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The Art of Safeguarding Non-Human Identities

Mar 28, 2024The Hacker NewsSecrets Management / Zero Trust

non-human identities

In the whirlwind of modern software development, teams race against time, constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation and efficiency. This relentless pace is fueled by an evolving tech landscape, where SaaS domination, the proliferation of microservices, and the ubiquity of CI/CD pipelines are not just trends but the new norm.

Amidst this backdrop, a critical aspect subtly weaves into the narrative — the handling of non-human identities. The need to manage API keys, passwords, and other sensitive data becomes more than a checklist item yet is often overshadowed by the sprint toward quicker releases and cutting-edge features. The challenge is clear: How do software teams maintain the sanctity of secrets without slowing down their stride?

Challenges in the development stage of non-human identities

The pressure to deliver rapidly in organizations today can lead developers to take shortcuts, compromising security. Secrets are the credentials used for non-human identities. Some standard practices like hard-coding secrets or reusing them across environments are quite well known. But while they may expedite the workload, they open up significant vulnerabilities. Let’s discuss these challenges and vulnerabilities further:

  • Hard-coded secrets: Embedding secrets directly into source code is a prevalent yet risky practice. It not only makes secrets easily accessible in the event of a code leak but also creates a real challenge to keep track of that secret and complicates the process of secret rotation and management. When secrets are hard-coded, updating them becomes a cumbersome task, often overlooked in the rush of development.
  • Scalability challenges: As systems grow, so does the complexity of managing secrets security. Large-scale infrastructures and cloud-native environments exacerbate the difficulty of tracking and securing an increasing number of secrets spread across various systems and platforms.
  • Compliance and auditing difficulties: Ensuring compliance with various regulations becomes arduous in the face of sprawling secrets. In dynamic development environments, keeping a vigilant eye on how secrets are used and preventing misuse is essential but can be challenging.
  • Integration with IAM systems: Any robust secrets management system ideally integrates effortlessly with IAM systems to enhance security and streamline processes. However, aligning these systems to work cohesively often presents a significant challenge.

Why is securing non-human identities neglected during software development?

In the world of software development, the relentless drive for speed frequently overshadows the equally crucial aspect of security, particularly in handling sensitive information. This disregard stems from the prevailing mindset governing the development process, where priorities lie in introducing new features, resolving bugs, and meeting tight product launch deadlines. The process for onboarding and offboarding developers is becoming increasingly shorter as well, leaving room for mistakes and vulnerabilities in the haste.

For many developers, immediate functional requirements and enhancements to user experience take precedence. The concept of a security breach resulting from mishandling sensitive data often appears distant, especially when there are no immediate repercussions or mechanisms in the development cycle to highlight the associated risks. This mentality is further ingrained in environments lacking a strong culture of security or adequate training, causing developers to view secrets and non-human identity management as an afterthought.

This imbalance between prioritizing speed in development and ensuring robust security creates a perilous blind spot. While rapid development offers tangible and immediate benefits, the advantages of implementing comprehensive secrets management—such as averting potential breaches and safeguarding confidential data—are more nuanced and long-lasting.

non-human identities

Why is the shift-left security approach no longer enough?

The shift-left approach to software security, which prioritizes integrating security early in the development lifecycle, marks a positive advancement. However, it’s not a cure-all solution. While it effectively targets vulnerabilities in the initial stages, it fails to address the continuous nature of security challenges throughout the software development journey. In the shift-left process, overlooking expired secrets can lead to build failures and significant slowdowns in the development pace.

On the other hand, a developer-centric security strategy recognizes that security should be an ongoing, pervasive concern. Mere initiation of security measures isn’t sufficient; it must be a consistent thread woven through every stage of development. This necessitates a cultural shift within security and engineering teams, acknowledging that security is no longer solely the responsibility of security professionals but a shared obligation for all involved.

6 Best practices for non-human identity and secrets security during development

Organizations need to grow out of the mindset that development stage security is just another checkpoint and accept it as the art that it is that blends into the canvas of coding. Here are some best practices to help materialize this image:

  1. Centralized secrets management: Picture a scenario where all your secrets are consolidated into one accessible location, effortless to monitor and oversee. Employing a centralized method for managing secret vaults streamlines the process of tracking and regulating them. However, relying on a single, secure secrets vault is no longer practical in today’s landscape. Instead, you’re likely to have multiple vaults per environment, including various types like Kubernetes secrets, GitHub secrets, a main vault, and others. The most effective approach lies in adopting a centralized secrets management and security platform that seamlessly connects to all these vaults, providing the comprehensive solution needed to effectively manage your secrets.
  2. Access control: Access to non-human identities should be as tight as the security at a top-secret facility. Employing stringent authentication practices, like multi-factor authentication, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding sensitive data, ensuring access is reserved exclusively for authorized users.
  3. CI/CD pipeline security: The CI/CD pipeline forms the critical infrastructure of the software development cycle. Integrating continuous security scanning within the pipeline helps identify vulnerabilities in real time, ensuring that every build is efficient,secure and secrets free.
  4. Threat modeling and code reviews: Identifying potential threats early in the development stage and thoroughly reviewing code for exposed secrets is like having a quality check at every step.
  5. Incident response plan: When the unexpected hits, this plan is your go-to guide for a cool, collected response. It’s all about quick containment, slick investigation, and clear communication. Post-breach, it’s your chance to turn hindsight into foresight, fine-tuning your defenses for the next round.
  6. Secure coding frameworks and server configuration: Utilizing secure coding frameworks and libraries and ensuring servers are configured with security in mindsets is a strong foundation for development stage secrets security.

Incorporating these practices into the daily workflow makes becoming a guardian of your secrets a natural part of the development process.

Entro: a case study in efficient secrets management

Wrapping up our deep dive into securing non-human identities, during development, it’s evident that with the right secrets management tools and strategies, you can go a long way in your cybersecurity journey — which brings us to Entro.

Entro slides in with a cool, low-key approach to enhance your development stage non-human identity and secrets management without stepping on your R&D team’s toes. It’s almost like the backstage crew at a concert, making sure everything runs without the audience ever noticing. It works completely out of band, through APIs and reading logs, ensuring your secrets are safe without demanding any spotlight or code changes.

Furthermore, Entro differentiates itself in the development stage security arena with features that make managing secrets safer and smarter. One of its standout features is secrets enrichment, where Entro adds layers of context to secrets, giving them their own profile – who owns that secret, who created it, its rotation history, and the privileges it holds.

With Entro, you get to know exactly who’s using what secret and for what, keeping everything tight and right. Click here to learn more.

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