Tackle a Plan of Actions and Milestones with GitLab’s risk management features

Jul 7, 2022 · 4 min read · Leave a comment
Sameer Kamani GitLab profile

Software is an essential part of everyday life. More and more organizations are being forced to push software to consumers faster for a better customer experience. But increasing software delivery speed cannot come at the expense of security. This adds more pressure on internal development, security, change management, operations, and site reliability teams.

Shifting left to find security vulnerabilities earlier within the DevOps process is a critical aspect of ensuring security scales with the pace of development. But U.S. federal government operations go a step further with the implementation of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Risk Management Framework (RMF). The RMF, implemented with standards such as NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, and NIST 800-37 all require careful consideration of security vulnerabilities identified as properly managed risks. This is further recommended with NIST 800-160 and NIST 800-161.

However, practically speaking, not even the most diligent IT team can ensure full compliance with every requirement. This is when risk management becomes more critical as it has to be continuously monitored and evaluated through the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Generally, the prescribed methodology is to prepare a plan and document the tasks necessary to resolve risks, along with the resources required to do so. Due to interdependencies with other software components, milestones may also be needed to track the work. This is embodied in the Plan of Actions and Milestones (POA&M) process.

GitLab and the POA&M process

There are two aspects of identifying and managing vulnerabilities. First, there has to be a quick and relatively easy way to identify new vulnerabilities and zero-day exploits as they become public. Second, it should be possible to check for existing vulnerabilities periodically – ideally in an automated or ad-hoc way as new information becomes available and internal or external auditor reviews are conducted.

NIST provides a sample POA&M template to help organizations track the actions needed. But in our experience, the mental load to manage another separate document can be an added burden on all the teams, not to mention confusing as new versions of the information become available. GitLab provides numerous resources to assist with this process.

Using GitLab to identify vulnerabilities

GitLab has multiple types of security and compliance scanners that evaluate source code in various ways. These scanners are capable of finding security weaknesses introduced in new code, vulnerable dependencies, container images, and non-compliant licenses from third-party code. These scans can run against every commit on every feature branch – before any code is merged or deployed into production. 

GitLab scanning

As potential security issues are found, GitLab provides an aggregated view of the findings both in the developer workflow and in dedicated vulnerability management tools. GitLab’s Vulnerability Reports allow security teams the ability to triage and manage vulnerabilities for individual projects or across groups of projects. From here, security teams can evaluate vulnerabilities, track remediation progress, or dismiss any false positives.  

This provides a direct way to find, catalog, and manage vulnerabilities. As this process moves further along, and vulnerabilities are characterized as a risk, GitLab provides a one-click process to convert and link the vulnerability with a work management item known as an Issue in GitLab. This can become a central location where, as per the POA&M process, it can be assigned to the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI), with due dates and milestones.  The Issue can also be placed into an Epic to manage larger, dependent, and correlated pieces of work. Labels and Issue Boards make it easier to manage these work items while adding visibility to all parties involved. This provides further transparency into how the work progresses and where more attention is needed.

Active systems management processes such as the one provided natively by GitLab to scan, identify, manage, and develop plans for mitigation all in one system can be game-changing as they can bring an organization closer to achieving continuous monitoring and mitigation.

The downstream effect of having a single system like GitLab is that all the metrics from when something is found to when it is completed are tracked in a single source of truth. This can create powerful insights for future improvement.

Discover more about how GitLab can support your POA&M process so you can deliver secure software faster. 

Talk to an expert about GitLab and NIST risk management compliance.

“GitLab’s risk management features help government agencies tackle their Plan of Actions and Milestones compliance process.” – Sameer Kamani

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