Fortifying app security with the help of Terraform

Fortifying app security with the help of Terraform

A staple of DevOps tech stacks, Terraform is an Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) provisioning and management tool developed by HashiCorp. While Terraform itself is rarely associated with app security and is not directly related to the safety and cyber protection of applications, using it correctly is pivotal in the implementation of security best practices. 

As DevOps continues to morph into DevSecOps, and as supply chain attacks continue to breach enterprise systems, security-minded use of Terraform is crucial in securing cloud environments.

Discussed below are a few ways in which proper Terraform use can help enhance the security of apps.

Integrating Open Policy Agent security

One especially useful way to maximize app security when using Terraform is the integration of the Open Policy Agent (OPA) when creating security policies as code. OPA serves as the executor of policies written as code. It adds to Terraform the ability to evaluate infrastructure configurations relevant to security. 

OPA facilitates the evaluation of Terraform plans to detect security misconfigurations during the development cycle, especially in the earlier part and near the deployment stage. This ensures that infrastructure that is not yet deemed secure is not provisioned, preventing the exposure of apps to vulnerabilities. Also, OPA puts in place policy-driven infrastructure guardrails such as the flagging of “too permissive” or laxed ingress rules.

Additionally, OPA supports integration with CI/CD pipelines, allowing organisations to consistently and automatically enforce security policies. It blocks Terraform plans that are considered to be violative of existing security policies. 

OPA assists organizations in shifting left in their security approach, as it provides a proactive way to conduct security tests, which benefits app security. 

Configuration vigilance with Terraform looping

In Terraform, looping is the ability to generate several resources or modules automatically. It is employed when establishing several DNS records, deploying multiple instances across different availability zones, and managing multiple user accounts. 

Looping is useful because it reduces the need to repeatedly write the same resource block, which is what IaC efficiency is all about. This approach allows engineers to create instances on a dynamic basis, as it decouples the logic for creating multiple resources from specific configurations. 

A mechanism for infrastructure automation, Terraform looping does not necessarily have direct impact on application security. However, the way looping is undertaken can affect the security of applications. As such, it is important for looping to be handled cautiously. In the case of Terraform “for_each” loop, for example, it is important to emphasize secure data handling by not storing sensitive data such as passwords and API keys within the for_each loop. 

Additionally, it is vital to review loop logic to make sure that its iteration over the intended data structure proceeds as intended and that errors are resolved. Moreover, it is advisable to observe the principle of least privilege, the appropriate ingress and egress rules, and proper version control and review.

Executing cloud security best practices

Terraform is not exclusively intended for the cloud, but most of its users tend to extensively deal with multi-cloud and hybrid environments. It makes perfect sense to align Terraform security with the security recommendations laid out by cloud service providers and security experts, mainly the CIS benchmarks, configuration hardening, and module security.

CIS benchmarks refer to the set of best practices published by the Center for Internet Security (CIS). These best practices apply to the products of over 25 vendors, and while these benchmarks are primarily intended for the security of the underlying cloud infrastructure, adhering to them also provides benefits for app security. These advantages include the reduction of cyber attack surfaces involving apps, the mitigation of misconfiguration vulnerabilities, and the establishment of a secure foundation for app development.

Configuration hardening, as the phrase suggests, is about coming up with infrastructure settings that have been optimised (and possibly adjusted and readjusted) to achieve the most suitable configuration to minimise security issues. It entails conformity to best practices or security guidelines that can be applied through Terraform. For instance, certain cloud providers may recommend disabling unused services on a specific virtual machine image. Terraform can be set to automatically configure the image, upon provisioning, to disable unused services from the get-go.

On the other hand, Terraform modules can support app security due to their role in building a secure application environment. These modules enable the concept of security-by-design and promote the consistent enforcement of security practices because of the security configurations embedded in them. 

Terraform modules also facilitate the integration of security tools such as security scanners that are automatically deployed with infrastructure resources. Additionally, modules help control the possibility of vulnerability leaking that may emerge because of misconfigurations.

Minimising exposure to sensitive data 

Terraform comes with a sensitive data management function that can significantly bolster application security, albeit indirectly. This IaC tool makes it possible to minimize credential exposure risks and enhance auditability and compliance.

Terraform supports the secure management of secrets by making it possible to avoid embedding credentials and secrets such as API keys in the Terraform code itself. Sensitive data can be contained in version control systems, the HashiCorp Vault, or third-party secret management tools to ensure that access to the IaC code does not automatically mean access to the sensitive data.

There are times when organizations store app credentials in their IaC code, especially those that are new to IaC provisioning and management. Terraform provides ways to avoid doing this. Also, Terraform’s data management functions in tandem with the use of environment variables support data security compliance requirements and improve auditability.

Infrastructure security to boost app security

Infrastructure security contributes significantly to building repliable app security postures. Meticulously managed IaC leads to minimal misconfigurations and security issues which, in turn, help to reduce attack surfaces and vulnerabilities. Threat actors will have a hard time compromising apps or exploiting vulnerabilities at the application level if the infrastructure is built with sound security practices.

Again, Terraform is not designed to ensure app security and has no specific tools or functions that directly protect applications themselves. However, it can help establish the fundamentals for app security, particularly the detection and resolution of misconfigurations, the integration of a security policy enforcer, cloud security best practices, and sensitive data management.

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