What is Infrastructure as Code Security (IaC) – Risk, Challenges & Best Practices

Infrastructure as Code Best Practices

In recent years, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) has emerged as a game-changer for managing IT operations. By enabling teams to define and manage infrastructure using codes, IaC offers numerous benefits, such as increased agility, scalability, and consistency.

However, along with the advantages, some unique security challenges also arise that must be addressed promptly. Here in the blog, we’ll explore the best practices to maintain the integrity and reliability of the Infrastructure.

What Is Infrastructure as Code?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a methodology that manages the IT infrastructure using configuration files instead of manually using hardware or interactive tools. The code here is written in programming languages like JSON and YAML or specialized ones like Terraform HCL.

How does this code work? It serves as a blueprint for the infrastructure, which details its configuration, settings, and relationships between various components.

This approach brings several benefits, as defined below.

  • Automation: IaC automates the provisioning and management of your infrastructure. This means less manual work and fewer chances for human error.
  • Consistency: By defining infrastructure in code, you can ensure its consistency across different environments – from development to production. 
  • Scalability: IaC makes scaling your infrastructure up or down as needed easier. Need more servers? Just update your code and run it again.
  • Version Control: Just like with software code, you can use version control systems like Git for managing the infrastructure code.

How Does IaC Work Effectively?

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) works through two main approaches: imperative and declarative. Let’s understand these in detail.


  • In this method, the developer specifies the exact steps the IaC should take to achieve the desired outcome.
  • It follows a step-by-step approach similar to how a human thinks and operates.
  • Developers have control over the automation process, which makes it more accessible and efficient.
  • This method excels in automating specific tasks where precise control is required, allowing coders to specify every detail and command.


  • On the contrary, the declarative approach focuses on declaring the infrastructure’s desired outcome or end state.
  • Rather than specifying the sequence of steps needed to achieve the final result, developers define the desired configuration or state of the infrastructure.
  • This method is more user-friendly as it doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of IaC intricacies.
  • Declarative IaC tools abstract away the implementation details, allowing users to focus on defining the desired configuration rather than the specific actions needed to achieve it.

Best Practices for IaC Security

Scan for Misconfigurations

Misconfiguration detection in IaC is vital to maintaining cloud infrastructure security. However, it offers immense power and flexibility but also poses the risk of propagating small configuration mistakes.

Even though organizations carefully check regular software codes for mistakes, they often forget to do the same for IaC. But it’s just as crucial! By scanning the code for errors, these misconfigurations can be caught, which could lead to security breaches. Also, it tracks all the changes made to the cloud setup, keeping all the systems safe.

Correct Environmental Drifts

Identifying and fixing environmental drift is crucial for managing Infrastructure as Code.

But how does an environmental drift occur?

When the configurations of different deployment environments, like testing and production, start to differ from their original templates. Let’s take an example to understand their occurrence.

When changes to the configurations in one environment are made without updating the others. It’s like trying to keep two clocks in sync – if you adjust one but forget to adjust the other, they’ll eventually show different times.

Now, fixing drift can be tricky and costly regarding business downtime. The manual procedures to identify drift are tedious and time-consuming.

That’s where the role of IaC security and compliance scanning tools comes into play. These tools automate the drift detection process, making identifying and correcting configuration inconsistencies easier and faster.

Automate IaC Security Scanning

The next best practice for ensuring robust security in Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is to adopt automated security scanning practices.

There are several ways to implement automated security scanning for IaC, as detailed below.

  • Create a security build rule that automatically checks for misconfigurations during the CI process.
  • Incorporate a pre-commit hook that tests code for security vulnerabilities as developers save their work. This real-time feedback loop allows developers to catch and fix issues rapidly in the development cycle.

Following the DevOps philosophy, the aim is to automate security checks wherever possible.

Avoid Complexity

Simplicity is crucial for effective security. When things are too complicated, it’s harder to keep them safe. Instead, it should be easy to manage.

