No, not that kind of hacking, give me a little credit…
Recently I was having a conversation with a consulting friend about DevOps, and he found himself in a bit of a tough situation. The organization he was working with was a pure cloud/DevOps shop, but one that was stepping into having the meet compliance obligations. Needless to say, things weren’t going well with the auditor.
For those of you who haven’t had to deal with the miasma of audits, one of the strongest requirements, for nearly any regulation/contract/agreement, is strong change management. This is especially true after those Enron guys screwed everything up for the rest of us.
Change management makes a ton of sense from both an operational and compliance standpoint. I, myself, have blown things up in production but not being smart about my change management. For compliance, it is absolutely essential. If you are dealing with anything with financial or privacy implications, you sure as heck want to get it into a stable, secure, compliant state and ensure that state is kept over time.
There is a big misconception out there that DevOps-style organizations don’t have change management. That when you push multiple changes per developer per day into production, there is no accountability or control. Now, while you can certainly build things this way, that sure isn’t how I see successful teams doing it. Not even close.
The problem isn’t that DevOps necessarily skips change management, it’s that it looks different. Much of change management becomes automated, and the fundamental nature of changes themselves is different. But think about how you describe DevOps to your traditional IT-focused friends. Now imagine trying to explain this to an auditor working off set standards that are still figuring out if cloud includes a co-hosted Mac Mini duct taped to a rack.
Here are some tips on how to both adjust your process, and explain it to the auditors:
- First, figure out which pieces of your application and operations are in-scope for the regulation. Odds are only financial and privacy related bits are, and you can then apply more-granular controls or logging to these if you need.
- Make sure your continuous integration tool (if you have one) includes some security checks and logs all updates/changes. If you push right from your code repository to production, get a CI tool.
- Keep records of all changes as they flow from dev to test to prod (or whatever you use). Again, this should be trivial to automate and dump the records to a secure log repository someplace.
- Unless your cloud provider tracks all API calls (like CloudTrail does on AWS, although that only works for some services and regions) use an API or web UI proxy like Netflix’s Asgaard. This really is a good security practice anyway, and can actually speed up infrastructure and platform management processes anyway. Keep the logs from this to make the auditor happy.
- If you SSH into instances, you need to log that activity and dump the logs to a central repository.
- Make sure you keep revisions of both all code changes and infrastructure automation changes (e.g. your CloudFormation templates, Chef/Puppet scripts/etc.). This is often built-in, but make sure you configure it correctly.
- Those suggestions now give you logs of all application changes, infrastructure changes, and direct access to instances. These are the things the auditor wants to know exist.
- Filter them based on your in-scope compliance requirements. Such as payment systems components only.
- Explain to your auditor that all changes go through an automated approval system that checks the code, tests it (detail the tests), tracks the change, and then moves it into production. That all server logins and infrastructure changes are logged, as is the complete history of the structure of your entire environment. And that you can provide all the documentation, filtered for the pieces within compliance scope.
This might look like a lot, but odds are very high you are already doing most of this. You keep code revisions, run changes through test suites before they go into production, and track all infrastructure changes. You might not have your own Ops portal/proxy, but you really should for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with compliance.
The trick is explaining this to your auditor in their terms. They expect manual checks and records. You need to show them that you still have these checks and balances, but they are automated. You still might need to add some pieces, such as an alert if certain parts of your code are changed (e.g. the file with payment processing or account reconciliation), but these will hopefully be minimal.
A good DevOps environment actually has a much better compliance infrastructure in place than traditional infrastructure. The automation and template-driven models give us much better control and insight as compared to manually fixing everything, even when we push more day to day changes. The trick is to document this, add a couple pieces if you need it, and then explain it all to someone with… less than refined technical skills.