Securing CI/CD Pipelines: Why a Comprehensive Approach is Needed

Noah Simon


Head of Product Marketing


Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines have become the backbone of modern software development, enabling teams to deliver code faster and more reliably. However, in the rush to accelerate delivery, security can sometimes take a back seat. This can have serious consequences, as vulnerabilities in CI/CD pipelines can lead to significant data breaches and system compromises.

 In this article, we'll explore why a comprehensive approach to securing CI/CD pipelines is essential, and we'll provide practical steps to help you fortify your pipeline against potential threats.

The Vulnerability Landscape

CI/CD pipelines are complex systems that involve multiple stages, from code integration and testing to deployment and monitoring. Each stage presents unique security concerns. For instance, a misconfiguration in a version control system, a weak authentication mechanism, or an insecure dependency can open the door to malicious attacks.

The Need for a Comprehensive Security View Across the CI/CD Pipeline

To effectively secure a CI/CD pipeline, it's crucial to adopt a comprehensive approach. This means considering security at every stage of the pipeline, from code creation to deployment in production. 

However, many of the security solutions used today cover only a portion of the CI/CD pipeline. By aggregating, normalizing, correlating data from point solutions, customers can get a unified view to help them aggregate and prioritize all risks- whether they are introduced in code, applications, or cloud infrastructure. Organizations that already have security solutions for both cloud infrastructure (CNAPP/CSPM), and applications (IAST/DAST/SAST/SCA) can try to unify data from these solutions with their CI/CD pipelines.

Connecting The Dots Is Not So Easy

If unifying the data from security solutions with the CI/CD pipelines provides better security visibility, clearly you could have one or two developers work with security admins to take this project on… right?

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. There are myriad challenges to overcome when aggregating, normalizing, and correlating data from disparate solutions such as Cloud Native Application Protection (CNAPP), Application Security (AppSec), Source Code Management (SCM), and CI/CD platforms. 

These data challenges include:

1. Data Heterogeneity: Disparate solutions often generate data in different formats, structures, and schemas. This heterogeneity makes it difficult to combine and analyze the data seamlessly. 

2. Data Quality: Each solution may have its own data quality issues, such as missing values, duplicates, or inconsistencies. When aggregating data, these issues can compound and lead to inaccurate or unreliable results.

3. Integration Complexity: Integrating data from different sources may require different processes. These processes involve extracting data from source systems, transforming it into a common format, and then loading it into a centralized data store. 

4. Schema Mismatch: The data models and schemas used in disparate solutions may not align perfectly. This can result in challenges related to mapping and aligning fields, leading to data loss or the need for complex data mapping rules.

5. Data Processing: Disparate solutions may generate large volumes of data at varying rates. Handling high data volumes and fast data velocity requires robust infrastructure and data processing capabilities.

6. Solution Versioning and Updates: Software and system updates can lead to changes in data formats or APIs, which can disrupt data aggregation efforts. Maintaining compatibility with evolving systems can be a constant challenge.

7. Data Ownership and Access Control: Different solutions may have different data ownership models and access control mechanisms. Coordinating data access and permissions across multiple systems can be complex.

A Graph Database and Expertise Can Help

The challenges above require expertise to navigate. People who understand the data coming from these security solutions, as well as the CI/CD pipeline can help make sense of all the data.

Moverover, since much of the data across these solutions is unstructured, a graph database is needed to employ flexible data modeling. That said, building this DIY is a massive undertaking, and one that needs to be maintained continuously at the speed of your development organization.

The good news is that platforms that help secure code-to-cloud now exist, and are being used by some of the world’s largest organizations today. 

What To Consider

If you’re looking at solutions designed to secure your CI/CD pipelines, consider the following:

  1. Automatic root cause analysis: beyond making sense of the data, platforms that can automatically point to the root cause behind issues will save your security and development teams considerable time
  2. Integrations: a comprehensive library of integrations that are continuously maintained is imperative to making sure the data is always actionable and useful
  3. A focus on remediation: platforms that can not only pinpoint the root cause, but also suggest the best fix based on program analysis and AI will help you actually fix the problems across your CI/CD pipeline, and finally prevent the same issues from recurring.

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