Fast and quality software delivery has become a competitive differentiating factor for business success today. This realization is driving an aggressive adoption of the DevOps strategy in software delivery. With the speed and agility of DevOps, organizations of all sizes are able to accelerate release cycles, achieve faster time-to-value, and maximize profitability. In 2021, 83% of IT decision makers reported implementing DevOps practices to drive better business outcomes.
At the same time, the demand for exceptional product experiences has skyrocketed the expectations for software delivery and DevOps. As a result, the DevOps environment is continuously evolving and growing inadvertently more complex.
Today, applications are being developed with pre-built libraries available on the internet, rather than just custom code written by in-house developers. There is also a massive uptick in the use of short-lived cloud-native technologies, such as containers, virtual machines, and microservices that are spun up and down continuously based on need. Together, these changes have increased the number of moving parts in the DevOps landscape, making it highly challenging to manage.
Security is one of the major concerns that organizations are grappling with in DevOps. As DevOps was primarily built with speed in mind, security has always been an afterthought. In favor of speed, developers often tend to sidestep security best practices, which has led to vulnerabilities in the delivered product. Further, increased reliance on third-party libraries has also amplified security risks in the software supply chain.
Threat actors are becoming deft at exploiting these weaknesses to their advantage. The discovery of the Log4J vulnerability that revealed the possibility of attackers easily gaining control of third-party systems served as a rude wake-up call for organizations practicing DevOps and called for urgent measures to strengthen software supply chain security.
Due to these threats and growing complexity, organizations are now looking to adopt DevSecOps practices that can help secure not only the code and infrastructure but also the software supply chain, all while maintaining the application delivery speed.
To that end, public key infrastructure or PKI is rising to the challenge by providing the ability to authenticate machines for secure access and encrypt data for secure communication throughout the software development lifecycle. Digital certificates are becoming the new security standard in DevOps, helping organizations integrate security into the existing development workflows without interfering with productivity or velocity.
However, poor certificate management practices, such as manual processes, have led to needless roadblocks for DevOps, forcing them to fall back on less secure alternatives that put enterprise security at the risk of a breach.
Why Traditional Manual Certificate Processes Don’t Work for DevOps
Even though certificate management is technically a part of the DevOps lifecycle, its practices and methods are usually completely detached from the DevOps workflows and are not governed by the same standards as the rest of the application delivery processes. In other words, the DevOps pipeline is not integrated with certificate management tasks, mainly due to the use of manual processes.
Here are some of the challenges with manual certificate management that consequently weaken security and impact efficiency in DevOps:
Manual processes rely on spreadsheets and tools provided by certificate authorities (CAs) for certificate visibility. These approaches are too basic to provide the kind of holistic visibility required to continuously monitor certificates for expiry and vulnerabilities. Given the explosion of cloud-native machines in the DevOps environment, poor visibility can increase the risk of an expired certificate getting compromised and leading to a security breach.
In manual management, certificate lifecycle processes are generally delayed. Due to slow and scattered ticketing systems, requesting a trusted certificate from CA, receiving it, installing it to an endpoint, and updating it in the inventory can take days. DevOps is a fast-changing environment that requires thousands of certificates in sub-seconds. So, certificate-related delays are a luxury they cannot afford. As a result, DevOps teams often resort to procuring certificates from CAs of their choice or issuing self-signed certificates. These certificates usually go undocumented and unmanaged, in turn becoming vulnerable targets for attackers.
DevOps personnel lack the time and PKI expertise to carry out certificate-related processes diligently. And manual processes further aggravate the problem as they are highly susceptible to errors. For example, as certificate installation involves manual effort, instances of binding certificates to incorrect applications are especially common, leading to outages and security compromises.
Maintaining compliance is another drawback with manual processes. As there is no centralized system for management, defining and enforcing PKI management and governance practices across the organization is a challenge. As multiple stakeholders are involved at various stages of the certificate lifecycle, there are variations in the way certificate and key related tasks are performed, resulting in non-compliance issues.
What’s the Solution?
It’s simple – simplify and streamline certificate management for DevOps. This can be achieved in three steps:
- Automate the certificate lifecycle end-to-end – eliminating the need for manual interference
- Abstract away complex management processes which require PKI expertise
- Integrate certificate management via API with existing DevOps tools such as Chef and Puppet
One of the best ways to implement the above three steps is to invest in a certificate lifecycle automation tool. Automation abstracts the complexity of certificate management and provides an easy-to-use framework for DevOps teams to perform lifecycle functions. It also integrates tightly with DevOps tools, such as Puppet, Chef, Docker, Ansible, and Terraform, which helps standardize certificate enrollment. DevOps teams can request certificates from any supported CA, push certificates to associated applications, renew and revoke existing certificates, and delete unused certificates—all from their preferred DevOps tool.
An automated CLM solution provides a centralized management system that provides a holistic view of all certificates in the infrastructure, including information related to the chain of trust, issuing CA, and the location of the certificate. Having end-to-end visibility helps track certificates in real-time and remediate issues quickly, in turn preventing delivery delays and mitigating security risks.
Simple, pre-defined workflows help automate all certificate lifecycle processes and completely eliminate the need for human intervention. This is especially useful for DevOps teams who do not come with specialized knowledge in certificate management. Using automated templates, DevOps teams can self-service requests without any manual effort. This helps ensure certificates are issued quickly and renewed on time, which prevents unnecessary application downtime.
An integrated, automation-driven solution also makes it easy to enforce strict policies around certificate usage, such as recommended CAs, cryptographic algorithms, and key lengths. Along with standardizing processes, organizations can also implement role-based access control to restrict access and ensure certificates are compliant across both on-premise and cloud environments.
Balance Business Agility and Security with Automation
To realize DevOps ambitions to the fullest, it is important to make security an indicator of software quality and invest in security solutions that can work well with the changing dynamics of DevOps environments. PKI and digital certificates fit the bill and are a great way to secure DevOps. But poor certificate management practices can work against the very purpose of using digital certificates, exposing DevOps to the threat landscape.
Automation, on the other hand, is a secure and efficient alternative. By standardizing and automating the entire certificate lifecycle, it helps DevOps teams achieve better visibility, improve efficiency, strengthen security posture, and deliver quality products. Automation is a true catalyst for DevSecOps and application security, and it is time organizations recognized and embraced it.