Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks: Best Practices and Tips for Securing Your Pipeline

top 10 ci/cd security risks

In an era where software development and delivery are evolving rapidly, CI/CD pipelines have become the backbone of modern software organisations. However, with increased agility comes an expanded attack surface, putting these pipelines at risk of devastating security breaches. How can we secure our CI/CD pipelines and ensure that our software development remains safe, efficient, and reliable? In this blog post, we will explore the top 10 CI/CD security risks, share practical strategies for mitigating them, and delve into the role of DevSecOps and emerging technologies like AI/ML in enhancing CI/CD security.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the top 10 CI/CD security risks and implement mitigation strategies.
  • Secure code components, manage credentials & secrets and integrate security measures into your pipeline.
  • Create a DevSecOps culture and leverage AI/ML & emerging technologies for future-proofing.

Understanding the Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks

The OWASP Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks framework, developed by numerous industry experts, addresses the most significant security risks within modern engineering systems and gaps in CI/CD pipelines. This initiative analyses major breaches and security issues related to CI/CD, assisting defenders in addressing these risks. CI/CD systems and processes provide faster, more flexible and diverse software delivery. Still, they also increase the attack surface with various new avenues and opportunities for attackers to push malicious code.

top 10 ci/cd security risks

OWASP’s Top 10 CI/CD security risks include:

  1. Insufficient Flow Control Mechanisms
  2. Inadequate Identity and Access Management
  3. Dependency Chain Abuse
  4. Poisoned Pipeline Execution
  5. Insufficient Pipeline-Based Access Controls
  6. Insufficient Credential Hygiene
  7. Insecure System Configuration
  8. Ungoverned Usage of Third-Party Services
  9. Improper Artifact Integrity Validation
  10. Insufficient Logging and Visibility.

Notable examples of CI/CD security breaches include the SolarWinds incident, the StackOverflow incident, and the dependency confusion flaw.

Insecure Code and Components

Insecure code and components pose a significant risk to CI/CD pipelines. Dependency chain abuse is one of the top risks, where attackers exploit how dependencies are pulled to fetch and execute malicious packages. Incorrect utilization of third-party integrations can lead to potential security vulnerabilities in the pipeline.

Dependency management serves as a key solution to dependency chain abuse. Some recommended practices include obtaining packages from an internal registry containing pre-vetted packages, enabling checksum and signature verification, and locking package versions. This helps to make sure that clients receive the correct dependencies and protect against vulnerabilities.

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Poisoned Pipeline Execution

Poisoned Pipeline Execution (PPE) refers to a security risk in CI/CD processes, where attackers can run malicious code during the build process. This contamination of the CI pipeline occurs by executing malevolent code, which may have contained malicious code, during the build procedure.

Establishing branch protection rules for branches that trigger a pipeline in the CI/CD system is an effective measure to guard against poisoned pipeline execution. Moreover, reviewing any configuration changes before running them is critical. One approach is to manage these configurations in a separate branch. This helps keep the main branch for pushing code free from any configuration changes. The configuration should be placed in a designated branch. This branch should be protected.

Weak Access Controls

Strong access controls are vital against unauthorised access and lateral movement within the pipeline. Inadequate access controls can allow a potential attacker to gain unauthorised access to the pipelines. This could lead to lateral movement within the engineering ecosystem and pose a serious risk to the organisation.

Major concerns in CI/CD processes related to access management include passwords and access tokens.

top 10 ci/cd security risks

Safeguarding a CI/CD pipeline and avoiding inadequate credential hygiene necessitates secure secrets management. Recommended practices for secure secrets management include:

  • Refraining from hardcoding secrets
  • Storing secrets in an encrypted format
  • Adhering to the principle of least privilege
  • Regularly rotating all static secrets
  • Employing tools like HashiCorp Vault, AWS Secrets Manager, and Knox.

Strategies for Mitigating CI/CD Security Risks

Several practical strategies can be implemented to mitigate the top CI/CD security risks. These include:

  • Scanning for vulnerabilities and applying security patches
  • Mapping the attack surface
  • Securing the software supply chain
  • Implementing DevSecOps best practices

top 10 ci/cd security risks

By integrating these strategies, organisations can significantly reduce the potential security vulnerabilities in their CI/CD pipelines.

