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Modern AppSec Needs Code to Cloud Traceability

“Code to cloud” is an emerging capability that spans both application security and cloud security and has been gaining a lot of traction recently—and for good reason. In this blog we’ll talk about why you need code to cloud traceability, what it is, and 5 pillars for using it to modernize your application security program.

Code to cloud traceability—a quick overview

Cloud applications are becoming ubiquitous and are a key force behind the growing adoption of DevOps and CI/CD processes. Application security needs to adapt to the related operational changes and cloud environments that are now dominating the modern SDLC landscape. A key aspect of that is understanding how code moves through the SDLC and how it deploys into running applications, which are increasingly hosted in the cloud.

The ability to do this effectively starts with tracing the software pipeline – from code to cloud (meaning any runtime environment), which delivers visibility and context that can help you create a superior process for prioritizing and mitigating application risk. We’ll dig into the details later, but in short, code to cloud traceability is tracking code from the time it’s written all the way to when it’s deployed. It shows you where the application’s code originated, who wrote it, the build path it took (code repos, build servers, artifact registries, and more), and where it is deployed. Along the way additional details are collected including valuable context and critical application insights that can help you prioritize vulnerability remediation based on actual risk, allowing teams to cut through security issue noise and alerts to focus on what's most important.

With the right tools in place, code to cloud traceability opens up countless opportunities that can: deliver deep visibility into how code traverses the SDLC; help you understand and prioritize your application risk better; develop clear cut strategies for shifting security left and enforcing secure software development behavior; provide better documentation and forensic details on activity throughout the SDLC; verify and attest to application integrity; and foster better communication and collaboration between security and engineering teams.

There are 5 key pillars to how code to cloud traceability can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your application security program that we’ll discuss in this blog:
1.    Automate discovery and visibility
2.    Prioritize based on business risk
3.    Capture SDLC forensic details and ensure build integrity
4.    Monitor security guardrail coverage and gap analysis
5.    Define and track program benchmarks

But to start, let’s talk about why you really need code to cloud traceability, what it really means, how it works, and why you should care.

Why you need code to cloud traceability to modernize your AppSec program

It’s no secret that since the advent of the cloud (and on-premises hypervisors before that) application development has evolved significantly from the hardware-based, waterfall development of decades past. While this has greatly accelerated the pace of innovation, these rapidly changing development environments can also make it nearly impossible to keep up with adequate traditional security controls. The nature of cloud-based applications and infrastructure has revealed the need for new approaches and security tools to defend an attack surface that is constantly growing and changing.

One of the key challenges holding back modern AppSec is that traditional organizational structures still treat application and cloud security as separate disciplines. New forms of code and cloud infrastructure scanning have evolved, but application and cloud security teams frequently operate in siloes, with limited communication and collaboration. This can create operational blind spots and inefficiencies in communicating vulnerabilities that span both teams, and severely hamstrings efforts to shift security further left into application development processes.

Even without the existence of operating siloes, adapting modern application security to protect the sprawling attack surface introduced DevOps, modern CI/CD pipelines and cloud is hampered by an inability to easily observe and analyze how code traverses the SDLC. It’s difficult to see the connections between where code originated, where code in development will end up, or the path it took to get there without a significant amount of manual effort. But without a holistic understanding how your SDLC and application deployment pipelines function, application and cloud security becomes a fractured and inefficient process, lacking the context and relevance to properly prioritize, and quickly and effectively remediate security issues.

The lack of time and resources to stay on top of critical vulnerabilities and threats is another critical issue that most application security (and other cyber security teams in general) face, and code to cloud traceability can help address that. Without it, tracking down who wrote vulnerable code that is detected in runtime is often a time intensive, manual process that often involves pulling in resources from multiple departments. Once the source is identified, the problem is magnified when trying to track down where else it may have been (or is about to be) deployed. And prioritizing where to focus remediation efforts on the development side is challenging when you don’t have easy access to criticality details about which code is going to be deployed on what systems, which could range from a business critical customer-facing app versus an lessor used internal-only legacy app. Traceability ties all that information together, making it readily available without the manual effort and the need to pull in additional resources.

Those are a few reasons why code to cloud traceability is so important, but they're also what makes it so difficult—so how do we solve this problem?

Realizing the value of code to cloud traceability and how it can work for you

As mentioned earlier, code to cloud traceability means tracking your application code from creation to deployment, and across all of the preproduction stages in between. Instead of treating each individual stage of the SDLC and deployment process separately, code to cloud traceability takes a holistic look at the journey a piece of code takes from the code repository to a runtime environment in the cloud. That makes it easy to understand how vulnerable code or an embedded secret ended up in production and where to quickly get it fixed.

Code to cloud traceability also tracks where else a piece of code may have ended up through forking or copying, letting you quickly follow every thread to help comprehensively manage your risk in case a vulnerability is discovered in that code. It can also measure the impact of vulnerabilities or breaches involving your SDLC infrastructure, like identifying an insecure plug-in in your build server and tracking which applications may be impacted by that discovered vulnerability.

