Securing Infrastructure as Code with Automated Misconfiguration Scanning

Infrastructure as code (IaC) brings speed and efficiency to provisioning cloud and container environments. But this power can unwittingly expose organizations to vulnerabilities if not properly checked. Studies show nearly 80% of security failures result from misconfigurations, not software defects.

Misconfigured IaC enables lurking attackers to gain footholds and potentially catastrophic access across networks hosting critical data and applications. Cloud malware, DDoS bots, crypto mining schemes and more routinely scan for and exploit common oversights like storage buckets left unintentionally public, overly permissive IAM roles, unpatched services, etc.

Failure to find these "unknown unknowns" buried in piles of IaC code risks outages, breaches and non-compliance. Manual reviews fall short given dynamic and ephemeral cloud environments. Automated scanning addresses this by systematically identifying risks before infrastructure transitions from code to provisioned servers and network resources.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover six essential tools to integrate scanning into your development lifecycle – improving security while enabling rapid innovation through infrastructure automation.

Why Continuous Scanning of IaC Is Non-Negotiable

Before surveying leading open source and commercial scanners, let‘s look closer at why actively analyzing infrastructure as code should become a routine part of your validation processes:

  • Accumulating infrastructure debt: Shortcuts taken during initial IaC development often lump additional technical debt onto configuration code not addressed later on. Without scans, this bit rot continues being deployed.
  • Poor separation of duties: Dev teams focusing solely on rapid feature delivery often lack security context for assessing risks. Scanning bridges this gap.
  • Configuration drift across environments: Changes may enter prod environments directly, bypassing the safety checks in lower environments. Scanning as code flows downstream is key.
  • Increasing use of automation: What takes minutes to provision manually could be instantiated dozens of times more quickly with IaC. More infrastructure volume means more that can go wrong.
  • Expanding regulatory obligations: Standards like CIS Benchmarks, NIST, HIPAA, SOC2 prescribe strict configuration requirements needing verification.
  • Cloud platform risk: The shared responsibility model of cloud means you inherit security ownership for your slice of the provider‘s infrastructure.

These dynamics make one thing clear – the ability to automatically scan IaC code for risks is now a must-have competency rather than nice-to-have.

Now let‘s explore top scanning solutions enabling you to make security checks an integral part of your infrastructure release processes.

Native Cloud Scanning Services

Public cloud platforms like AWS, Azure and GCP offer in-house scanning of IaC templates used to provision resources on their infrastructure. These simplify getting started by providing first-party risk identification tightly integrated with their respective services.

AWS offers Security Hub Scans checking CloudFormation templates against best practices like CIS Foundations Benchmarks. Customers can also leverage Amazon Inspector forRuntime scans of EC2 instances for vulnerabilities.

The Azure Security Center provides continuous analysis of ARM templates used to deploy resources. Checks identify issues like insecure storage permissions, weak network security rules, and non-compliant configurations. Integrations with Azure DevOps allows baking scans into CI/CD pipelines.

Google Cloud offers Config Validator for scanning infrastructure configurations including Terraform, Docker, Kubernetest manifests and more against Google best practices. Integration with services like Code Engine automate scanning on each code commit or merge attempt.

While convenient, reliance solely on individual cloud vendors‘ proprietary scanning has limitations:

  • Multi-cloud blindness: Focusing on a single provider loses visibility into risks existing outside that environment.
  • Customization constraints: Adding checks beyond vendor-defined policies may require workarounds like exporting scan results and running externally.
  • On-platform lock-in: Scanning workflows built on cloud-native services increase friction to change providers later on.
  • Portability issues: Code reuse across cloud platforms may require altering IaC templates to align with each vendor‘s syntax requirements just for scanning purposes.

These scenarios lend favor to third-party scanning tools able to centralize analysis of infrastructure as code regardless of the underlying platform.

Top Open Source Scanners

Open source scanning tools provide an affordable starting point by handling much of the heavy lifting required for static analysis of IaC templates. Let‘s discuss popular OSS options including Checkov, TFLint, Terrafirma and Trivy:

table of open source IaC scanners

Checkov stands out with over 300 built-in scans covering Terraform, CloudFormation, Kubernetes and more against common frameworks like CIS Benchmarks. Easy integrations with CI/CD pipelines facilitates making security checks a standard part of pre-deployment processes.

TFLint offers a specialized scanner just for HashiCorp Terraform, with 700+ rules detecting anti-patterns and errors beyond just security. Quick setup and editor integrations aid rapid development cycles.

