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How infrastructure as code tools improve visibility

Visibility into cloud infrastructures and applications is important for data security. Learn how to maintain that visibility while using infrastructure as code tools.

When it comes to understanding how all the elements of a computer network connect and interact, it's certainly true that a picture -- or in this case, a network diagram -- is worth a thousand words.

A visual representation of a network makes it a lot easier to understand not only the physical topology of the network, its routers, devices, hubs, firewalls and so on, it can also clarify the logical topology of VPNs, subnets and routing protocols that control how traffic flows through the network.

Maintaining visibility across infrastructures and applications is vital to ensure data and resources are correctly monitored and secured. However, research conducted by Dimensional Research and sponsored by Virtual Instruments showed that most enterprises lack the tools necessary to provide complete visibility for triage or daily management. This is a real concern, as poor infrastructure visibility can lead to a loss of control over the network and can enable attackers to remain hidden.

Infrastructure as code, the management of an IT infrastructure with machine-readable scripts or definition files, is one way to mitigate the security risks associated with human error while enabling the rapid creation of stable and consistent but complex environments. However, it's vital for you to ensure that the resulting network infrastructures are indeed correctly connected and protected and do not drift from the intended configuration.

Infrastructure as code tools

Infrastructure as code tools, such as Cloudcraft and Lucidchart, can automatically create AWS architecture diagrams showing the live health and status of each component, as well as its current configuration and cost. The fact that the physical and logical topology of the network are created directly from the operational AWS configuration, and not what a network engineer thinks the infrastructure as code scripts have created, means it is a true representation of the network, which can be reviewed and audited.

There are similar tools for engineers using Microsoft Azure, such as Service Map and Cloudockit.

Security fundamentals don't change when resources and data are moved to the cloud, but visibility into the network in which they exist does.

Once a network generated using infrastructure as code tools has been audited and its configuration has been secured, it's important to monitor it for any configuration changes. Unmanaged configuration changes can occur when engineers or developers make direct changes to network resources or their properties in an out-of-band fix without updating the infrastructure as code template or script. The correct process is to make all the changes by updating the infrastructure as code template to ensure all the current and future environments are configured in exactly the same way.

AWS offers a drift detection feature that can detect out-of-band changes to an entire environment or to a particular resource so it can be brought back into compliance. Amazon Virtual Private Cloud Flow Logs is another feature that can be used to ensure an AWS environment is correctly and securely configured.

This tool captures information about the IP traffic going to and from network interfaces, which can be used for troubleshooting and as a security tool to provide visibility into network traffic to detect anomalous activities such as rejected connection requests or unusual levels of data transfer. Microsoft's Azure Stack and tools such as AuditWolf provide similar functionality to monitor Azure cloud resources.

Security fundamentals don't change when resources and data are moved to the cloud, but visibility into the network in which they exist does. Any organization with a limited understanding of how its cloud environment is actually connected and secured, or that has poor levels of monitoring, will leave its data vulnerable to attack.

The tools and controls exist to ensure network engineers and developers can enjoy the benefits of infrastructure as code without compromising security. Like all security controls, though, you need to understand them and use them on a daily basis for them to be effective.

This was last published in April 2019

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