What Is Inadequate Identity and Access Management?

5 min. read

Inadequate identity and access management, as identified by OWASP's Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks, involves difficulties managing the vast number of identities spread across different systems in the engineering ecosystem, from source control to deployment. The existence of poorly managed identities in the CI/CD environment— both human and machine, or programmatic — increases the potential for compromise, as well as the extent of damage in the event of a security breach.

CICD-SEC-2: Inadequate Identity and Access Management Explained

Inadequate identity and access management, featured in the OWASP Top 10 CI/CD Security Risks, refers to insufficient control over who can access and perform actions within the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) environment. Poor practices compromise CI/CD security and can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and manipulation of the pipeline.

The paradigm shift from traditional software development to CI/CD pipelines has accelerated software release cycles. While this brings significant efficiency and agility to development, it introduces security challenges.

With manual methods and smaller teams, traditional software engineering tended toward a relatively lax approach to identity and access management (IAM). Developers needed flexibility to make significant changes to code and infrastructure, which often eroded access protocols. But growing awareness of security threats and the increasing complexity of software development has since set precedence for strict IAM scrutiny. Still, many organizations continue to overlook IAM in the fast-paced, automated environment of modern CI/CD pipelines.

Understanding CI/CD Complexities

In a CI/CD pipeline, IAM governs access at multiple levels — source code repositories, build servers, deployment environments and more. In addition to human users, it handles nonhuman identities such as service accounts, bots, and API keys. An IAM solution must have the capacity to manage complex interactions while adapting to the dynamic nature of CI/CD workflows.

But software delivery processes consist of multiple connected systems designed to move code and artifacts from development to production. Adding to the complexity, each system provides several methods of access and integration — username and password, personal access token, marketplace application, OAuth applications, plugins, and SSH keys.

What’s more, the different types of accounts and means of access can have unique provisioning methods, sets of security policies and authorization models. This creates significant challenges when managing identities throughout the identity lifecycle and attempting to ensure their permissions align with least privilege.

Components of Effective Identity and Access Management

IAM comprises the policies, processes, and tools used to manage digital identities and control access to resources. Key to enforcing the principle of least privilege, IAM ultimately verifies that only authorized individuals and systems can access and interact with resources.

Effective IAM in a CI/CD context incorporates components that include:

  • Authentication: Verifying the identity of users or systems.
  • Authorization: Determining what authenticated users or systems can do.
  • Identity federation: Linking a user's identity across multiple systems.
  • Single sign-on (SSO): Allowing users to authenticate once to access multiple systems.
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA): Requiring multiple methods of verification.

IAM Challenges in the CI/CD Context

By understanding the challenges of IAM in the CI/CD pipeline, organizations can take a vigilant posture and address issues before a security incident occurs.

Overly Permissive Identities

The risk of overly permissive identities arises when applicative and human accounts don’t implement least privilege. In source control management (SCM), for example, this occurs when human and applicative identities are granted more permissions than needed for the repositories they must access.

Stale Identities

Stale identities pose a risk of unauthorized access when human and programmatic accounts for inactive employees and systems aren’t deprovisioned across all CI/CD systems.

Local Identities

Local identities present a risk when systems manage access without a centralized IdP. This makes it difficult to enforce consistent security policies (e.g., password policy, lockout policy, MFA).

External Identities

External identities carry risks when employees register with email addresses from domains not owned or managed by the organization. The security of these accounts may not comply with the organization's security policies.

External Collaborators

When granting system access to external collaborators, the security level of the system extends beyond the organization's control.

Self-Registered Identities

In CI/CD systems that allow self-registration, risks arise when granting access requires only a valid domain address. Using default permissions can potentially expand the attack surface.

Shared Identities

Shared identities between humans and applications increase the footprint of their credentials and pose accountability challenges during investigations.

Common Causes of Inadequate Identity and Access Management

Inadequate IAM can stem from multiple factors — oversights in planning and implementation, lack of understanding of the IAM principles, usage of outdated tools and processes. In many cases, organizations grant excessive permissions, neglecting the principle of least privilege. Mismanagement of nonhuman identities such as service accounts or failure to revoke access privileges when no longer needed also contribute to inadequacy.

Importance of Identity and Access Management in CI/CD

Within the context of CI/CD, IAM controls who can access the pipeline, what they can access, and what operations they can perform. It’s the first line of defense in securing any system.

Inadequate IAM exposes CI/CD pipelines to risks, including unauthorized code changes, tampering with the build process, or even access to sensitive data. Conversely, an effective IAM strategy mitigates unauthorized access, reduces the attack surface, and safeguards the pipeline and its associated processes.

Risks Associated with Inadequate Identity and Access Management

Inadequate IAM gives malicious insiders or external attackers the opportunity to exploit weak access controls, making the entire CI/CD pipeline vulnerable to malicious code injection, data theft and more.

Impact of Inadequate Identity and Access Management on a Large-Scale Deployment

An e-commerce giant experienced a service disruption after an unauthorized user gained access to their deployment environment, causing costly downtime. On investigation, it was found that the company had failed to implement strict IAM controls, and a service account had been granted excessive permissions.

