Ensuring Security in Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Pipelines


The evolving technological landscape has ushered in a departure from traditional "ClickOps" for application configuration and delivery. In the state of API-based application delivery and security, F5 stands at the forefront of the Application Delivery Controller (ADC) market. In the context of application modernization, Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) practices have become essential for efficiently delivering high-quality solutions at an accelerated pace. While these practices offer substantial advantages, they concurrently present security challenges that require careful consideration. The prominence of CI/CD security has become so prevalent that it is underscored by the existence of an OWASP Top 10 specifically dedicated to CI/CD security. Although this post does not delve into the complete details of the OWASP Top 10, it emphasizes the significance of CI/CD security and provides guidance to initiate a security-first approach. Regardless of the platform you choose to leverage for CI/CD, below is a high-level list of considerations which I believe are paramount to ensure a secure pipeline process.

Initiating Your CI/CD Journey

In the preliminary stages of architectural planning, it is recommended to "start with the end goal in mind." Beginning with the end state allows for reverse engineering the project's initiation, guarding against potential security oversights during the Proof of Concept (POC) phase. This initial phase often prioritizes functionality, efficacy, and operations. At this stage, it is equally imperative to safeguard against hard-coding passwords or leaving security controls inadequately secured. It is strongly advised to diligently protect all secrets and enforce proper security permissions across all environments and at all stages of your deployment journey.

Access Control and Permissions

Security should be paramount in all technology-related endeavors, and CI/CD is no exception. Access control and permissions play a pivotal role in CI/CD pipelines, ensuring secure and efficient management of the software development process. Access control regulates who can execute specific actions within the pipeline, such as pull requests and configuration modifications, while permissions define the level of authorization granted to individuals and teams, mitigating security risks.

Secure Your CI/CD Tools

Irrespective of the chosen Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment framework/platform, the multitude of plugins available for extending functionality can introduce vulnerabilities. Consistent tracking and updating of plugins should be integral to securing the pipeline and preventing potential exploitation of vulnerabilities in outdated plugins.

Protect Repositories from Unapproved Changes

Securing repositories from unauthorized changes involves implementing branch protection rules with robust authentication mechanisms. This ensures that only authorized contributors can push changes. In addition, there should be an added layer of scrutiny where all changes are processed by a comprehensive code review process.

Dependency Scanning

It’s near-impossible to deploy code from a CI/CD process without leveraging external libraries. Regularly scanning external libraries and components for known security issues and outdated versions is essential. Implementing dependency scanning during each CI/CD process run addresses potential vulnerabilities early in the development cycle.

Source Code Scanning and Analysis

In addition to dependency scanning, source code scanning is crucial. By scanning the source code uploaded to the repository, vulnerabilities can be identified before deployment, utilizing static application security testing to expose vulnerabilities in the application's source or binary code.

Secrets Management

Effective secrets management is non-negotiable. Storing sensitive information, such as API keys and passwords, directly in the code is discouraged. A secrets manager should be implemented or, at a minimum, leverage the platform's secrets manager for CI/CD to eliminate the practice of hard-coding passwords. Even in the POC phase of a project, NEVER HARDCODE PASSWORDS!

Automated Testing

Automated tests should be executed throughout the CI/CD process to identify defects, validate functionality, and assess performance. Creating test environments that closely mirror production aids in early identification of security issues.

Logging and Monitoring

Visibility is crucial in addressing potential issues. Logging and monitoring throughout the CI/CD process provide insights into the development lifecycles health and security. Capturing key security events enables organizations to efficiently address concerns as they arise. The aforementioned topics can all be monitored and logged, which allows workflows that fall outside of the guidelines to be rejected or addressed quickly.


CI/CD security is integral to the software development process. By adhering to these best practices, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches and ensure the reliability of their CI/CD pipelines. A proactive and security-focused approach throughout the software development lifecycle is essential for constructing robust and secure applications.

Published Dec 21, 2023
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