A holistic approach towards CI/CD security is vital, going beyond just addressing specific risks. This involves:

  • Understanding the potential threats
  • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • Implementing security measures at every stage of the software development lifecycle
  • Continuous monitoring and observability

These are crucial techniques for ensuring the security of CI/CD pipelines.

Mapping the Attack Surface

Identifying the potential threats and vulnerabilities in the build and deployment process forms the first step towards securing a CI/CD pipeline. Inventorying and assessing all connections as potential sources of compromise is crucial. This helps to detect issues and deny access to devices that do not comply with security policy requirements.

Threat modelling can aid in visualising potential pipeline threats and identifying existing vulnerabilities. By mapping and regularly updating the attack surface, organisations can maintain an up-to-date understanding of their CI/CD pipeline security and efficiently allocate resources to address the most critical vulnerabilities.

Securing the Software Supply Chain

Shielding the software supply chain from attacks is a crucial CI/CD security component. One way to reduce the potential risks associated with third-party dependencies in CI/CD pipelines is to use source composition analysis (SCA) tools. SCA tools examine application source code and detect insecure third-party dependencies. Package scanners can also be used to inspect packaged applications and container images for components with known vulnerabilities.

Enforcing secure coding standards is another crucial practice for maintaining CI/CD security. Adhering to a set of secure coding rules and guidelines can help prevent known vulnerabilities in code at the time of development by ensuring that developers follow best practices in their coding efforts.

Safeguarding Credentials and Secrets

Maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of systems and data in CI/CD pipelines necessitates credential and secret safeguarding. Secure management of credentials and secrets involves practices such as:

  • refraining from hardcoding secrets
  • storing secrets in an encrypted format
  • adhering to the principle of least privilege
  • regularly rotating all static secrets

Organisations can use tools like HashiCorp Vault, AWS Secrets Manager, and Knox to manage and protect their CI/CD credentials and secrets. This will help to prevent unauthorised access and keep the pipeline secure.

Integrating Security into Your CI/CD Pipeline

For a robust security posture, it is imperative to weave security measures throughout the CI/CD process. This can be achieved by incorporating various tools and techniques, such as Source Composition Analysis (SCA), Static Application Security Testing (SAST), and continuous monitoring and observability.

By implementing these techniques, organisations can:

  • Automate and optimise CI/CD security processes
  • Reduce the time and effort required to detect and respond to security threats
  • Provide a more comprehensive view of their software development pipeline security posture.

Source Composition Analysis (SCA)

Source Composition Analysis (SCA) is a security methodology that assesses open-source components and dependencies within a project to identify any vulnerabilities, issues, or risks. SCA tools, such as Snyk, JFrog Xray, and GitLab, scan the codebase for open-source components and dependencies, assessing them for vulnerabilities and license compliance.

By integrating SCA tools into the CI/CD pipeline, organisations can:

  • Gain a better understanding of the risks associated with open-source components and dependencies
  • Address these issues proactively
  • Maintain a secure pipeline.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is a method of scanning project source code, byte code and binaries to identify any potential security vulnerabilities like SQL injection, broken access control or improper design. Such vulnerabilities can impact the system security if not corrected quickly. Widely used SAST providers include Checkmarx, Fortify, Semgrep, Snyk, and SonarQube.

top 10 ci/cd security risks

Incorporating SAST into the CI/CD pipeline offers several benefits:

  • Enables the detection of vulnerabilities in the early stages of the development process
  • This leads to a more efficient use of time and resources
  • It helps organisations maintain a secure pipeline
  • Allows for proactive addressing of potential security vulnerabilities

Continuous Monitoring and Observability

Continuous monitoring and observability are essential practices in DevOps to gain visibility and comprehension of the status of systems and the overall CI/CD pipeline. Monitoring collects predefined metrics and alerts to detect issues. Observability goes beyond monitoring by using data collection and analysis to provide insights into what went wrong and why.

Implementing continuous monitoring and observability in CI/CD pipelines enables organisations to detect anomalies and maintain a robust security posture. This also allows for continual iteration and proactive identification of potential issues throughout the software development lifecycle.

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The Role of DevSecOps in CI/CD Security

DevSecOps, by weaving security practices and measures into the software development life cycle (SDLC), serves as a cornerstone of CI/CD security. This ensures security is implemented at each CI/CD pipeline step, from code development to product deployment. DevSecOps encourages security engagement and prioritises security in the SDLC, allowing organisations to automate the application development process while maintaining the security of their pipelines.

