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The Deployment Dilemma: Advocating for Security in the Face of Resistance

Bologna on 2023-09-07T00:09:00.000+02:00
by Angelo Reale
tags: cybersecurity, ci-cd, devsecops

In today's agile-driven tech world, there's a seductive allure to deploying faster and more frequently. While efficiency is a commendable goal, one emerging trend threatens to topple the balance: direct-to-production deployment pipelines for unreviewed pull requests. This method might seem like a nod to modernity, but it presents profound security challenges. How do we advocate for security, especially when met with skepticism or intentional resistance? Let's navigate this delicate landscape.

When we speak of DevOps and Continuous Deployment, efficiency and speed are often top priorities. But one trend that's emerged, which sends shivers down the spine of any security professional, is the practice of deploying pull requests (PRs) directly to the production environment. On the surface, this might seem like an ultimate demonstration of agility, but in reality, it's a ticking security time bomb. Let's delve into why this practice is a grave mistake.

1. The Danger of Unreviewed Code

When we think of a PR, it's essentially a proposal for changes, not a final product. Sending PRs directly into production means the code has not been subjected to any form of rigorous review.

Risks Involved:
- Malicious Code: An ill-intentioned developer could slip in malicious code that can lead to data breaches or other security threats.

- Bugs and Vulnerabilities: Without review, there's a high chance of inadvertently introducing bugs or vulnerabilities into the production environment. Even the most experienced developer can miss a critical security flaw in their code.

2. Loss of Code Visibility in Production

Tying your production code to a specific branch in Git, like 'main', offers a transparent view of what's in production at any given time. Abandoning this practice by deploying PRs directly leads to some alarming challenges:

- Uncertainty of Current Production Code: Without a stable branch mirroring the production environment, it becomes almost impossible to ascertain which version of the code is currently live. This ambiguity can have severe consequences, especially during incidents where you need to pinpoint the cause of an issue quickly.

- Tracking Vulnerabilities: If there were a security breach, and the production code does not align with a specific branch, how would you trace back to see which version of the code was exploited? It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It makes vulnerability tracking and patching an uphill battle.

Speaking Up: The Importance of Voicing Concerns

When a questionable practice, like direct-to-production deployment pipelines, is introduced or even discussed within a team, it's crucial for professionals who understand the risks to raise their concerns. Here's why it's essential to be vocal and, if necessary, escalate the matter:

1. Guarding Organizational Integrity

Every security mishap reflects not just on the technical team but the organization as a whole. Negative publicity from a data breach or significant service disruption can result in loss of trust, clientele, and revenue. By speaking up, you're not just guarding a codebase but the entire organization's reputation and viability.

2. Protecting Customer Data

Customer trust is paramount. If a direct-to-production deployment results in a data breach, the ripple effect goes beyond company walls. It impacts real people, exposing them to risks like identity theft and financial loss. Speaking up is, in essence, fulfilling our duty to protect end-users.

3. Maintaining Team Morale

Dealing with the fallout of a security issue isn't just technically challenging; it's mentally and emotionally taxing for a team. The stress of damage control, long hours of tracing issues, and the potential blame game can take a toll on team morale. Preventing a problematic practice can save the team from undue stress and potential burnout.

4. Upholding Professional Ethics

Software professionals aren't just coders; they are gatekeepers of digital safety. If a practice seems risky, it's an ethical duty to voice concerns. It reinforces a culture of accountability and integrity within the profession.

5. Ensuring Sustainable Development Practices

Quick fixes or shortcuts might offer temporary gains, but they often lead to long-term pains. By flagging unsustainable practices, you're advocating for development strategies that are robust, maintainable, and secure in the long run.

Advocacy: A Collective Responsibility

Speaking up against potentially harmful practices isn't about resisting change or being adversarial. It's about advocating for best practices and ensuring that innovations don't compromise core principles. If you see something, say something. Encourage open dialogue and constructive feedback within teams. Together, as a collective, we can ensure that technological advancements align with the gold standards of security and ethics.

Navigating Management Skepticism: Standing Firm on Security Concerns

When voicing concerns about potential security pitfalls, it's natural to hope for understanding and immediate corrective action. However, in the real world, things don't always go so smoothly. You may encounter skepticism or even intentional support for questionable practices. In such scenarios, it's essential to navigate the situation tactfully and effectively.

1. Facing Management Doubt

If management is skeptical about the validity of your concerns:

- Present Evidence: Gather clear evidence of the risks associated with direct-to-production deployment pipelines. This could be case studies, industry articles, or documented incidents from other companies.

- Peer Review: Sometimes, a collective voice is louder. Engage your colleagues and have them weigh in. If multiple team members voice the same concern, it's harder to ignore.

- Offer Alternatives: Instead of just pointing out problems, suggest safer and efficient deployment practices. Demonstrating that you're solutions-oriented can gain their trust.

- Educate and Inform: Host a session or workshop about best practices in deployment and security. Sometimes, it's a lack of understanding that drives skepticism, and awareness can be the antidote.

2. Handling Intentional Support for Risky Practices

If it seems that management is deliberately supporting these changes despite understanding the risks:

- Document Everything: Always keep a record of your concerns, the reasons behind them, and any communication regarding them. This documentation can serve as proof of your proactive approach and protect you if things go south.

- External Audits or Consultations: Propose having an external audit or consultation. Third-party professionals can provide an unbiased perspective on the practices. Their external viewpoint may carry more weight.

- Ethical Considerations: If the push for risky practices might endanger customer data or severely compromise the product, consider escalating to higher management or even seeking guidance from industry associations that advocate for ethical tech practices.

- Evaluate Your Position: If all fails and you believe the organization is willingly endangering security and customer trust, it might be time to reconsider your position. It's crucial to work in an environment where you believe in the ethics and practices being followed.

Standing Tall Amidst Challenges

Championing security and ethical practices, especially when facing resistance, is challenging. But remember, as tech professionals, our responsibility goes beyond just writing code. It extends to ensuring that the digital world remains trustworthy, reliable, and safe for everyone. Stand firm, advocate wisely, and never compromise on the principles that safeguard our digital realm.

Balancing Speed and Security

In the race to achieve the fastest deployment cycles, it's crucial to ensure that security is not left in the dust. Deploying PRs directly to production might seem like a cutting-edge practice, but the associated risks far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Always remember, in the realm of software deployment, speed without security is a recipe for disaster. It's imperative to strike a balance that ensures rapid development cycles while upholding the highest standards of security. After all, what good is speed if it leads you directly into a security minefield?

Upholding the Fort in the Digital Frontier

In our quest for innovation and efficiency, it's imperative not to lose sight of the bedrock principles that keep our digital ecosystems safe. While new methods and tools will always emerge, it's our responsibility as tech professionals to discern, evaluate, and advocate for practices that uphold security, trust, and ethics. Regardless of challenges or resistance, our collective voice can champion a future where agility and safety coexist harmoniously.