5 Developer Workstation Security Best Practices

Supply chain attacks increased by 300% between 2020 and 2021, making clear that security breaches are happening earlier in the software development lifecycle. Research also shows that in 2021, 80% of cyber security breaches were due to human error, and 20% involved attacks on desktops and laptops. 

Developer workstations are being targeted for several reasons. Workstations have access to critical code and infrastructure, and the earlier a vulnerability is introduced, the more difficult it can be to identify the breach. Developers need to trust not only the dependencies they use directly but also the dependencies of those dependencies, called transitive dependencies. As we see more incidents stemming from developer workstations, developer workstation security should be a top priority for security-conscious organizations. 

Poor security practices in software development translate to trust-breaking breaches and expensive losses, with the average cost of a security breach reaching $9.44 million in the United States. Developers are increasingly responsible for not only the development of products but also for secure development. 

Organizations, regardless of industry, must be securing developer workstations in order to be prepared for the evolving and growing number of attacks. 

Docker’s white paper, Securing Developer Workstations with Docker, covers the top security risks when developing with containers — and how to best mitigate those risks with Docker. By understanding the potential attack vectors, your teams can mitigate evolving security threats.

Let’s take a look at five actions you can take to secure your developer workstations.

5 workstation security best practices featured

1. Prevent malware attacks

Malware refers to malicious software meant to attack software, hardware, or networks. In container development, malware can be particularly damaging not only because of the potentially harmful activities to be run within the container but also because of potential access to external systems like the host’s file system and network.

Containers should be secured by using only trusted images and dependencies, isolating and restricting permissions where possible, and running up-to-date software in up-to-date environments.

2. Build secure software supply chains

Supply chain attacks exploit direct and transitive dependencies. You may be familiar with Log4Shell, a vulnerability affecting an estimated hundreds of millions of devices. The vulnerability behind the infamous SolarWinds security incident was also a supply chain attack. Supply chain attacks increased by 300% in 2021, and security experts don’t expect them to slow down any time soon. 

Supply chain attacks can be mitigated through secure supply chain best practices. These include making sure every step of the supply chain is trustworthy, adding key automation, and making sure brand environments are clearly defined.

3. Account for local admin rights in policies

Individual developers may have different needs for their workstations. Many developers prefer to have local admin rights. Organizations are responsible for creating and enforcing policies that help developers work securely. How your team handles local admin rights is a team decision, and although the outcomes may differ per team, the conversation around local admin rights is a necessity to keep teams secure.

Finding the balance of security and autonomy is an active state. No balance can be achieved and then forgotten about. Instead, organizations must regularly review tools and configurations so developers can do their jobs without being unnecessarily blocked or accidentally jeopardizing their team, product, and customers.

4. Prevent hazardous misconfigurations

Configurations are necessary at almost every step of the software development lifecycle and connect development tools with production resources, such as environments and sensitive data. While more permissive configurations make anything seem possible, unfortunately, that flexibility can accidentally provide malicious actors access to sensitive resources. Configurations that are too strict frustrate developers and limit productivity.

Misconfiguration does not happen on purpose, but it can be mitigated. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for configurations, given every team and organization has its own tooling, process, and network considerations. Regardless of your organization’s needs, make sure you’re considering the developer workstations and how your IT admins manage local configurations.

5. Protect against insider threats

Although most breaches come from outside of an organization, 20% of breaches in 2021 were caused by internal actors. For the same reasons that external attackers target the early stages of the software development lifecycle, internal bad actors have used similar strategies to bypass internal security safeguards.

Security measures that limit opportunities for external attackers also limit opportunities for internal bad actors. When considering settings, configurations, permissions, and scanning, remember that regardless of where the attack comes from, the trend of attacks is moving earlier in the development cycle, making securing developer workstations a critical step in your security strategy.

Hardened Docker Desktop: Stronger security for enterprises

With capabilities like Hardened Docker Desktop, we want every developer using Docker to be able to work securely and create secure products without being slowed down or needlessly distracted. In Securing Developer Workstations with Docker, we share container security best practices developed and tested by industry experts.

Read the white paper: Securing Developer Workstations with Docker.


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