IaC Scanning:
Definition, Processes, and Technologies

Cody Queen - May 9, 2024

The Fundamentals of IaC Scanning

Not many years ago, setting up and managing IT systems was a manual process. The team would assign one of its engineers the task of provisioning that one server that the shiny new application (and database, and file storage) would call home. Of course, this would be followed by lengthy team discussions on naming the new server.

These days are no longer. With distributed architectures, ephemeral cloud resources, and global scale, modern development teams use code and automation to set up their systems. This is infrastructure as code (IaC), and it makes infrastructure setup quicker while reducing errors. For any organization that needs to manage complex systems, IaC is a huge win.

However, just because we declare and codify our desired infrastructure state, this doesn’t guarantee that IaC is free of errors or security risks. This is where IaC scanning comes in. IaC scanning checks this code for any security risks or rule violations before it goes live.

In this post, we’ll explore the concept of IaC scanning, looking at what it is, why it’s key for cloud security, and the main steps involved. We’ll also touch on the tools that help with scanning and the typical challenges people face with it.

What is IaC scanning?

IaC scanning is the process of codifying infrastructure setup and configuration to enable organizations to automate and streamline their deployments. Whether an organization needs two compute instances deployed in a single geographical region or hundreds of cloud resources spun up and down around the world, IaC is the go-to solution for consistency, reliability, and speed.

However, employing IaC can also introduce new vulnerabilities. Common risks include:

  • Misconfigurations: Incorrect settings that can leave systems open to attack.
  • Flawed access controls: Overly permissive settings that allow unauthorized access.
  • Exposure of sensitive data: Unsecured storage of secrets or credentials.

IaC scanning checks the code used in infrastructure setup and configuration, searching for any security issues or rule violations. It’s like a safety inspection that identifies problems early on. This safety check is crucial for maintaining security, especially when using cloud-based services. Automated and consistent IaC scanning significantly shrinks the potential attack surface for cyber threats.

Policy as code

Policy as code (PaC) is a core concept in IaC scanning. Just as we codify infrastructure configurations in IaC, we codify security policies regarding that infrastructure in PaC. With security policies declared in a machine-readable format, teams can leverage IaC scanning tools to verify compliance with security rules across all infrastructure deployments. This ensures that all deployed infrastructure complies with the organization’s security standards.

The Complete Guide to CNAPPs

Download CrowdStrike’s Complete Guide to CNAPPs to understand why Cloud-Native Application Protection Platforms are a critical component of modern cloud security strategies and how to best integrate them to development lifecycles.

Download Now

Key processes in IaC scanning

IaC scanning involves several key processes chained together to ensure that your IaC yields a secure and compliant infrastructure environment:

  • Establishing policies: Defining the security and compliance benchmarks that the IaC must meet.
  • Integrating with CI/CD for automation: Embedding IaC scanning within continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines to automate the scanning process.
  • Scanning: Employing scanning tools to review all IaC and verify compliance with policies.
  • Reviewing results: Analyzing scan results to identify and prioritize issues for remediation.
  • Addressing identified issues: Fixing the vulnerabilities or compliance issues found during scanning.
  • Refining IaC scanning policies and processes: Continuously improving the scanning policies and processes based on feedback and the evolving security landscape.

Tools and technologies for IaC scanning

As the adoption of IaC has grown in the software industry, various tools and technologies have emerged to enhance the process of checking infrastructure code for vulnerabilities and compliance issues. IaC scanning tools can be loosely categorized based on their primary focus and functionality.

  • Static code analyzers evaluate IaC code against a set of predefined rules to identify potential security issues and misconfigurations. They help in enforcing best practices and compliance with security standards. Examples include Checkov and Tfsec, which are popular for Terraform code.
  • Compliance scanners focus on ensuring that IaC configurations comply with regulatory standards and internal policies. These tools are crucial for maintaining compliance in highly regulated industries. One example is Terrascan, which checks for compliance with security best practices.
  • Dependency scanners search for vulnerabilities within the libraries and modules your IaC code depends on. They’re important for catching security issues introduced by third-party dependencies.
  • Security and vulnerability scanners specifically identify a wide range of security vulnerabilities — from simple misconfigurations to critical security flaws — within IaC files.

Challenges in IaC scanning

Implementing IaC scanning effectively introduces several challenges. One of the primary hurdles — especially for large enterprises running complex applications with a large compliance footprint — is in managing complex security policies. As your infrastructure requirements grow more complicated, so does the task of drafting comprehensive policies that accurately reflect the security needs of every component. This complexity demands not just initial thoroughness but ongoing adjustments to accommodate evolving infrastructure demands.

Next, organizations struggle to integrate IaC scanning with existing workflows. For many organizations, introducing IaC scanning into their CI/CD pipelines can lead to a significant overhaul of established processes. Without proper planning and preparation, this kind of disruption can derail development rhythms and impede productivity.

Because the cybersecurity landscape is ever-changing, many organizations struggle to keep up with the evolving threat landscape. New vulnerabilities and attack vectors emerge regularly. To protect against the latest threats, organizations need constant vigilance and regular updates to scanning tools and policies.

Lastly, dealing with false positives and noise are common issues. The precision of IaC scanning tools varies, and they can sometimes flag issues that aren’t genuine threats. This leads to wasting resources on unnecessary fixes and investigations. Balancing the sensitivity of these tools — to minimize false alarms while still catching real issues — is a delicate task.

Organizations need to take a strategic approach to IaC scanning, which highlights the importance of selecting the right tools.

Learn More

Read this blog to learn five tips to develop better and safer apps with DevSecOps in mind. Blog: 5 Tips to Develop Safer Apps

CrowdStrike safeguards your IaC

In this post, we’ve explored the essentials of IaC scanning: what it is, what it involves, and what tools make it effective. We’ve also navigated through the challenges that organizations face when implementing these practices. The main takeaway from our exploration is this: If your organization uses IaC to manage and configure your cloud infrastructure environments, then IaC scanning is a must-have cybersecurity component to catch any security risks or policy violations before they creep into your systems.

The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform stands out by offering comprehensive security solutions that can bolster your IaC scanning practices. In particular, CrowdStrike Falcon® Cloud Security provides full-stack security for your cloud-native environments, coupled with the latest threat intelligence to ensure that your cloud infrastructure is safe and secure.

Contact Us


Cody Queen is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Cloud Security at CrowdStrike.