Security Testing Using Infrastructure-As-Code

Agile RecordArticle originally published at Agile Record magazine Issue #17 Security Testing in an Agile Environment. Can be downloaded for free as a PDF.

Security Testing Using Infrastructure-As-Code

Infrastructure-As-Code means that infrastructure should be treated as code – a really powerful concept. Server configuration, packages installed, relationships with other servers, etc. should be modeled with code to be automated and have a predictable outcome, removing manual steps prone to errors. That doesn’t sound bad, does it?

The goal is to automate all the infrastructure tasks programmatically. In an ideal world you should be able to start new servers, configure them, and, more importantly, be able to repeat it over and over again, in a reproducible way, automatically, by using tools and APIs.

Have you ever had to upgrade a server without knowing whether the upgrade was going to succeed or not for your application? Are the security updates going to affect your application? There are so many system factors that can indirectly cause a failure in your application, such as different kernel versions, distributions, or packages.

When you have a decent set of integration tests it is not that hard to make changes to your infrastructure with that safety net. There are a number of tools designed to make your life easier, so there is no need to tinker with bash scripts or manual steps prone to error.

We can find three groups of tools:

  • Provisioning tools, like Puppet or Chef, manage the configuration of servers with packages, services, config files, etc. in a reproducible way and over hundreds of machines.
  • Virtual Machine automation tools, like Vagrant, enable new virtual machines to be started easily in different environments, from virtual machines in VirtualBox or VMware to cloud providers such as Amazon AWS or Rackspace, and then provision them with Puppet or Chef.
  • Testing tools, like rspec, Cucumber, or Selenium, enable unit and integration tests to be written that verify that the server is in a good state continuously as part of your continuous integration process.


Learning Puppet can be a tedious task, such as getting up the different pieces (master, agents), writing your first manifests, etc. A good way to start is to use Vagrant, which started as an Oracle VirtualBox command line automation tool, and allows you to create new VMs locally or on cloud providers and provision them with Puppet and Chef easily.

Vagrant projects are composed of base boxes, specifically configured for Vagrant with Puppet/Chef, vagrant username and password, and any customizations you may want to add, plus the configuration to apply to those base boxes defined with Puppet or Chef. That way we can have several projects sharing the same base boxes where the Puppet/Chef definitions are different. For instance, a database VM and a web server VM can both use the same base box, i.e. a CentOS 6 minimal server, and just have different Puppet manifests. When Vagrant starts them up it will apply the specific configuration. That also allows you to share boxes and configuration files across teams. For instance, one base box with the Linux flavor can be used in a team, and in source control we can have just the Puppet manifests to apply for the different configurations that anybody from Operations to Developers can use. If a problem arises in production, a developer can quickly instantiate a equivalent environment using the Vagrant and Puppet configuration, making a different environment’s issues easy to reproduce.

There is a list of available VMs or base boxes ready to use with Vagrant at, but you can build your own and share it anywhere. For VirtualBox they are just (big) VM files that can be easily built using VeeWee ( or by changing a base box and rebundling it with Packer (


Once you have installed Vagrant ( and VirtualBox ( you can create a new project.

Vagrant init will create a sample Vagrantfile, the project definition file that can be customized.

$ vagrant init myproject

Then in the Vagrantfile you can change the default box settings and add basic Puppet provisioning. = "CentOS-6.4-x86_64-minimal"
config.vm.box_url = ""

# create a virtual network so we can access the vm by ip "private_network", ip: ""
config.vm.hostname = "qa.acme.local"
config.vm.provision :puppet do |puppet|
  puppet.manifests_path = "manifests"
  puppet.manifest_file = "site.pp"
  puppet.module_path = "modules"

In manifests/site.pp you can try any puppet code, i.e. create a file

node 'qa.acme.local' {
  file { '/root/secret':
  mode => '0600',
  owner => 'root',
  content => 'secret file, for root eyes only',

Vagrant up will download the box the first time, start the VM, and apply the configuration defined in Puppet.

$ vagrant up

vagrant ssh will open a shell into the box. Under the hood, vagrant is redirecting a host port to vagrant box 22.

$ vagrant ssh

If you make any changes to the Puppet manifests you can rerun the provisioning step.

$ vagrant provision

The vm can be suspended and resumed at any time

$ vagrant suspend
$ vagrant resume

and later on destroyed, which will delete all the VM files.

$ vagrant destroy

And then we can start again from scratch with vagrant up getting a completely new vm where we can make any mistakes!


In Puppet we can configure any aspect of a server: packages, files, permissions, services, etc. You have seen how to create a file, now let’s see an example of configuring Apache httpd server and the Linux iptables firewall to open a port.

First we need the Puppet modules to manage httpd and the firewall rules to avoid writing all the bits and pieces ourselves. Modules are Puppet reusable components that you can find at the Puppet Forge ( or typically in GitHub. To install these two modules into the vm, run the following commands that will download the modules and install them in the /etc/puppet/modules directory.

vagrant ssh -c "sudo puppet module install --version 0.9.0 puppetlabs/apache"
vagrant ssh -c "sudo puppet module install --version 0.4.2 puppetlabs/firewall"

You can find more information about the Apache ( and the Firewall ( modules in their Forge pages. We are just going to add some simple examples to the manifests/site.pp to install the Apache server with a virtual host that will listen in port 80.

node 'qa.acme.local' {

  class { 'apache': }

  # create a virtualhost

  apache::vhost { "${::hostname}.local":
    port => 80,
    docroot => '/var/www',

Now if you try to access this server in port 80 you will not be able to, as iptables is configured by default to block all incoming connections. Try accessing (the ip we configured previously in the Vagrantfile for the private virtual network) and see for yourself.

