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Earlier this year, it was announced that the attack on IT management software provider SolarWinds had been used to compromise other organizations, including parts of the United States government. There were several reasons for alarm because of this news, but one of the biggest was the revelation that attackers breached SolarWinds’ software development process and pipeline. The level of concern was such that it led to a first-of-its-kind executive order on cybersecurity.
The security of the software development process has been a concern for development teams for decades, beginning with Ken Thompson’s thought experiment around hacking compilers to inject vulnerable code (PDF). As the software development process becomes increasingly automated, this means there is more to secure. Indeed, the biggest difference between Thompson’s “Reflections on Trusting Trust” and today is that much of our concern stems from just how much we, as development teams, must trust code that was not written by us.
The issue of code ‘not written here’ is bigger than just open source libraries – though those are a big part of the issue since a typical Java application is 97% third-party code by weight, according to the Veracode State of Software Security, 2020. Moreover, modern cloud-native applications are also comprised of additional types of code written by others, including container images, serverless code and other cloud-native artifacts.
As a result, an attacker could compromise a development pipeline by one of a variety of means:
So, what must be done to mitigate these threats? A lot of the answer comes down to testing, managing the chain of custody and monitoring access to internal resources.
Solving all these problems requires thinking about different parts of the application development process as a complete system. To that end, Veracode collaborated with Venafi, Sophos and CloudBees earlier this year to put together a proposed blueprint for secure software development pipelines. The proposal is maintained on GitHub and is available for users to raise issues or propose pull requests on the blueprint—all input is welcome.
The importance of getting this right cannot be underestimated. Hacks and breaches continue to hit the headlines, and putting in place the right tools, technologies and processes to minimize security risk in the software development pipeline is more critical than ever. 
Filed Under: Blogs, Continuous Delivery, Continuous Testing, DevSecOps, DevSecOps, IT as Code, IT Security
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