Why DevOps Needs Machine Identity Management


Machine identity management can give DevOps teams the speed they need while improving an organization’s cybersecurity.

DevOps, the set of practices that combines development and IT operations, is widely embraced by businesses due to its ability to shorten the software development and deployment lifecycle. Unfortunately, as with many other operations that seek to speed processes, the gains are frequently achieved at the expense of security. However, the use of a smart machine identity management strategy and tools can help ensure the speed is maintained while security is enforced.

To understand where machine identity management comes in, it helps to look at the digital security issues in DevOps. As noted, speed is critical. Modern business requires the constant introduction of new applications and services to meet company goals and satisfy customer demands. Not only is the pace of introduction of new applications accelerated, but today all applications need frequent updates.

Users expect new features and enhancements all the time, and companies want to incorporate the latest technologies as they emerge. It might be something as simple as offering a version of a mobile app that takes advantage of a new smartphone capability. Or it might be a financial institution adopting new analytics techniques to improve its fraud detection and prevention. Across all these areas (new apps, enhancements, or updates), developers need the flexibility to quickly create code, test it, and pass it over to IT operations to deploy and run it.

Security issues arise because developers need digital signatures and certificates. And they need the digital certificates quickly. And making matters worse, most developers are not experts in these areas.

Where do problems come in? The process of acquiring digital certificates can be lengthy. Developers do not have the time and sometimes will use self-signed digital certificates for development and testing. In that way, developers do not have to depend on others to issue certificates.

Those test certificates should be replaced once the software gets pushed out to production, but that isn’t always the case. Often, these self-signed certificates are not stored securely. Once they are in the production environment, hackers may be able to steal them. Possessing that digital signature allows them to pass off malicious code as software written by the internal development team.

See also: Why Machine Identity Management is Enterprise Critical

The role of machine identity management

Cryptographic keys and digital certificates comprise the foundation of trust and privacy. Keys and certificates turn on private, encrypted communications. Without them, any website could pretend to be a bank, online store, or cloud provider. They’re used to connect applications, administrators, and clouds over Secure Shell (SSH). 

Getting trusted digital certificates can take days, not the seconds the automated and orchestrated DevOps environment expects. DevOps teams frequently find ways around this problem. In some cases, DevOps teams use untrusted or unauthorized certificates like those freely available from online entities.

Organizations need to build security into DevOps in a way that is fast and easy. One way to do that is to adopt procedures that automate the creation and distribution of keys and certificates for use with HTTPS and SSH throughout the build process so that DevOps teams don’t have to do it themselves.

Such automation will undoubtedly lead to a proliferation of keys and certificates, the unique identities needed for secure machine-to-machine communications and interactions. To keep up with the volume, velocity, and variety of machine identity changes, organizations need to intelligently orchestrate the management of this complex, rapidly changing set of machine identity data. Driven by a set of policies and controls that orchestrate machine identities, machine identity management can give DevOps the speed then need while improving an organization’s cybersecurity, reducing risk, and supporting regulatory, legal, and operational requirements.

Salvatore Salamone

About Salvatore Salamone

Salvatore Salamone is a physicist by training who has been writing about science and information technology for more than 30 years. During that time, he has been a senior or executive editor at many industry-leading publications including High Technology, Network World, Byte Magazine, Data Communications, LAN Times, InternetWeek, Bio-IT World, and Lightwave, The Journal of Fiber Optics. He also is the author of three business technology books.

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