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Does GitOps enhance application security?

GitOps was pioneered by Weeveworks in 2017. It uses familiar tools to implement continuous deployment for cloud-native applications, improving the developer experience of Kubernetes cluster management and application delivery.

With GitOps, the desired state of infrastructure in production is recorded in a Git repository. An automated process continuously checks the state of the production environment and compares it to the declared state in the repository. These Git repositories store declarative specifications describing the state of continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD), delivery, testing, and more. Therefore, version control in GitOps handles deployment without the need to switch tools during the CD process. Simply put, Git is a single source of truth for infrastructure as code.

In this post, we’ll explore GitOps’ core principles, how they enhance application security, and how GitOps’ rapid-change deployment process helps increase efficiency.

The four principles of GitOps

Declarative description

The declarative description paradigm allows developers to describe their applications’ desired requirements. The system housing the application determines how the application is placed to meet the specified requirements. This way, developers focus on their applications instead of the deployment logistics.

Version control

GitOps makes it easy to change your CD pipelines, roll back to previous deployment versions, and merge changes. The Git repository handles the pull requests and other actions on the application state. It then stores that state, enforcing immutability, versioning, and recording the version history. 

Automated change approvals

Developers make pull or merge requests to apply changes through the Git repository. The CI pipelines run, and the requested change is merged if the declared requirements are met. Upon merging, the GitOps workflow runs its operator for the deployment process without developer input.

Continuous reconciliation

Software agents in the GitOps pipeline continuously monitor the state of the infrastructure in the production environment, comparing it to the desired state in the version control. They can then make the necessary changes to bring the production environment to the desired state.

How GitOps enhances application security

These four principles position GitOps to have a significant impact on application security. 

Firstly, versioning declarative specifications in Git ensures the infrastructure can be rapidly replicated and set up independently of the compromised version should a security catastrophe occur. This incident response capability means less downtime. The Git version control system’s strong cryptography ensures changes are accurately tracked and managed. Cryptography is also used to sign changes, providing proof of authorship and origin, which helps secure the desired state. 

Additionally, the software agents in the GitOps workflow raise alerts if there is a discrepancy between the desired and actual states so that critical vulnerabilities and security issues are quickly spotted. With automated change approvals, the system can update or roll back as required, which also helps ensure swift responses to security breaches.

Security measures as code

The GitOps model manages everything in the cycle as code, including security measures. You can declare your security configurations and policies as code in the Git repository. Consequently, you can quickly identify changes caused by security vulnerabilities and bugs in the workflow. This encourages faster pipeline changes as users can respond to breaches early and fix issues by rolling back to a previous security setting deployed earlier or deploying a new version. With infrastructure as code, you can also foresee the scale of the attack that is imminent when pushing affected lines of code to a repository.

Shift left on security measures

How does this allow developers and cybersecurity experts to shift left with their security measures? Implementing security as code means you can position security as a priority and introduce it earlier in the pipeline. This allows you to identify modifications to the required states, which could result in security issues later. It’s also possible to create security policies and review them before they’re enforced in the Git version control system, speeding up development.

How GitOps enables compliance as code

Compliance policies help development teams maintain high-quality and secure software. Implementing policy as code requires policies to be set in text files. Applying this to compliance policies implies codifying compliance policies declaratively for policy management and enforcement. Policy enforcement at scale is enhanced because it’s unnecessary to manually apply policies to multiple versions of the system. It simplifies the use of CI/CD tools to automate policy testing.

Faster changes

Generally, GitOps allows changes to be fed through automated pipelines efficiently, allowing rapid responses to incidents in production. GitOps adds an abstraction layer above the infrastructure using its CI/CD, which only applies changes to the system state after they're vetted through security policies and configuration. Therefore, the underlying system and its components are hidden from applications and human users. 

Furthermore, all infrastructure management occurs in a single platform, so changes are securely tracked and logged. This simplifies auditing by comparing the actual system state with the defined desired state. The Git commit history provides a robust audit trail with natural logs of configuration changes, including who made them and when. You can also add other tools to the automated CI/CD workflow for more logs.

Secure your CI/CD pipeline with GitOps

GitOps isn’t just the next big thing. It allows secure, reliable, and speedy operations. 

This article reviewed the four principles of GitOps-enhanced application security. The declarative paradigm sets the desired state, enabling rollbacks when disasters occur. Software agents in the CI/CD pipeline ensure the system is constantly monitored for changes and always reconciled to the desired state defined in the declaration files. Moreover, Git has a strong cryptography system that accurately tracks changes made to the application code and configuration. 

We also covered how GitOps reinforces security and policy as code. With GitOps, you can declare security and compliance policies as code in text files, like configuration as code. This makes implementing and validating new changes in the CI/CD pipeline is easy. It also results in quick deployment as policies are applied automatically in deployments of new versions. Finally, GitOps provides an abstraction layer that shields users and machines from the underlying system while providing a powerful audit system for logs.

GitOps offers major advantages in security automation in configuration and CI/CD processes.

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