What is Policy-as-Code and Why it's Needed?

August 16, 2021

What is policy-as-code and the benefits organizations can reap by implementing policy-as-code.

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Typically, any organization willing to launch a product or release a piece of software has its own set of techniques, tools, and procedures for validating and ensuring that the deliverable conforms to the best quality and standards. Some of the measurable quality measurements are performance, scalability, ease of use, and accuracy.

This quality check helps assure the customers of the quality of the product to be delivered. It also helps ensure that any changes comply with a set of predefined standards and guidelines. Note that you can check your application quality manually. However, as this process is manual, it typically takes time and is prone to errors. A more convenient alternative is to use policy-as-code to automate this workflow.

What is Policy-as-Code?

In companies big or small, handbook-based policy management is seldom effective, is implemented in a non-uniform manner, and doesn't scale well. Here's where policy-as-code comes to the rescue by codifying policies and enforcing them automatically. Policy-as-code refers to the principle of writing code in a high-level language for controlling, managing, and automating policies. Policies help protect your infrastructure by controlling and managing infrastructure operations.

Policy-as-code helps automate the deployment of best practices. The policies are specified in the code and serve to prohibit the deployment of non-conforming resources. Policy-as-code can be applied to all phases of the application development cycle, such as design, construction, testing, deployment, etc.

How Does Policy-as-Code Work?

These policies are based on code and reside in text files. These policies foster well-established proven software development best practices that include version control, continuous integration, automated testing, and continuous deployment. Figure 1 illustrates how Policy-as-code works.

What_is_Policy-as-Code_and_Why_it_s_Needed_.png

Policy-as-code entails writing policies in a high-level language to administer and automate policies. It takes advantage of a policy engine that accepts a query and some data and policy as an input, processes it all, and generates a query result.

There are open-source policy engines available in the market. There are also policy enforcement platforms available such as Weave GitOps policies with Trusted Delivery which simplifies the entire process end-to-end.

Policy-as-code uses three elements to work. The first of those elements is the policy itself that contains the necessary code that models the decision-making process. The second is data that comprises information about an application, a service, or the environment. Finally, the Query is responsible for triggering the decision-making process based on the data available and the policy provided and uploaded to the policy engine.

Benefits of Policy-as-Code

Policy-as-code can be used to detect errors and compliance violations early in the software development life cycle. Some of the benefits of Policy-as-code are as follows:

1- Version Control

The policies are stored as simple text files together with your source code and are managed by the version control system. As a result, you can easily detect policy violations, i.e., if one or more policies have changed.

2- Automation

Since the policies are stored along with the source files, it is easy to implement automation using the CI/CD tools. This automation gives you better visibility on your environment to identify violations and vulnerabilities easily and quickly.

3- Best Practices

You can group similar policies into policy sets. This can help you enforce best practices across all stages of the software development life cycle in a consistent manner.

Use Cases

Some of the typical use cases of policy-as-code are as the following:

  • Infrastructure Provisioning - You can take advantage of policy-as-code to limit unauthorized access to the infrastructure and also enforce cost optimization policies.
  • Kubernetes - You can manage clusters in Kubernetes using policy-as-code. You can write code to define policies that can manage Kubernetes resources such as namespaces, nodes, pods, clusters, etc.
  • Authorization Control - You can have policies that define rules pertaining to authorization of particular service. You can leverage policy enforcement platforms to enforce policies on your CI/CD pipelines, Kubernetes, etc.

Conclusion

To power their policy-as-code approach, organizations can create a centralized “playbook” containing industry regulatory policies, IT standards and benchmarks, and even their own customized rules. By enforcing these policies, rules, and best practices across the entire SDLC, they can respond quickly to changes, speed up innovations, and scale up security, governance, and compliance. All in all, policy-as-code offers a powerful means for companies to leverage the advantages of the cloud while improving their cloud security posture.


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