Terrafirma focuses narrowly on uncovering potential privilege escalations and unauthorized access risks in Terraform code by analyzing the permissions actually granted across resources.

Trivy provides simple and fast scanning capabilities across infrastructure configurations, container images and code repositories. Frequent automatic updates ensure checks keep pace with new vulnerabilities and hardening best practices.

These leading open source tools each help uncover crucial security gaps in IaC workflows. Benefits of open source scanning include continuous community-driven enhancements, transparency into scan methodologies and no licensing or usage costs.

Tradeoffs center on the effort required for organically building out integrations with security information and event management (SIEM) systems, IT service management (ITSM) platforms etc. OSS scanners also place the burden on individual ops teams to maintain updates and tune detection capabilities aligned to their unique requirements.

For organizations wanting an easier onboarding experience with built-in scanning policies maintained by security researchers, commercial scanners often fit the need.

Top Commercial Scanners

Commercial scanning platforms improve ease of adoption by providing infrastructure integration along with professional security research to continuously expand and fine-tune detection capabilities. Let‘s look at CloudSploit, Accurics and Indeni as leading examples:

table comparing commercial IaC scanners

CloudSploit simplifies scanning setup by providing IaC analysis as a cloud-based web application rather than command line tool needing configuration. Broad language support beyond Terraform and CloudFormation plus one click remediation workflow acceleration positions them as an easy entry point for teams new to IaC scanning.

Accurics enhances runtime security through integrating IaC scanning data with event monitoring around provisioned resources and policy self-healing. Advanced enterprise integrations centralize SecOps and DevOps visibility and remediation workflows as code flows across environments.

Indeni combines strong CI/CD integration for pre-deployment checks with automated remediation capabilities applying fixes or quarantining risky resources post-deployment minimizing operational overhead for teams.

These solutions underscore key advantages of commercial IaC scanners including professional maintenance of detection logic and native integrations with essential enterprise platforms – though at an added cost.

Evaluating tradeoffs around flexibility, customizability and TCO against risk visibility and labor savings aids organizations selecting between commercial versus open source scanners.

Integrating Scans Across the Dev Lifecycle

IaC scanning cannot remain a siloed practice or one-off annual audit event. To maximize impact, scans should integrate across the continuous development lifecycle – anchoring at each phase as code progresses from prototype towards production:

image showing IaC scanning integrations with dev lifecycle

  • Code: Scan on commits / MRs / PRs to get immediate feedback. Fail builds on scan failures.
  • Build: Scan release candidate infrastructure changes pre-deployment. Quarantine risky configurations.
  • Deploy: Scan again on promoted configurations entering downstream environments like staging and QA.
  • Run: Scan production for configuration drift to stay aligned with pipeline security standards.

This end-to-end approach addresses risks throughout progression from developer laptops to infrastructure actively running mission critical workloads.

Remediating Detected Issues

Scanning shines light on risks – but how you operationally address findings determines overall security posture improvements:

  • Quarantine risky resources preventingdangerous configurations from deploying rather than just raising tickets.
  • Refactor insecure modules in code repositories making fixes reusable.
  • Automate remediation tasks like access revocation, resource encryption, misconfiguration recovery.
  • Version control changes made to IaC for audit purposes and simplified rollback.

Cultural change empowering developers to own security also proves essential for sustainable success.

Through these combinationefforts, scanning transforms from reporting activity into a catalyst for measurable risk reduction from the inside out – strengthening security foundations upon which more advanced controls can take effect.


Infrastructure as code promises improved efficiency, consistency and innovation velocity. But organizations must ensure security keeps pace with automation or face disastrous exposure.

Misconfigured IaC has surfaced as the most overlooked source of preventable yet potentially devastating cyber risk. Rampant scanning gaps continue enabling attackers to capitalize on common oversights.

As detailed here, purpose-built tools now exist ensuring IaC security scanning capability stays ahead of your deployment velocity. Both open source and commercial options allow central visibility and control regardless of underlying cloud platform or dev toolchain.

Integrating scanning across your CI/CD pipelines minimizes lead time between writing risky code and discovering issues through automated checks. Streamlining remediation feedback loops then translates findings into reduced risk operationalized through secure-by-design infrastructure guardrails.

The time for action has clearly arrived. What are you waiting for? Empower developers to code confidently and securely by adding scanning to your IaC workflow today.

Now go defend what matters most by uncovering the unknowns hiding undetected within your automation scripts!