures that every new piece of infrastructure deployed is automatically compliant with your organization’s security standards, reducing the risk of human error and enhancing the overall security posture of your cloud environments.

Identify and correct environmental drift

Environmental drift occurs when the state of your infrastructure diverges from its intended configuration, often due to manual interventions or ad hoc changes. This drift can lead to inconsistencies, making managing and securing your infrastructure harder.

IaC helps combat environmental drift by maintaining a “single source of truth” for your infrastructure setup. Any changes are made in the code and then propagated across your infrastructure, ensuring consistency. Regular audits can be conducted using the code as a benchmark, allowing you to quickly identify and correct any drift.

Avoid complexity

Complexity can be a major enemy of security. The more complex your infrastructure, the harder it is to manage and secure. One of the key benefits of IaC is that it simplifies the management of your infrastructure.

Defining your infrastructure using code simplifies the setup and reduces complexity. It also makes it easier to manage and lowers the risk of attacks.

IaC continues to be an invaluable tool for automating and securing cloud infrastructures. When properly incorporated into an organization’s security strategy, IaC can help businesses avoid the risks associated with human error when managing their cloud environments and ensure that they maintain the highest compliance standards.

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