How a Data Breach Occurred Due to Poor Identity and Access Management

A global software firm suffered a data breach when an attacker gained access to its source code repository. The breach was traced back to weak IAM policies, where a developer's credentials had been compromised and multifactor authentication wasn’t enforced.

Preventing Inadequacy in Identity and Access Management

Indications of inadequate IAM include repeated unauthorized access attempts, unusual user activity or deviations from established access patterns. Additionally, a high incidence of manually managed access changes or the existence of accounts with indefinite access may signal deficiencies in IAM.

Role of Automated Testing in Ensuring Adequate Identity and Access Management

Developers and security engineers can use automated testing tools to validate access controls, check user permissions, and identify potential vulnerabilities. These tools play a crucial role in ensuring effective enforcement of IAM policies throughout the CI/CD pipeline.

Implementation of Secure Coding Practices

Secure coding practices can prevent IAM-related vulnerabilities. For instance, limiting hard-coded credentials, using token-based authentication, and securing API keys can mitigate the risk of identity theft and unauthorized access.

Importance of Regular Audits and Reviews

Regular audits and reviews help maintain effective IAM by identifying outdated access rights, detecting privilege escalation and ensuring compliance with the set policies. They provide visibility into the IAM status and enable timely remediation of potential vulnerabilities.

IAM Recommendations for CI/CD Environments

The existence of hundreds of identities — human and programmatic — across the CI/CD ecosystem, paired with a lack of strong IAM practices, can create a state where compromising nearly any user account on any system could grant powerful capabilities and expose the production environment. Implement the following recommendation to avoid mishap.

  • Continuously analyze and map all identities across the engineering ecosystem. For each identity, map identity provider, permissions granted and permissions used. Ensure that analysis covers all programmatic access methods.
  • Remove unnecessary permissions for each identity across various systems in the environment.
  • Establish an acceptable period for disabling or removing stale accounts. Disable and remove identities that exceed this inactivity period.
  • Create and manage identities using a centralized organization component (IdP) rather than local user accounts. For local accounts in use, disable or remove those no longer requiring access. Align security policies of all accounts with the organization's policies.
  • Regularly map all external collaborators and align their identities with the principle of least privilege. When possible, grant permissions with an expiry date for both human and programmatic accounts. Disable accounts at the completion of work.
  • Prohibit employees from accessing SCMs, CIs, or other CI/CD platforms using personal email addresses or addresses from domains not owned by the organization. Monitor nondomain addresses across different systems and remove noncompliant users.
  • Disallow users from self-registering to systems and grant permissions based on necessity.
  • Avoid granting base permissions in a system to all users and to large groups with automatically assigned user accounts.
  • Create dedicated accounts for each specific context, versus using shared accounts, and grant the exact set of permissions required for the given context.

Best Practices for IAM in CI/CD

Industry Standards for Identity and Access Management

Industry standards for IAM, such as ISO/IEC 27001, provide guidelines to design and manage secure systems. These standards recommend the use of identity federation, privileged access management, role-based access control, and the enforcement of least privilege. They also suggest regular audits and reviews of access privileges.

Tools and Techniques to Strengthen Identity and Access Management

Tools like identity management systems, single sign-on solutions, and privileged access management software can help enforce IAM best practices. Additionally, multifactor authentication, anomaly detection algorithms, and password management tools can further enhance security.

Inadequate Identity and Access Management FAQs

Privileged access management (PAM) is a solution that helps organizations restrict privileged access within an IT environment, mitigating risks and meeting compliance regulations by securing, controlling, managing, and monitoring privileged accounts.
Identity federation is a system of trust between various software applications and systems across multiple enterprises that share digital identities and attributes to access networks, systems, and applications.
Role-based access control (RBAC) is a method of restricting network access based on the roles of individual users within an enterprise, ensuring that only authorized users have access to certain resources.
Identity and access management (IAM) is a framework of policies and technologies for ensuring that the right people in an enterprise have the appropriate access to technology resources.
Just-in-time provisioning is an identity governance feature that allows for the creation, modification, or removal of user access rights in real-time, providing more efficient access control.
Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) is a security concept that requires all users, even those inside the organization's enterprise network, to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validating security configuration and posture, before being granted or keeping access to applications and data.
OAuth 2.0 is an authorization framework that enables applications to obtain limited access to user accounts on an HTTP service, such as Facebook, GitHub, and DigitalOcean. It works by delegating user authentication to the service that hosts the user account and authorizing third-party applications to access the user account.
OpenID Connect (OIDC) is a simple identity layer on top of the OAuth 2.0 protocol, which allows computing clients to verify the identity of a user based on the authentication performed by an authorization server, as well as to obtain basic profile information about the user in an interoperable and REST-like manner.
Single sign-on (SSO) is a scheme that allows users to log in with a single ID and password to multiple software systems, simplifying the user experience and bolstering security.
Multifactor authentication (MFA) is a security system that uses multiple methods of authentication from different credential categories to verify user identity for a login or transaction.