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Secure Software Supply Chains

Key Concepts

  • The software supply chain is the most critical component that stands between your ability to deliver value through software and your customers.
  • There are no shortcuts. The same security standard that you enact for your production code needs to be implemented for your delivery mechanism as well.
  • A supply chain is not a unidirectional construct. It is a closed-loop system that will enable you to quickly identify and remediate production failures.

Outcomes

What we have heard from customers:

  • “We need to be able to deploy code to our staging and production environments reliably every time”
  • “The Security team continually scans our environment for vulnerabilities. When they discover a problem with our deployed code or one of its dependencies, we need to be able to remediate the problem within 24 hours.”
  • “Our compliance requirements mandate that all of our software is validated during our build process and that it is built upon validated, secure images.”
  • “We do not allow our developers to deploy containers directly from Docker Hub.”

Summary

Delivering business value through software requires that an organization is able to ship code to production consistently, reliably, and securely. This capability enables the software organization to meet the immediate needs of their customers. Whether this amounts to delivering software for the first time, or reacting to a security vulnerability in a timely manner, consistency will create better customer outcomes.

Unfortunately, for many organizations the primary development focus is often centered on product features alone. Delivery systems are very often an afterthought, usually implemented in an ad hoc fashion, and, as a result, become a fragile component that stands between development teams and the customers seeking to derive value from their work. When properly implemented, a secure software supply chain has the ability to close this gap across the entirety of your software portfolio.

A secure software supply chain is a term that refers to the full suite of software that will move your code from a developer’s laptop, through source control, and eventually onto production systems. This is not a one-way transaction. This supply chain, when implemented properly, will become a closed-loop system, whereby the same tools that will drive code to production will also help to address critical production events.

There are a few basic tenets to consider when implementing a secure software supply chain:

  • Code is simply and consistently delivered to production. It is a natural and familiar extension of a developer’s workflow.
  • New software is easily and consistently onboarded onto this delivery mechanism. There are no one-off delivery mechanisms. All code flows through this chain to production so that standards are continually maintained.
  • The supply chain is not an opaque construct. Developers can easily interact with it, investigate delivery failures, and augment the system as needed.
  • The software delivery mechanism is secure. As it is integral to the software itself, it adheres to the same security constraints. The organization may restrict actions through role-based policy, certify software artifacts, audit production system modifications, and address runtime vulnerabilities.

When most people think of software security, they often immediately consider how software performs in a production setting. However, the process for creating secure software begins long before your code is deployed.

There are 4 pillars for developing and deploying secure software:

  • The code is thoroughly reviewed by project maintainers.
  • All code has a standard suite of unit and/or integration tests that must pass before code can make it to production environments.
  • Unit tests are an integral part of the code base.
  • Tests should be run automatically on secure infrastructure and with the release candidate artifact.

Optionally, organizations may also choose to implement additional security features within their software supply chain. Code linters, open source license checks, automated vulnerability tests, and change management updates are all common tasks that may also be incorporated into a software supply chain.

Getting code into production is the most obvious goal for a software supply chain, but mature organizations implement this as a closed loop. Not only will this system be used for new feature development and promotion to production, but it will also allow operations teams to quickly identify and address vulnerabilities.