What else can code to cloud traceability do for you? Let’s dig into some of the specifics of how code to cloud traceability can help modernize application security.

Automate discovery and visibility

Code to cloud traceability delivers previously hard to extract insights and visibility into how your application is moving through the SDLC pipeline. It starts with detailed discovery about how your SDLC is set up, including collecting information about the systems you’re using (SCM, build/CI, artifact repos, deployment targets) and the security controls that you have in place (SAST, SCA, code reviews), and identifying how the various systems are dependent upon one another. Then it maps the connections between systems and processes so that you can see the relationships between individual developers and projects, as well as the different pathways used by code all the way through to deployment.

Code to cloud traceability helps bridge the gap between AppSec and CloudSec by letting you:

  • See critical SDLC pathways from code to binaries to runtime
  • See the security controls and scanners that your code and applications pass through
  • Trace runtime application in the cloud to its original code, pipelines, SDLC tools and developers
  • Map the relationships between original source code and forked or copied versions

Prioritize based on business risk

When you can see where code is going to be deployed, you can more accurately assess its level of exposure based on the type of application and where in the cloud it will be deployed. A customer facing application exposing sensitive data is more business critical than an internal system without access to sensitive data, for instance. By tracing the path your code follows, you can start prioritizing vulnerability and risk management activities based on the actual criticality and risk of the specific application for your business. Prioritization also allows you to communicate risk to application developers more effectively by delivering context they need to understand where to focus their security efforts and why.

Code to cloud traceability focuses vulnerability and risk management by letting you:

  • Prioritize vulnerabilities based on application type and deployment risk
  • Map production bound code to other risk factors
  • Quantify risk based on impact to business critical systems

Capture SDLC forensics

Mapping and discovery of the SDLC collects a wealth of data that can be critical to forensics activities when a vulnerability or other code related issue is detected in production. It provides immediate access to details about who wrote the original code, which security controls it passed, which systems it has touched, and where else it may be in use. This is critically important for quickly addressing the root cause of a production vulnerability and to identify any other systems impacted.

For example: suppose your GitHub code repository or a Jenkins build server was compromised – do you know all the code or binaries it touched during the exposed time?

Code to cloud traceability gives you the forensic detail necessary to:

  • Immediately identify the original code developer
  • Track down any forked or copied versions of code
  • Inventory any other production instances running the code

Security guardrail coverage and gap analysis

CI/CD processes encourage a consistent pace of innovation. Sometimes that can result in overlooked policy violations, configuration mistakes, and shortcuts that introduce vulnerabilities into the SDLC. Code to cloud traceability can help you establish automated security guardrails that alert you when intentional or unintentional actions by developers introduce vulnerabilities and risk into the SDLC. They can notify you when actions throughout the SDLC violate specific regulatory compliance mandates, such as when secrets are introduced into code, when code is forked or copied in violation of policy, and when vulnerable code is deployed in an exposed environment. And you can establish security guardrails to inform you when code within your SDLC pipeline isn’t being scanned, helping you identify and eliminate coverage gaps quickly. 

Code to cloud traceability lets you monitor, optimize placement, and identify gaps in security guardrails that:

  • Scan for secrets, vulnerabilities and misconfigurations as part of the CI/CD pipeline
  • Detect and alert on SDLC policy violations and compliance drift
  • Identify unscanned code (such as by SAST and SCA tools) throughout the SDLC
  • Ensure that you have security scan coverage on all critical code and pipelines
  • Track and report on SDLC security policy violations

Define and track program benchmarks

Code to cloud traceability delivers critical details about code moving through your SDLC, giving you the means to set up program benchmarks that measure and report on the success of application security measure. It provides information that allows you to measure and score risk to your production systems and track the efficacy of mitigation efforts over time. This can allow you to benchmark program success through granular organizational and product metrics such as department, business unit, product line, application, individual application release, and code commits by individual developer. Organizations can use this information to identify weaknesses in application security processes, gaps in coverage, and failures to properly document certain processes or security initiatives.

Code to cloud traceability delivers the detail necessary to establish benchmarks that:

  • Measure and score risk to production systems
  • Document the code to cloud journey down to individual code commits
  • Track vulnerability and risk mitigation throughout the SDLC
  • Capture security processes and documentation


Modern SDLC processes are driving innovation at unprecedented speed, but unfortunately that can happen at the expense of consistent and effective application security. Code to cloud traceability is one way that organizations can start regaining security control over their SDLC, delivering critical details in real-time that helps organizations prioritize application security activities and shift left to address critical vulnerabilities earlier in the process. When effectively implemented, it can help bridge the divide between engineering, DevOps, AppSec and CloudSec by delivering relevant details about critical activities, improving communication and collaboration for an organization wide approach to application security.

Legit secures your applications from code-to-cloud with automated SDLC discovery and analysis capabilities and a unified application security control plane that provides visibility, security, and governance over rapidly changing application development environments.

If you’d like to learn more about the Legit Security Platform or take the free Rapid Risk Assessment to see how we can help modernize your application security program from code to cloud, meet with one of our subject matter experts and schedule a demo today.  

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Published on
April 17, 2023

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