SEC540 Cloud Security and DevOps Automation


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GIAC Cloud Security Automation (GCSA)

GIAC Cloud Security Automation (GCSA)

What You Will Learn

The Cloud Moves Fast. Automate to Keep Up.

Organizations are moving to the cloud to enable digital transformation and reap the benefits of cloud computing. However, security teams struggle to understand the DevOps toolchain and how to introduce security controls in their automated pipelines responsible for delivering changes to cloud-based systems. Without effective pipeline security controls, security teams lose visibility into the changes released into production environments. Upfront peer code reviews and security approvals may not occur for change approval and audit requirements. Missing infrastructure and application scanning can allow attackers to find an entry point and compromise the system. Cloud security misconfigurations may publicly expose sensitive data or introduce new data exfiltration paths.

Security teams can help organizations prevent these issues using DevOps tooling and cloud-first best practices. SEC540 provides development, operations, and security professionals with a deep understanding of and hands-on experience with the DevOps methodology used to build and deliver cloud infrastructure and software. Students learn how to attack and then harden the entire DevOps workflow, from version control to continuous integration and running cloud workloads. Each step of the way, students explore the security controls, configuration, and tools required to improve the reliability, integrity, and security of on-premise and cloud-hosted systems.

SEC540 goes well beyond traditional lectures and immerses students in hands-on application of techniques during each section of the course. Each lab includes a step-by-step guide to learning and applying hands-on techniques, as well as a “no hints” approach for students who want to stretch their skills and see how far they can get without following the guide. This allows students, regardless of background, to choose the level of difficulty they feel is best suited for them- aalways with a frustration-free fallback path.

SEC540 also offers students an opportunity to participate in CloudWars Bonus Challenges each day, providing more hands-on experience with the cloud and DevSecOps toolchain.

SEC540 Will Prepare You To:

Understand the Core Principles and Patterns behind DevOps

  • Recognize how DevOps works and identify keys to success

Understand the DevSecOps Methodology and Workflow

  • Threat model and secure your build and deployment environment
  • Secure DevOps tools and workflows
  • Conduct effective risk assessments and threat modeling in a rapidly changing environment
  • Design and write automated security tests and checks in CI/CD
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of different automated testing approaches in Continuous Delivery
  • Inventory and patch your software dependencies

Integrate Security into Production Operations

  • Automate configuration management using Infrastructure as Code
  • Secure container technologies (such as Docker and Kubernetes)
  • Build continuous monitoring feedback loops from production to engineering
  • Securely manage secrets for Continuous Integration servers and applications
  • Automate compliance and security policy scanning

Move Your DevOps Workloads to the Cloud

  • Understand how to automate cloud architecture components
  • Use CloudFormation and Terraform to create Infrastructure as Code
  • Build CI/CD pipelines using Jenkins, CodePipeline, and Azure DevOps
  • Wire security scanning into Jenkins, CodePipeline, and Azure DevOps workflows
  • Containerize applications with Elastic Container Service and Azure Kubernetes Service
  • Integrate cloud logging and metrics with CloudWatch
  • Create Slack alerts from CloudWatch metrics
  • Manage secrets with Vault, KMS, and the SSM Parameter store

Consume Cloud Services to Secure Cloud Applications

  • Protect static content with CloudFront Signatures
  • Leverage Elastic Container Service for blue/green deployments
  • Secure REST APIs with API Gateway
  • Implement an API Gateway custom authorization Lambda function
  • Deploy the AWS Web Application Firewall and build custom WAF rules
  • Perform continuous compliance scans with CloudMapper
  • Enforce cloud configuration policies with Cloud Custodian


  1. Please plan to arrive 30 minutes early before your first session for lab preparation and set-up (though obtaining your cloud account(s) should happen PRIOR TO this.) During this time, students can confirm that their cloud accounts are properly set up, ensure laptops have virtualization enabled, copy the lab files, and start the Linux virtual machine. For live classes (online or in-person), the instructor will be available to assist students with laptop prep and set-up 30 minutes prior to the course start time. The lecture will begin at the scheduled course start time.
  2. Similar to providing hardware and software, students are required to provide their own AWS and Azure cloud environments. Your ability to execute the hands-on exercises will be delayed if you wait to set up the AWS account during a live class. Review the Laptop Requirements below for details.


The SEC540 lab environment simulates a real-world DevOps environment, with more than 10 automated pipelines responsible for building cloud infrastructure, automating gold image creation, orchestrating containerized workloads, executing security scanning, and enforcing compliance standards. Students are challenged to sharpen their technical skills and automate more than 20 security-focused challenges using a variety of command line tools, programming languages, and markup templates. For advanced students, 2 hours of CloudWars bonus labs are available during extended hours each day.


