Building Secure CI/CD Pipelines: Key Strategies from NIST SP 800-204D

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Security Researcher

In today’s fast-paced world of software development, speed and agility are paramount. Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines have become the backbone of modern development, automating the process of building, testing, and deploying software. However, this rapid pace brings its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to security. With so many moving parts and complex dependencies, securing a CI/CD pipeline can feel like an uphill battle.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released its final version of Special Publication 800-204D. This offers a comprehensive guide for integrating security measures into DevSecOps CI/CD pipelines, marking a significant step forward in software supply chain (SSC) security. This document provides valuable guidance for integrating security measures into CI/CD pipelines, offering a roadmap for organizations to build trust and resilience from the very beginning. 

NIST SP 800-204D can be thought of as a roadmap designed to navigate the complexities of securing the software supply chain. It offers more than just technical guidance; it fosters a cultural shift within organizations, emphasizing the importance of considering security at every step, from the initial lines of code to the final deployment. This holistic approach builds trust, both internally and externally. Developers gain confidence knowing their creations are secure, and users can rely on applications that are robust and resilient against potential attacks. In essence, NIST SP 800-204D empowers organizations to build stronger, more secure software, solidifying their footing in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

The core sections of this document include:

  • Introduction: Overview of cloud-native applications and the integration of security within DevOps (DevSecOps).
  • Software Supply Chain: Explanation of the processes from code writing to software delivery, highlighting different models.
  • SSC Security – Risk Factors and Mitigation Measures: Discussion on software supply chain vulnerabilities, potential threats, and recommended mitigation strategies for secure development.
  • CI/CD Pipelines – Background, Security Goals, and Entities to be Trusted: Insight into automating development with security goals and the importance of protecting key entities.
  • Integrating SSC Security: Methods to embed security within CI/CD pipelines, emphasizing automated tools and secure practices.
  • Summary and Conclusions: Recap security’s importance in software supply chains, especially for CI/CD in cloud-native apps.

Cycode NIST SSDF Compliance

Security Requirements Overview

The NIST SP 800-204D Security Requirements provide a comprehensive framework for enhancing security within CI/CD pipelines and the software supply chain. We have detailed these requirements and potential actions your organization can take to address these issues and enhance your defenses against SSC attacks.

Secure Build Process & Attestations

The secure build process safeguards the software supply chain by ensuring the build environment and the resulting software artifacts are secure, verifiable, and compliant with set policies. Attestations serve as concrete evidence of the build’s integrity, offering transparency and trust in the software development lifecycle.

Common risks include:

  • Unauthorized access to the build environment
  • Tampering with the build process
  • Insertion of malicious code
  • Compromise of build tools
  • Vulnerable dependencies
  • And more

All of the above can undermine the security and reliability of the final software product.

Security Recommendations:

  1. Develop and Enforce Strict Build Policies: Establish secure, isolated build environments and implement stringent developer authentication protocols.
  2. Automate Evidence Collection: Use CI tool command wrappers to automatically gather evidence during the build process, creating a comprehensive and traceable record of all activities.
  3. Generate Comprehensive Attestations: Produce environment, process, materials, and artifacts attestations to document the security and isolation of the build environment, the processes used, the raw materials (including dependencies), and the final build outcomes. The customers of the software product can later consume these attestations and verify the product’s integrity.
  4. Ensure Attestation Integrity: Cryptographically sign all attestations with secure keys and store them in tamper-proof, access-controlled environments to verify policy compliance and the authenticity of each build step.

Some of the emerging trends in the industry to solve these issues is utilizing a build runtime security solution, such as Cimon, and safeguarding the build process and producing SLSA attestations.

Cimon's Report
Cimon’s Report

Secrets Management and Dependency Oversight

Secrets management and dependency oversight concerns securely handling sensitive information, such as API keys and credentials, and mindfully managing external code dependencies within projects. Common risks include accidental exposure of secrets in source code repositories and potential vulnerabilities introduced through outdated or compromised third-party libraries, which can lead to unauthorized access and security breaches.