Having a clear understanding of all the security measures in place is really helpful. It makes it quicker to respond to any security problems that come up and reduces the time developers spend fixing them. Also, the chances of code leaks will be less likely to occur.

Furthermore, having a holistic view of security events and tools allows for more effective prioritization of remediation efforts.

Be Careful About Code Leaks

To mitigate the risks associated with code leaks, organizations can implement strategies to reduce the time and impact of such incidents.

Before we know the solution, find out how code leaks occur so you can be more careful in the future. Code leaks occur when source code, including Infrastructure as Code (IaC), is inadvertently made public. Source code and Infrastructure as Code (IaC) are often stored together, so leaking one can mean leaking both, making it easier for attackers to find weaknesses or secrets.

You can follow the below tips to combat such situations.

  • It is important to keep an eye on any unusual behavior that might indicate a potential code leak.
  • Code access should only be given to the concerned entities.
  • Regularly check the code repositories to make sure nothing sensitive has been accidentally made public.
  • Systems should be made to get automated alerts about code leaks.

Still, if a leak happens, it’s crucial to act fast and find the solutions. The longer the code is out there, the more chance someone can use it for malicious purposes.

Avoid Hardcoding Secrets in IaC

To keep Infrastructure as Code (IaC) secure, avoiding putting sensitive information like passwords directly into the code is crucial. If someone gets hold of the code, they might be able to guess the passwords and access sensitive accounts.

Just like checking for other security issues, it’s important to scan for secrets in the code regularly. This can be done by checking the new code before it’s added to the main version of the code.

Prevent Code Tampering

To prevent tampering with Infrastructure as Code (IaC), it’s essential to safeguard developer accounts and be vigilant for any unauthorized configuration changes. Serious security consequences can occur if a developer’s account is compromised.

So, developer accounts should be made more secure, and any changes made to the IaC must be monitored and verified as legitimate.

Below are some of the tips that need to be followed.

  • Compare the different phases of the software development lifecycle to spot any discrepancies between stored code in source control and the code used in the actual build.
  • IaC can magnify misconfigurations, so ensure that changes are only made by authorized individuals.
  • Another strategy is critical code monitoring, which serves as an additional layer of defense against tampering.
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IaC Security Risks & Challenges

Here are some common challenges and limitations associated with Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

Template Configuration & Image Vulnerabilities

IaC templates can be vulnerable to security and development issues. Syntax errors are common, and a significant concern is the inclusion of sensitive information like passwords or private keys directly into these templates.

Below, proactive measures can be taken to mitigate these risks.

  • Validating IaC templates
  • Performing regular vulnerability assessments
  • Running IaC scans
  • Avoiding hardcoded secrets.

Configuration Drifts

Configuration drifts pose security risks in Infrastructure as Code (IaC) environments due to several reasons, including

  • Human input errors
  • Suboptimal configurations and
  • Unintended changes to applications

To address configuration drift effectively, it’s essential to prioritize maintaining infrastructure immutability.

Error Duplication

Errors can propagate when IaC templates generate code, leading to duplicated mistakes. This necessitates thorough quality assurance checks and a manual review of security processes by developers.

Secrets Management

Secrets management in Infrastructure as Code (IaC) brings about specific security challenges that need careful attention. A major concern is the accidental exposure of sensitive credentials and secrets within code repositories.

It’s common to store configuration files in IaC setups alongside the infrastructure code. If not handled properly, this can result in accidental leaks and unauthorized access.

Pair IaC with secret scanning tools to avoid such risks and establish pipelines to enforce effective change management.

Cost Considerations

Implementing and managing security for IaC requires specialized technical expertise in DevSecOps, which can be costly to acquire and maintain. Automation tools and processes also come with associated expenses.


Infrastructure as Code (IaC) offers tremendous benefits to streamline infrastructure deployment and management. However, ensuring its security is critical to protecting sensitive data and guarding against cyber threats. So, follow the best practices outlined in this blog and bolster the security of your IaC setups!

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Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.

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