  • Printed and electronic courseware
  • ISO containing the course Virtual Machine (VM)
  • Course VM containing a pre-built DevOps CI/CD toolchain, Cloud Security, and Secure DevOps lab exercises
  • CloudFormation and Terraform code to deploy AWS and Azure infrastructure
  • A VM-hosted wiki and an electronic lab workbook for completing the lab exercises
  • Ability to use the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and course VM indefinitely to continue your learning after the course ends


Blog: What’s New in SEC540: Cloud Security and DevSecOps Automation

Posters, Cheat Sheets, and Lists



See a complete list of Cloud Security tools here, all of which are applicable to SEC540.


GIAC Cloud Security Automation

“The GIAC Cloud Security Automation (GCSA) certification covers cloud services and modern DevSecOps practices that are used to build and deploy systems and applications more securely. The certification shows that you not only know how to speak the language of modern cloud and DevSecOps principles but can put them into practice in an automated and repeatable manner.” – Frank Kim, SEC540 Course Co-Author

  • Using cloud services with Secure DevOps principles, practices, and tools to build & deliver secure infrastructure and software
  • Automating Configuration Management, Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Monitoring
  • Use of open-source tools, the Amazon Web Services toolchain, and Azure services


The following are courses or equivalent experiences that are prerequisites for SEC540:

  • SANS SEC488: Cloud Security Essentials or hands-on experience using the AWS and Azure Cloud
  • Familiarity with Linux command shells and associated commands
  • Basic understanding of common application attacks and vulnerabilities (e.g., OWASP Top 10)
  • Hands-on experience using version control (git) and continuous integration systems (Jenkins) is recommended but not required

Students taking SEC540 will have the opportunity to learn and use a number of DevOps and cloud tools during the hands-on exercises. Getting a head start on the following tools, technologies, and languages will help students enjoy their lab experience:

Laptop Requirements

Important!!! Bring your own system configured according to these instructions!!!

A properly configured system is required to fully participate in this course. If you do not carefully read and follow these instructions, you will likely leave the class unsatisfied because you will not be able to participate in hands-on exercises that are essential to this course. Therefore, we strongly urge you to arrive with a system meeting all the requirements specified for the course.

Students must be in full control of the network running the VM. The VM communicates with several external services (AWS, Docker Hub, Terraform, Azure, etc.) over HTTPS, SSH, and other non-standard ports. Running the course virtual machine on a host with a VPN, intercepting proxy, or egress firewall filter may cause connection issues communicating with these services. Students must be able to configure or disable these services for the lab environment to function properly.


MANDATORY: Students must bring their own AWS and Azure accounts to complete the cloud exercises, see below for more detail.

Please ensure you have done the following before class starts:

  1. Register for a personal free-tier account.
  2. Activate your new account.
  3. Log in to the AWS Console with your root account.
  4. Browse to the EC2 Service and verify that you see the dashboard (not an activation screen).
  5. In the top right-hand corner of the page, select one the following supported regions (preferably the region closest to where the course is running or you live – see bulleted list below)
  6. From the left navigation bar, select “Limits.”
  7. Verify that you have at least 10vCPUs for On-Demand Standard (A, C, D, H, I, M, R, T, Z) instances.
  8. If your limits are less than 10 vCPUs, please start by creating a new t2.micro instance. Creating a new instance often causes the limits to increase automatically. If your limits do not automatically increase (wait 30 minutes to check again), request an increase to open a ticket with the AWS support team. More details can be found in the AWS EC2 Service Limits documentation.

Region List:

  • U.S. East 1 (Northern Virginia)
  • U.S. East 2
  • U.S. West 1 (Northern California)
  • U.S. West 2 (Oregon)
  • E.U. (Ireland)
  • Asia Pacific Northeast 1 (Tokyo)
  • Asia Pacific Southeast 1 (Singapore)
  • Asia Pacific Southeast 2 (Sydney)

Microsoft Azure

Browse to the Azure Portal.

Register for a new account and paid subscription.


  • A properly configured system is required for each student participating in this course. Before starting your course, carefully read and follow these instructions exactly:
  • Host Operating System: Latest version of Windows 10, macOS 10.15.x or later, or Linux that also can install and run VMware virtualization products described below.
  • Fully update your host operating system prior to the class to ensure you have the right drivers and patches installed to utilize the latest USB 3.0 devices.
  • Those who use a Linux host must also be able to access exFAT partitions using the appropriate kernel or FUSE modules.
  • Download and install 7-Zip (for Windows Hosts) or Keka (macOS). Without these extraction tools, you’ll be unable to extract large archives we’ll supply to you in class.
  • Download and install either VMware Workstation Pro 15.5.x, VMware Player 15.5.x, or Fusion 11.5.x or higher versions before class.
  • If you do not own a licensed copy of VMware Workstation or Fusion, you can download a free 30-day trial copy from VMware. VMware will send you a time-limited serial number if you register for the trial at its website.
  • Other virtualization software, such as VirtualBox and Hyper-V, are not appropriate because of compatibility and troubleshooting problems you might encounter during class.
  • VMware Workstation Pro and VMware Player on Windows 10 are not compatible with Windows 10 Credential Guard and Device Guard technologies. Please disable these capabilities for the duration of the class if they’re enabled on your system by following instructions in this document.
  • Note: Apple systems using the M1 processor cannot perform the necessary virtualization at this time and cannot be used for this course.