To open the firewall, we need to open the port explicitly in the manifests/site.pp by adding

firewall { '100 allow apache':
  proto => 'tcp',
  port => '80',
  action => 'accept',

and running vagrant provision again. Now you should see Apache’s default page in

So far we have created a virtual machine where the apache server is automatically installed and the firewall open. You could start from scratch at any time by running vagrant destroy and vagrant up again.


Let’s write some tests to ensure that everything is working as expected. We are going to use Ruby as the language of choice.

Unit testing with rspec-puppet

rspec-puppet ( is a rspec extension that allows to easily unit test Puppet manifests.

Create a spec/spec_helper.rb file to add some shared config for all the specs

require 'rspec-puppet'

RSpec.configure do |c|
  c.module_path = 'modules'
  c.manifest_dir = 'manifests'

and we can start creating unit tests for the host that we defined in Puppet.

# spec/hosts/qa_spec.rb

require 'spec_helper'

describe 'qa.acme.local' do

  # test that the httpd package is installed

  it { should contain_package('httpd') }

  # test that there is a firewall rule set to 'accept'

  it { should contain_firewall('100 allow apache').with_action('accept') }

  # ensure that there is only one firewall definition

  it { should have_firewall_resource_count(1) }


After installing rspec-puppet gem install rspec-puppet, you can run rspec to execute the tests.


Finished in 1.4 seconds

3 examples, 0 failures


Integration testing with Cucumber

Unit testing is fast and can catch a lot of errors quickly, but how can we check that the machine is actually configured as we expected?

Let’s use Cucumber (, a BDD tool, to create an integration test that checks whether a specific port is open in the virtual machine we started.

Create a features/smoke_tests.feature file with:

Feature: Smoke tests
Smoke testing scenarios to make sure all system components are up and running.

Scenario: Services should be up and listening to their assigned port
Then the "apache" service should be listening on port "80"

Install Cucumber gem install cucumber and run cucumber. The first run will output a message saying that the step definition has not been created yet.

Feature: Smoke tests
Smoke testing scenarios to make sure all system components are up and running.

Scenario: Services should be up and listening to their assigned port # features/smoke_tests.feature:4
Then the "apache" service should be listening on port "80" # features/smoke_tests.feature:5

1 scenario (1 undefined)

1 step (1 undefined)


You can implement step definitions for undefined steps with these snippets:

Then(/^the "(.*?)" service should be listening on port "(.*?)"$/) do |arg1, arg2|
  pending # express the regexp above with the code you wish you had

So let’s create a features/step_definitions/tcp_ip_steps.rb file that implements our service should be listening on port step by opening a TCP socket.

Then /^the "(.*?)" service should be listening on port "(.*?)"$/ do |service, port|
  host = URI.parse(ENV['URL']).host
    s =, port)
    rescue Exception => error
    raise("#{service} is not listening at #{host} on port #{port}")

And rerun Cucumber, this time using an environment variable URL to specify where the machine is running, as used in the step definition URL= cucumber.

Feature: Smoke tests
Smoke testing scenarios to make sure all system components are up and running.

Scenario: Services should be up and listening to their assigned port # features/smoke_tests.feature:4
Then the "apache" service should be listening on port "80" # features/step_definitions/tcp_ip_steps.rb:1

1 scenario (1 passed)

1 step (1 passed)


Success! The port is actually open in the virtual machine.

Wash, rinse, repeat

This was a small example of what can be achieved using Infrastructure-As-Code and automation tools such as Puppet and Vagrant combined with standard testing tools like rspec or Cucumber. When a continuous integration tool like Jenkins is thrown into the mix to run these tests continuously, the result is an automatic end-to-end solution that tests systems as any other code, avoiding regressions and enabling Continuous Delivery ( – automation all the way from source to production.

A more detailed example can be found in my continuous-delivery project at GitHub (

New release of librarian puppet

Puppet Labs logoI’ve been helping with the development of librarian-puppet, pushing upstream a lot of fixes we had made in the past and applying long outstanding pull requests in the project in order to get a release out, and finally you can get the (probably) last release before 1.0.0 which should be stable enough for day to day use.

Besides bug fixes probably the best feature is the ability of reusing the Modulefile dependencies by creating the simplest Puppetfile, if you only need modules from the Puppet Forge

forge ""



The changelog


  • Issue #176 Upgrade to librarian 0.1.2
  • Issue #179 Need to install extra gems just in case we are in ruby 1.8
  • Issue #178 Print a meaningful message if puppet gem can’t be loaded for :git sources


  • Remove extra dependencies from gem added when 0.9.11 was released under ruby 1.8


  • Add modulefile dsl to reuse Modulefile dependencies
  • Consider Puppetfile-dependencies recursively in git-source
  • Support changing tmp, cache and scratch paths
  • librarian-puppet package causes an infinite loop
  • Show a message if no versions are found for a module
  • Make download of tarballs more robust
  • Require open3_backport in ruby 1.8 and install if not present
  • Git dependencies in both Puppetfile and Modulefile cause a Cannot bounce Puppetfile.lock! error
  • Better sort of github tarball versions when there are mixed tags starting with and without ‘v’
  • Fix error if a git module has a dependency without version
  • Fix git dependency with :path attribute
  • Cleaner output when no Puppetfile found
  • Reduce the number of API calls to the Forge
  • Don’t sort versions as strings. Rely on the forge returning them ordered
  • Pass –module_repository to puppet module install to install from other forges
  • Cache forge responses and print an error if returns an invalid response
  • Add a User-Agent header to all requests to the GitHub API
  • Convert puppet version requirements to rubygems, pessimistic and ranges
  • Use librarian gem