What is a CI/CD Pipeline?

A Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline automates software delivery processes. It builds code, runs tests, and securely deploys a brand new version of the application.

In practice, CI/CD pipelines are a mix of code, processes (e.g. build and test workflows), and tools that make it possible to automate many aspects of application delivery. Traditionally, CI/CD pipeline tools and processes focused on commit → build → test → deploy workflows and in many cases, security was conspicuously absent from that list.

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Benefits of creating a CI/CD pipeline

Often, security came towards the end of development in the form of scans, pen tests, and ad-hoc analysis from security professionals. However, waiting until the end of the development cycle to start thinking about security made issue remediation slower and more painful. The need to address this problem while still remaining operationally agile gave rise to the popularity of “shifting security left” and DevSecOps tools and practices.

 

Let’s take a closer look at CI/CD pipelines and discuss how DevSecOps tools can help you integrate security into them.

 

Building and maintaining effective CI/CD pipelines takes work. Just ask any site reliability engineer or DevOps pro. Therefore, it’s important to understand the business benefits to get an idea of why they’re worth the effort. So, what are those benefits?

 

  • Shorter feedback loops. Commits and automated tests occur very frequently — often multiple times a day — with continuous integration. That means everything from merge issues to build issues to bugs only found during runtime can be discovered and acted on quicker.
  • Quicker deployment times. Because of the emphasis on small commits, automated testing, and the constant availability of production-ready code, teams can quickly deploy to production (or staging).
  • Better quality. In addition to shortening feedback loops, automated testing catches bugs manual testing can miss and helps eliminate human error. Coupled with a healthy dose of code reviews and code quality analysis, CI/CD pipelines can greatly improve the quality of deliverables in a project.
  • Improved team efficiency. Automation makes development teams more efficient. Fewer tedious manual tasks mean more time spent getting productive work done adding features or fixing bugs. Additionally, configuration management in a CI/CD pipeline can greatly reduce the amount of time spent on infrastructure maintenance.
  • Reduced costs. Less time spent on tedious infrastructure and manual deployment and testing tasks means fewer unnecessary costs in the long run. Similarly, because bugs are caught earlier in the development cycle, they are less complex — and costly — to fix (not to mention less likely to find their way into production!).
  • Happier customers/end-users. This is the biggest and most fundamental benefit of a CI/CD pipeline. Because CI/CD can deliver better code faster, end-users can benefit from more robust and feature-rich software.

Components of a CI/CD pipeline

No two CI/CD pipelines are exactly alike, but many of the tools and processes used in a “traditional” CI/CD pipeline can be grouped into one of a few specific categories.

 

  • Source code management and version control. Everything starts when a developer commits a code change to a repository. Popular repositories include SVN and GitHub. These tools provide versioning and source code management in a CI/CD pipeline.
  • Build. Once a commit is made, a build server (or CI server) like TeamCity or Jenkins will build binaries from source code.
  • Test. After the code builds, a series of automated tests are run against it to confirm it is ready for deployment. Ideally, all these tests will be automated, but in practice manual testing before deployment is common.
  • Deploy. Once testing is complete, the changes made are deployed to a production or staging environment. Depending on the project, this environment could be anything from a single server to a distributed cloud environment to an on-prem Kubernetes cluster.

 

In addition to these functions, many DevOps pipelines will include tools and processes for configuration management (e.g. Ansible or Chef) as well as observability solutions for proactive monitoring and issue remediation.

“Shifting left” and adding DevSecOps tools to a CI/CD pipeline

Again, we can see that traditional model security isn’t necessarily emphasized.  The push to shift security left and DevSecOps are changing that.

 

Shifting security left simply means integrating security as early on in the development cycle as possible. DevSecOps is the integration of security into DevOps practices. Security becomes everyone’s responsibility and is built-in to CI/CD pipelines from the start.

 

Like traditional DevOps, culture and mindset are more important than specific tools when it comes to DevSecOps. However, just as “DevOps tools” rose to popularity along with DevOps, there are DevSecOps tools that help teams effectively implement security in their CI/CD pipelines.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the common use cases where security is integrated into a CI/CD pipeline and DevSecOps tools are used:

Application Security in CI/CD pipeline

Application security deals with threats common to modern web apps such as SQL Injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), software components with known vulnerabilities, and insecure configurations. Effectively addressing these issues in a CI/CD pipeline means integrating security from the start using tools and practices like SAST (Static Application Security Testing), conducting security assessments, and adopting — and enforcing — zero-trust network security policies.

Container security and CI/CD pipeline

Containerization is the norm for application delivery today, and container runtimes like Docker create a unique set of security challenges. Misused labels, poisoned containers, kernel exploits, and container breakouts are just a few concerns. Security assessments and real-time monitoring designed with containers and container orchestration tools like Kubernetes can go a long way in ensuring your containers remain secure.

AWS pipeline security

Used effectively, AWS infrastructure is one of the most reliable ways to build scalable and reliable applications. However, there are plenty of attack surfaces teams must account for AWS pipeline security. For example, web app and API protection can help keep endpoints secure and properly configured Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies can help mitigate threats.

Azure pipeline security

Like AWS, Azure’s cloud infrastructure has huge upside in developing distributed applications. It also comes with a wide range of similar security challenges that must be addressed to maintain a strong security posture. For example, visibility user analytics and intrusion detection can help rapidly identify and mitigate malicious behavior in the Azure public cloud.

How Check Point CloudGuard can help you integrate security to your CI/CD pipelines

Whether you’re deploying in AWS, Azure, GCP, or a multi-cloud environment, the right tools can go a long way in helping you integrate security into your CI/CD pipeline. CloudGuard was purpose-built to meet the needs of modern application delivery and can seamlessly integrate into CI/CD pipelines to deliver these security benefits:

 

  • Advanced Threat Protection with an industry-leading catch rate.
  • Automatic detection of misconfigurations and vulnerabilities.
  • Segmentation to protect North-South and East-West traffic.
  • Active protection of cloud workloads, including serverless.
  • Compliance management and automation.

 

If you’d like to learn more, you’re welcome to sign up for a free CloudGuard demo today.

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