Shipping high-quality software is essential for businesses to survive in this customer-centric world. Building a resilient product involves rooting out vulnerabilities and other weaknesses to improve fault tolerance. According to a Forrester study, companies that focus on uninterrupted customer experience outdo their contemporaries. Given the impact it can have on ROI, organizations are seeking efficient ways to improve the reliability of their software systems. One of the approaches that is said to have a significant impact is known as Chaos Engineering.
In DevOps, chaos engineering involves adding vulnerabilities to test and strengthen applications. In what is generally called ‘injecting controlled failures,’ you cause intentional disruptions in server downtimes, network outages, and resource unavailability. It helps you detect cracks in your systems that may remain hidden under usual circumstances. It is also a potent strategy for security hardening.
Chaos presents an opportunity that must be dealt with care.
However, organizations must be aware of the security challenges associated with chaos engineering for DevOps. We listed some of these concerns and how you can tackle them.
1. Unauthorized access to sensitive assets
As a part of your chaos engineering practice, you should introduce failures systematically to test how well the system responds. It will also include injecting weaknesses in sensitive areas of your software systems. This injection will require access to critical configurations and chaos engineering tools. Assigning an unauthorized person to access them will open your ecosystem to security threats.
You can avoid unauthorized access through,
- Implementing effective strategies for authentication and authorization to manage access to chaos engineering tools
- Exercising practices like RBAC (role-based access control) and least privilege to prevent illegitimate access
- Conducting regular hygiene of user permissions and role privileges to avoid gaps
2. Putting private data at risk
When conducting chaos experiments, it’s possible that sensitive data gets exposed or its security is weakened. This is a possibility when you are dealing with network or storage-related failures. If you don’t take cognizance of data that you might put at risk during chaos engineering, it will lead to damning security threats.
You can ensure data privacy through
- Data classification to easily prioritize data security through encryption and access controls
- Utilization of synthetic data when running chaos engineering instead of using the actual production data
- Data masking to safeguard critical information during the experiments
3. Uncontrolled extension of attack surface
As a part of your chaos engineering in the DevOps ecosystem, you may introduce elements that will potentially expand the attack surface of your software. While this is a common practice in chaos experiments, they will become actual attack vectors if not monitored and patched up properly.
To keep the attack surface within your control, you can implement the following measures:
- Follow security best practices to tighten configurations of chaos agents and tools
- Investigate your chaos engineering tools for any known security risks, and implement patches regularly, if needed
- Refrain from implementing chaos engineering strategies in the production environment
4. Lack of visibility into security stance
The whole idea of carrying out a chaos engineering experiment in DevOps is to discover potential and hidden weaknesses that can cause disruption. You must use robust monitoring and observability tools to conduct this exercise effectively. You can implement appropriate security strategies only when you track system behavior and state.
You can enhance your monitoring and observability Implementations by
- Accurately tracking, capturing, and analyzing ripples that chaos engineering triggers
- Configuring notifications that alert you to anomalies, along with a strategy to identify chaos experiments from real threats correctly
- Conducting regular audits of your monitoring solutions to build enterprise-wide trust in them
5. Turning the production environment into a testing battleground
Chaos engineering is effective in detecting genuine risks within your software systems. For this, the production environment is ideal. It, however, has a flip side to it. When you run too many chaos experiments, there is a chance that a real, unexpected security incident will happen. Instead, you can conduct the most critical experiments with comprehensive monitoring in production.
When handling chaos engineering in production, take care of the below factors.
- Put a solid rollback plan in place in case your experiment turns the doors of your system open to real attackers
- Conduct mock experiments with the involvement of your incident remediation specialists to be better prepared
6. Leaving misconfiguration unattended
One of the most common chaos experiments is misconfiguration. While it is easy – and important – to see how your entire system manages a misconfiguration, it could lead to serious threats if left unattended. That means when you change your configuration for the experiment, ensure that they are returned to their original state. It may seem like a hassle, but an unattended misconfiguration is a tempting invitation to hackers.
To avoid open misconfiguration, you must
- Document every configuration change made throughout the chaos engineering for easy revert
- Audit configuration files for changes by enabling a version control mechanism
7. Overly trusting chaos tools
Chaos engineering experiments are run using chaos tools, which often receive access to your software systems. Before you give these tools complete control over your application, you must clearly understand how they operate. This is important to evaluate if you can trust them with your product security.
Evaluating chaos tools involves
- Review of source code, including configurations, to gain assurance of their security
- Staying informed about open source tools through their respective communities to learn their security best practices
- Ensuring that your chaos tools get their regular dose of security fixes and patches
8. Violating compliance regulations
When conducting chaos engineering, there is a good chance that you violate necessary regulations or compliance requirements like GDPR and HIPAA. If that happens, you open yourself to heavy penalties and/or severe punishments. You ought to run chaos experiments so that these compliances are undisturbed.
You can comply with regulatory mandates by running chaos strategies that
- Don’t involve sensitive data
- Use synthetic data or mask real private data
Avoid creating real chaos during controlled chaos engineering
Chaos engineering is a risky, yet effective method of ensuring your software is resilient and reliable. In essence, it is akin to throwing stuff around to see which part of it will break first. As appealing as it might sound to run fault-based experiments, chaos engineering can lead to serious security incidents if you get carried away. We listed some of the top security concerns that chaos experiments can lead to if you don’t pay close attention.
At the end of it all, you must understand that chaos engineering is just about learning how your system behaves under pressure and making it more resilient.