The Cobbler’s Children and source code integrity, or why your source code repositories need better shoes.

I’m reminded of the saying ‘The Cobbler’s children have no shoes’. We consider our customer facing products more important than our internal ones.

 

Of course we do, right? Our bills are paid by our customers and we’d like more of them, so an hour or dollar spent to improve their experience is easily justified.  However, allocating resources to internal processes and systems gets a different response.  You want to spend how much to do what?  Internal processes, systems and tools have to pass greater scrutiny to be “justified”. Since it’s “all in the family”, internal tools don’t have to be as pretty, well documented, reliable or secure, right? 

Oh, and doing it “right” just takes too much time.  “Just get it done instantly, if not sooner.”

 

DevOps is one way of making the development process faster and cheaper. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let it devolve into anarchy. Doing DevOps  the right  way is harder. It’s so much easier to spool up an instance of $Whatever_Tool_You_Need_Right_Now to fix some issue before a release than to plan for what you need and document what you’re doing. Sure, you might be using the same tool as some other developer or team, but hey, when it’s faster and easier to just create your own instance instead of coordinating systems, faster and easier often win out. Documentation and hardening, when done by yourself, just take too much time.

 

The result is something I call the ‘Sergeant Schultz approach’ –IT worries about enterprise wide systems directly under their control and leaves the development environment alone until forced to pay attention, when it may be too late.

 

These systems may have been quickly stood up and aren’t being fully protected by your controls. You’re not watching logs, tracking users, remediating vulnerabilities to ensure stable, hardened systems.

 

A loss of availability in on these systems is annoying, but obvious.  It may slow development but it won’t permanently affect your business.  

But a loss of confidentiality and integrity can affect the enterprise as a whole. A source code leak might reveal some trade secrets to a competitor. A loss of integrity can be far worse.

 

Imagine an development server not benefiting from the full protection of your controls.  A malicious or negligent user can modify code for your mobile app, web app or device OS, creating a stability issue, back door or jackpot condition.

 

Discovering a back door or jackpot condition prior to code release is merely embarrassing. Remediating the issue post- release opens the company to loss of market share and goodwill. If the parade of horribles doesn’t have your attention, consider the possibility that the jackpot condition is a negative one. Remember the Therac-25, where a radiation therapy device sometimes overdosed patients? That was mere negligence. Imagine what a malicious party could do.

 

Ok – so I’ve stated the obvious – it’s easier to do it fast and loose than to take the time to plan things out.  However, it IS possible to reduce the risk of compromise, even in a fast moving DevOps environment.  By using the following 4 steps, you will greatly reduce the risk of a catastrophic loss of integrity, with reasonable amount of effort expended.

 

We recommend the following:

 

Inventory tracking: IT should have, as a minimum, visibility into the DevOps environment- instances, users and permissions. If you have a SIEM or log management tool, have the instances report up to it.

 

Identity management: Each user with write capability should have their own credentials. Ideally, these are referenced back to the firms LDAP/AD user store. If you can, require the use of 2FA to reduce the risk of credential compromise.

 

User tracking: Every change to source code should map back to a specific human user.

 

Pre- built images: When feasible, systems should be standardized and centralized. Consider offering pre-hardened VM images with  favorite development tools to offer developers so they don’t have to roll their own.

 

 

We don’t need to make our tools as nice as what we offer our customers, but they need to be good enough. Your kids don’t need Louboutins, but they do need good enough shoes.

 

For the curious:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/credit-and-blame-work/200812/cobblers-children-syndrome-in-the-workplace