Security Recommendations:

  1. Automated Secret Detection: Utilize automated tools to identify secrets, such as credentials and API keys, within the codebase and the final software product, effectively preventing potential data breaches.
  2. Comprehensive Testing: Implement Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) across various development languages within CI/CD pipelines. This approach ensures thorough vulnerability detection and security issue identification.
  3. Dependency Analysis and Management: Conduct comprehensive analyses of dependencies using Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools. This is essential for assessing all external components and ensuring they, along with their transitive dependencies, are compliant and safe for use in your project. Strive to eliminate vulnerable or unmaintained dependencies to mitigate associated security risks and improve the overall security posture of the project.
Detect vulnerable packages using Cycode’s SCA engine
Detect vulnerable packages using Cycode’s SCA engine

Container Security

Container security focuses on verifying that container images are securely built, run, stored, and deployed. Key risks include vulnerabilities within the container images, misconfigured containers that may expose sensitive data or services, and the use of untrusted or compromised container base images, which can lead to security breaches in the deployment environment.

Security Recommendations:

  1. Verified Build Process: Ensure that only container images produced by a secure and verified build process are approved for deployment. This step verifies the integrity and security of the images before they are utilized in a production environment.
  2. Vulnerability Scanning: Conduct regular scans of Docker images to identify new vulnerabilities. Implement policies that either permit or restrict deployments based on the identified vulnerabilities, allowing for a proactive approach to container security.
  3. Continuous Review: Periodically examine container build files, management scripts, and build logs for any indications of tampering or malicious modifications. This consistent oversight helps preserve the integrity and security of the deployment process, ensuring that the containers remain uncompromised.
Secret discovered in a container image
Secret discovered in a container image

Security in Code Contributions

Security in code contributions aims to counter the threat from malicious actors attempting to introduce harmful code. Implementing automated security checks is crucial to ensure the integrity and safety of submitted changes. This process aids in detecting hidden dangers. Common risks include the injection of malicious code, exploitation of vulnerabilities in the build process, and unauthorized access to or modification of sensitive information. Such risks can compromise the software integrity, enable code execution on the build server, and expose sensitive information, significantly undermining the project’s overall security posture.

Security Recommendations:

  1. Approval and Delay Mechanisms: Integrate approval requirements or delay mechanisms for critical build steps. This measure enhances the security of changes made by external contributors and prevents the execution of build pipelines for untrusted entities.
  2. Automated Security Checks: Deploy automated security checks for all contributions. Utilize static and dynamic analysis tools to thoroughly detect vulnerabilities within the code, ensuring a robust defense mechanism against potential threats.
  3. Principle of Least Privilege: Adhere strictly to the principle of least privilege throughout all build and deployment processes. This approach limits the risk of unauthorized access or actions by ensuring that individuals have only the minimum levels of access or permissions needed to perform their tasks.
  4. Repository Access Control: Enforce stringent pull and push restrictions on repositories. This control mechanism ensures that code changes are carefully managed and that only authorized and verified updates are allowed to be deployed, maintaining the integrity and security of the codebase.

Secure CI/CD Infrastructure (GitOps)

GitOps automates deployment and infrastructure management, leveraging Git as the authoritative source for infrastructure and application code, often defined through Infrastructure as Code (IaC) practices. The central repository interaction for operations such as commits, forking, and pull/push requests is pivotal. Risks include misconfigurations, unauthorized changes to infrastructure code, and sensitive data exposure, leading to potential infrastructure compromise and operational disruptions.

Security Recommendations:

  1. Emphasize Automation: Prioritize automation over manual operations to reduce human error and ensure consistent deployment practices. For instance, configuring numerous YAML files manually for deployment adjustments should be avoided.
  2. Preserve Data Integrity: Ensure that package managers retain comprehensive details of all released packages, including version numbers and configuration files, to facilitate traceability and accountability in GitOps workflows.
  3. Prohibit Manual Runtime Changes: Discourage direct runtime modifications using command-line tools. Instead, any alterations should be committed to the code, triggering a new deployment cycle to maintain Git as the single source of truth.
  4. Implement Automated Monitoring and Remediation: Set up systems to continuously compare the actual state of deployments with their desired state as defined in Git. Automate resynchronization for deviations and generate alerts for discrepancies requiring manual intervention.

Need Help from Cycode?

Cycode, a complete Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) platform, is committed to assisting customers in implementing the strategies outlined in NIST SP 800-204D. Our platform simplifies enforcing these security measures, ensuring your development environment meets NIST standards. To explore Cycode and discover how we can enhance your security, contact us now to book a demo.