How DevOps Could Have Saved Equifax

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How DevOps Could Have Saved Equifax
by Bob Aiello

Equifax is the latest large firm to make unwanted headlines due to exposure of clients’ personal data; a reported 143 million people may have had their Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers and other personal information stolen. According to published accounts, the breach occurred through a vulnerability in the Apache Struts web framework which is used by many organizations. The incident was an embarrassment to a company whose entire business revolves around providing a clear, and presumably confidential, financial profile of consumers that lenders and other businesses use to make credit decisions.

Large organizations often have hundreds of major systems using thousands of commercial and open source components – each of which could potentially have a security vulnerability. The Apache organization issued a statement about the most recent incident. There were also many alerts issued about the potential risks in the Apache Struts framework, but large organizations which receive alerts via Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) and VulnDB may find it very difficult to identify exactly which software components are vulnerable to attack and be unable to quickly fix the problem and/or deploy the updated code that prevents hackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities.

So how best to handle these scenarios in large organizations?

The first step is to get all of your code stored and baselined in a secure version control system (VCS). Then you need to be able to scan the code using any of the products on the market which can identify vulnerabilities as reported in CVEs and the VulDB database. There are costs involved with implementing an automated solution, but the cost of not doing so could be far greater.

One approach could be to clone each and every repo in your version control system (e.g. bitbucket) and then programmatically scan the baselined source code identifying the projects which contain these vulnerabilities. You can get better results if you scan code that has been compiled, as the build process may pull in additional components. But even just scanning source code will help you get the conversation involving your security experts, operations engineers and the developers who wrote the code started. Suddenly, you can find that needle lost in your haystack pretty quickly and begin taking steps to update the software. Obviously, another key ingredient is having the capability to immediately roll out that fix through a fully-automated application build, package and deployment process, what many folks are referring to as continuous delivery.

Implementing these tools and processes does take some time and effort, but, as the Equifax data breach has painfully demonstrated, effective DevOps is clearly worth it.

What is your strategy for identifying security issues buried deep in a few hundred thousand lines of code? It is actually not that hard to fix this issue as long as you can work across development, operations and other stakeholders to implement effective CM best practices including:

Source Code Management
Build Engineering
Environment Management
Lean and Effective Change Control
Release & Deployment engineering

yeah – I am saying that you need DevOps today!

Bob Aiello
bob.aiello@ieee.org