Incorporating DevSecOps in CI/CD pipelines offers several benefits:

  • Minimises the risk of security breaches and vulnerabilities
  • Accelerates and enhances the quality of software delivery
  • Fosters collaboration between development and security teams.

Creating a DevSecOps Culture

For maintaining CI/CD pipeline security, it is pivotal to shift the mindset towards security and cultivate a DevSecOps culture within the organisation. A strong DevSecOps culture can aid organisations in:

  • Minimising the risk of security incidents
  • Accelerating and enhancing the quality of software delivery
  • Enhancing collaboration between development and security teams.

To foster a DevSecOps culture, organisations should integrate security into the CI/CD pipeline, automate security processes, and provide training and resources to development and security teams. This helps to ensure that security is a top priority and an integral part of the software development process.

Implementing DevSecOps Best Practices

The security of the CI/CD pipeline can be ensured by implementing DevSecOps best practices. Automating security tasks, such as automated vulnerability scanning, security testing, and patching, can help to improve the security of CI/CD pipelines. Enforcing secure coding standards by utilizing static code analysis, performing code reviews, and employing automated code reviews can also help to improve security.

By implementing these best practices, organisations can make sure that their CI/CD pipelines remain secure, compliant, and efficient while minimising the risk of security breaches and vulnerabilities.

Case Studies: Learning from Real-World Incidents

Real-world CI/CD security incidents are valuable lessons for organisations to learn from and improve their security posture. Some examples of these incidents include:

  • Compromised CI/CD pipelines
  • Vulnerabilities in Jenkins
  • Attacks on CI/CD pipelines
  • Software supply chain attacks

By studying these incidents, organisations can gain insights into potential vulnerabilities and take steps to strengthen their CI/CD security.

By studying these incidents, organisations can:

  • Identify potential security vulnerabilities
  • Implement effective security measures
  • Ensure that their CI/CD pipelines remain secure and compliant with industry regulations

Learning from real-world incidents helps organisations proactively address CI/CD security risks and continuously improve their security posture.

The Future of CI/CD Security: AI/ML and Emerging Technologies

Enhancing CI/CD security can be achieved through the significant role played by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). CI/CD security tools automate and optimize security processes, reducing the time and effort needed to detect and respond to security threats. They also provide a more comprehensive perspective on an organization’s software development pipeline security posture.

Organisations can leverage AI/ML and emerging technologies to automate security tasks, analyse commit histories, recommend best practices, and isolate and secure the CI/CD environment. By adopting these cutting-edge technologies, organisations can stay ahead of the curve and ensure the security of their CI/CD pipelines in an ever-evolving threat landscape.


In conclusion, securing CI/CD pipelines is paramount for modern software organisations. By understanding the top CI/CD security risks, implementing strategies to mitigate them, integrating security measures into the pipeline, fostering a DevSecOps culture, and leveraging emerging technologies like AI/ML, organisations can ensure the security and reliability of their software development and delivery. It is crucial to stay vigilant, learn from real-world incidents, and continuously improve security practices to remain one step ahead of potential threats.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the risks of CI/CD?

CI/CD poses several security risks, including insecure coding, inadequate identity and access management, dependency chain abuse, poisoned pipeline execution, insufficient PBAC, insecure system configuration, usage of third-party services, supply chain attacks, and the exposure of secrets. It is important to map threats and secure connections to ensure safe CI/CD.

Is security important in CI/CD? What mechanisms are there to secure it?

Security is a crucial element of CI/CD pipelines, and various mechanisms can be implemented to ensure proper security, such as artefact integrity validation, which ensures only trusted code is deployed.

Which vulnerabilities are part of the OWASP Top 10?

The OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities include Broken Access Control, Cryptographic Failures, Injection, Insecure Design, Security Misconfiguration, Vulnerable and outdated components, Identification and Authentication Failures, and Software and Data Integrity Failures.

What are the OWASP Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks?

OWASP’s Top 10 CI/CD security risks include insufficient flow control mechanisms, inadequate identity and access management, dependency chain abuse, poisoned pipeline execution, and more. These risks must be addressed to ensure system security.

What is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps is an approach that integrates security measures into every step of the CI/CD pipeline, from code development to product deployment, creating a secure SDLC.

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