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What Is IaC and Why Does It Matter to the CISO?

what is infrastructure as code and why does it matter to the CISO?

Many vendors and security companies are buying or building Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security into their portfolios, and this trend is only expected to continue. Here’s what you need to know.

Infrastructure as code (IaC) is a relatively new phenomenon that is revolutionizing the way organizations manage their infrastructure.

IaC offers many benefits to security leaders, including speed, consistency, accountability, scalability, reduced costs and more, which is why it is emerging as such an integral part of building on the modern cloud.

It’s important for CISOs and DevOps teams to see IaC as the connected link between cloud computing and DevOps success, as it enables businesses to innovate with confidence and strengthens infrastructure management processes.

Understanding how IaC works, its best practices and benefits are all crucial to leveling up your security programs and boosting agile software development. By leveraging IaC as both a strategy and a solution, CISOs and DevOps teams can align security with business goals.

Investing in an IaC strategy boosts the overall productivity of a business while maintaining security posture. This prevents misconfigurations, non-compliance policy violations and other cloud security risks, giving development teams more time to develop, deploy and scale with greater speed, visibility and flexibility. As a vital DevOps practice, IaC is still emerging and evolving within the cloud security realm.

What is Infrastructure as Code (IaC)?

According to Tech Target, infrastructure as code is “an IT practice that codifies and manages underlying IT infrastructure.”

Infrastructure as code emerged as a strategic approach for development teams looking to manage and maintain their infrastructure without the hassle of manually provisioning.

How does IaC work and what problems does it solve?

Managing IT infrastructure is an arduous process. It requires people to physically put the servers in place, configure them and then deploy the application. This time-consuming manual process often results in numerous discrepancies, impedes agility and, ultimately, proves costly for businesses. Corporations are forced to spend a fortune annually on building and maintaining huge data centers and hiring a plethora of engineers and other employees to manually provision the infrastructure.

To combat this, cloud computing was introduced, providing enterprises with a new approach that offered flexibility and scalability. Today, cloud computing is a booming industry, helping organizations accelerate innovation and scale at large.

Given the shift to remote work in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses have chosen to adopt the cloud. Currently, more than 90% of businesses use cloud computing. As a critical solution, it has rapidly changed the way people do business. Infrastructures can now be managed over networks, offering more flexibility and faster deployment for businesses. Additionally, with cloud systems, development teams can improve security, speed and software testing, increase productivity and efficiency, reduce costs and improve delivery.

Providing a myriad of benefits for businesses and cloud users alike, cloud computing continues to be an essential pillar of digital transformation. However, it does pose some serious security risks.

Cybercriminals looking to steal sensitive data and other pertinent information could potentially breach the cloud server, wreaking havoc on businesses and their customers. In 2021, more than 40 billion records were exposed, as a result of cloud-based data breaches. Just last year, social media giant Facebook had 533 million records exposed from users in 106 countries, according to Business Insider.

Additionally, infrastructure misconfigurations caused by human error can provide pathways for cybercriminals to launch attacks. Misconfigurations can expose networks and cause configuration drifts.

Therefore, a solution is needed which allows developers to manage their infrastructure through automation, while minimizing potential new security risks. This is where infrastructure as code comes in.

IaC involves using software tools to automate specific tasks through a version control system. This means that your infrastructure can be written and described in code, and this code can be executed to make changes to your infrastructure. In IaC, there are two approaches to writing the code:

  • Declarative approach. This is often the preferred approach of the two because of the flexibility it offers, this approach involves users only defining the end or “desired” state. Meanwhile, the tool or platform being used takes care of the steps needed to achieve the end result.
  • Imperative approach. This approach involves users specifying the specific commands needed to achieve the end or “desired” state. In this approach, the platform or tools do not deviate from those specific commands.

By adopting an IaC approach, organizations can accelerate innovation and build products that efficiently meet their customers' needs in a timely and seamless manner. However, the speed at which development teams are rapidly pushing out new products and features is outpacing security. Therefore, it is critical that the security pace keeps up. More specifically, CISOs, who are responsible for the security of an enterprise, need a security solution that enables DevOps teams to continue production while applying security practices to reduce cyber risks and misconfigurations. And IaC provides the mechanism to do it.

Five benefits of IaC

Leveraging IaC as both a strategy and solution can help you achieve your security goals, as it provides several benefits for your business, including speed, scalability, consistency, accountability and reduced costs.

  1. Speed. The most important benefit of IaC is speed. One of the CISO’s primary responsibilities is to protect the enterprise while simultaneously driving growth. By adopting an IaC security solution, productivity can get a boost, allowing for quick turnarounds, enabling businesses to meet customer’s requests and needs. Instead of spending time manually provisioning and increasing the likelihood of misconfigurations due to human error, development teams can quickly provision and configure infrastructure, speeding up the entire software development lifecycle, all while minimizing security risks by adopting IaC security.
  2. Scalability. When demand for products or services increases, businesses need to be able to scale quickly and efficiently. The same applies to security. As businesses continue to grow and evolve, so, too, must their security processes evolve. New security tools and technologies will be used to accelerate innovation and CISOs are responsible for evaluating and consolidating these tools. By employing IaC tools, development teams can build environments to test new applications and get products or new features to the market faster with security embedded throughout the entire process.
  3. Consistency. Generally, CISOs are responsible for ensuring security policies are being met. Therefore, they must ensure that documentation is up to date as outlined in the policies. By adopting IaC, CISOs can eliminate the documentation process because all the infrastructure is defined as code. IaC increases consistency and significantly reduces errors that often happen because of manual misconfigurations. It minimizes the potential for configuration drift and reduces the risk of cyberattacks that might occur because of manual provisioning.
  4. Accountability. IaC enables CISOs to track any changes that have been made to any source code file. You no longer have to guess which person made a change and when they made that change throughout the software development lifecycle. Thus, making it easier for CISOs and security leaders to hold DevOps teams accountable for changes.
  5. Reduced costs. IaC significantly reduces the cost of infrastructure management. Businesses can save money on hardware and equipment and the costs of hiring people to operate the hardware and equipment and building or renting the physical space to store it. Additionally, by employing cloud computing with IaC, businesses can reduce security risks, which, in turn, can save a fortune on “recovery costs” from a data breach or other form of cyberattack.

Conclusion

At Tenable, we recognize the value of embracing IaC as a way for organizations to innovate in the cloud with confidence. We deliver an integrated, end-to-end security solution to help organizations better protect their cloud environments. It provides a complete picture of cyber risks across the modern attack surface, with unified visibility into code, configurations, assets and workloads. Learn more about Tenable.cs and how our platform enables DevSecOps with integrated controls for development and runtime workflows, focused on IaC.

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