Mandatory Host Hardware Requirements

  • CPU: 64-bit 2.5+ GHz multi-core processor or higher
  • BIOS/UEFI: VT-x, AMD-V, or the equivalent must be enabled in the BIOS/UEFI
  • Hard Disk: Solid-State Drive (SSD) is MANDATORY with 50GB of free disk space minimum
  • Memory: 16GB of RAM or higher is mandatory for this class (IMPORTANT! – 16GB of RAM is MANDATORY)
  • Working USB 2.0 or higher port
  • Wireless Ethernet 802.11 B/G/N/AC
  • Local Administrator Access within your host operating system

Mandatory Host Operating System Requirements

You must use a 64-bit laptop with one of the following operating systems that have been verified to be compatible with course VMware image:

  • Latest version of Windows 10, macOS 10.15.x or later, or
  • Linux that also can install and run VMware virtualization products described below.

Mandatory Software Requirements

  • Prior to class, ensure that the following software is installed on the host operating system:
  • VMware Workstation Pro 15.5.X+, VMware Player 15.5.X+, or Fusion 11.5+
  • Zip File Utility (7Zip or the built-in operating system zip utility)
  • Cloud Virtual Machine (AWS AMI)
  • If your workstation or network does not meet the above requirements, please reach out to your instructor, TA, or OnDemand SME for access to the SEC540 Amazon Machine Image (AMI). After sharing the AMI, instructions will be provided for launching and connecting to the virtual machine over Remote Desktop (RDP). This option is required for students that cannot meet the laptop requirements.

Mandatory Cloud Account Requirements

  • An Amazon Web Services (AWS) account is required to do hands-on exercises during this course. Students must create an AWS account prior to the start of class. The estimated AWS cost for running the lab environment is $20 per week. Costs are less for free-tier accounts.
  • Microsoft Azure bonus challenges (optional) are available to students. Completing the bonus challenges requires that students register a Microsoft Azure account prior to the start of class. The estimated Azure cost for running the lab environment is $20 per week.

In summary, before beginning the course you should:

  • Have a laptop with a solid-state drive (SSD), 16GB of RAM, and a 64-bit operating system.
  • Install VMware (Workstation or Fusion).
  • Windows only: Verify that the BIOS settings have the Intel VT virtualization extensions enabled.
  • Download the SEC540 Lab Setup Instructions and Course Media from your account.
  • Register a NEW AWS account prior to the start of the class at
  • Register a NEW Azure account and paid subscription prior to the start of class at

After you have completed those steps, your course media will be delivered via download. The media files for class can be large, some in the 40 to 50 GB range. You need to allow plenty of time for the download to complete. Internet connections and speed vary greatly and are dependent on many different factors. Therefore, it is not possible to give an estimate of the length of time it will take to download your materials. Please start your course media downloads as you get the link. You will need your course media immediately on the first day of class. Waiting until the night before the class starts to begin your download has a high probability of failure.

SANS has begun providing printed materials in PDF form. Additionally, certain classes are using an electronic workbook in addition to the PDFs. The number of classes using eWorkbooks will increase quickly. In this new environment, we have found that a second monitor and/or a tablet device can be useful for keeping the class materials visible while the instructor is presenting or while you are working on lab exercises.

Author Statement

“DevOps and the cloud are radically changing the way that organizations design, build, deploy, and operate online systems. Leaders like Amazon, Etsy, and Netflix are able to deploy hundreds or even thousands of changes every day, continuously learning, improving, and growing – and leaving – their competitors far behind. Now DevOps and the cloud are making their way from Internet “Unicorns” and cloud providers into enterprises.

Traditional approaches to security can’t come close to keeping up with this rate of accelerated change. Engineering and operations teams that have broken down the “walls of confusion” in their organizations are increasingly leveraging new kinds of automation, including Infrastructure as Code, Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment, microservices, containers, and cloud service platforms. The question is: Can security take advantage of the tools and automation to better secure its systems?

Security must be reinvented in a DevOps and cloud world.”

Ben Allen, Jim Bird, Eric Johnson, and Frank Kim

“I would recommend this course since I think it is a great course covering all areas of DevOps, tools, and has AWS and Azure.” – Bob Anderson, TJX, SANS540 NEW attendee