Clinton Herget, Principal Solutions Engineer at Snyk, is here to chat about all things security. Clinton has joined Corey and the reverie of the re:Invent/Quinnvent week to chat about what Snyk has been up to. For starters, how exactly the company moniker is pronounced!
Clinton talks about Snyk’s success in raising $1.4 billion! He also lets us know why they’re not planning on buying vowels anytime soon. Clinton and Corey take a deep and technical look into Snyk’s offerings, starting with security and safely speeding up the developer process. They’re conversation ranges from the challenges that Snyk is taking on, and the litany of security options, to their exciting announcement about their partnership with Amazon Inspector. And, of course, a chat about their pricing. Check out this round re:Quinnvent “Screaming”!
Clinton Herget is Principal Solutions Engineer at Snyk, where he focuses on helping our large enterprise and public sector clients on their journey to DevSecOps. A seasoned technologist, Clinton spent his 15+ year career prior to Snyk as a web software engineer, DevOps consultant, cloud solutions architect, and technical director in the systems integrator space, leading client delivery of complex agile technology solutions. Clinton is passionate about empowering software engineers and is a frequent conference speaker, developer advocate, and everything-as-code evangelist.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. This promoted episode features Clinton Herget, who’s a principal solutions engineer at Snyk
. Or ‘Snick.’ Or ‘Cynic.’ Clinton, thank you for joining me, how the heck do I pronounce your company’s name?
Clinton: That is always a great place to start, Corey, and we like to say it is ‘sneak’ as in sneaking around or a pair of sneakers. Now, our colleagues in the UK do like to say ‘Snick,’ but that is because they speak incorrectly. We will accept it; it is still wrong. As long as you’re not saying ‘Sink’ because it really has nothing to do with plumbing and we prefer to avoid that association.
Corey: Generally speaking, I try not to tell other people how to run their business, but I will make an exception here because I can’t take it anymore. According to CrunchBase, your company has raised $1.4 billion. Buy a vowel for God’s sake. How much could it possibly cost for a single letter that clarifies all of this? My God.
Clinton: Yeah, but then we wouldn’t spend the first 20 minutes of every sales conversation talking about how to pronounce the company name and we would need to fill that with content. So, I think we’re just going to stay the course from here on out.
Corey: I like that. So, you’re a principal solutions engineer. First, what does that do? And secondly, I’ve known an awful lot of folks who I would consider problem engineers, but they never self-describe that way. It’s always solutions-oriented?
Clinton: Well, it’s because I worked for Snyk, and we’re not a problems company, Corey, we’re a solutions company.
Corey: I like that.
Clinton: It’s an interesting role, right, because I work with some of our biggest customers, a lot of our strategic partners here in North America, and I’m kind of the evangelist that comes out and says, “Hey, here’s what sucks about being a developer. Here’s how we could maybe be better.” And I want to connect with other engineers to say, “Look, I share your pain, there might be an easier way, if you, you know, give me a few minutes here to talk about Snyk.”
Corey: So, I’ve seen Snyk around for a while. I’ve had a few friends who worked there almost since the beginning and they talk about this thing—this was before, I believe, you had the Dobermann logo back in the early days—and I keep periodically seeing you folks in a variety of different contexts and different places. Often I’ll be installing something from Docker Hub, for example, and it will mention that, oh, there’s a Snyk scan thing that has happened on the command line, which is interesting because I, to the best of my knowledge, don’t pay Docker for things that I do because, “No, I’m going to build it myself out of popsicle sticks,” is sort of my entire engineering ethos. But I keep seeing you in different cases where as best I am aware, I have never paid you folks for services. What is it you do as a company because you’re one of those folks that I just keep seeing again and again and again, but I can’t actually put my finger on what it is you do.
Clinton: Yeah, you know, most people aren’t aware that popsicle sticks are actually a CNCF graduated project. So, you know, that’s that—
Corey: Oh, and they’re load-bearing in almost every piece of significant technical debt over the last 50 years.
Clinton: Absolutely. Look at your bill of materials; it’s there. Well, here’s where I can drop in the other fun fact about Snyk’s name, it’s actually an acronym, right, stands for So, Now You Know. So, now you know that much, at least. Popsicle sticks, key component to any containerized infrastructure. Look, Snyk is a developer security company, right? And people hear that and go, “I’m sorry, what? I’m a developer; I don’t give a shit about security.” Or, “I’m a security person”—
Corey: Usually they don’t say that out loud as often as you would hope, but it’s like, “That’s not true. I say that I care about security an awful lot.” It’s like, “Yeah, you say that. Therein lies the rub.”
Clinton: Until you get a couple of drinks in them at the party at re:Invent and then the real stuff comes out, right? No, Snyk is always been historically committed to the open-source community. We want to help open-source developers every bit as much as, you know, we’re helping the engineers at our top-tier customers. And that’s because fundamentally, open-source is inextricably linked to the way software is developed today, right? There is nobody not using open-source.
And so we, sort of, have to be supporting those communities at the same time. And that fundamentally is where the innovation is happening. And you know, my sales guys hate when I say this, right, but you can get an amazing amount of value out of Snyk by using the freemium solution, using the open-source tooling that we’ve put out in the community, you get full access to our vulnerability database, which is updated every day, and if you’re working on public projects, that’s going to be free forever, right? We’re fundamentally committed to making that work. If you’re an enterprise that happens to have money to spend, I guess we’ll take that too, right, but my job is really talking to developers and figuring out, you know, how can we reduce the amount of pain in your life through better security tooling?
Corey: The challenging part is that your business, although I confess is significantly larger than my business, we’re sort of on some level solving the same problem. And that sounds odd to say because I focus on fixing AWS bills and you’re focused on improving developer security. But I’m moving up about six levels to the idea that there are only two big problems in the world of technology, in the world of
companies for that matter. And the problem that we’re solving is the worst one of the two. And that is reducing risk exposure.
It is about eliminating downside. It’s cost optimization, it’s security tooling, it is insurance, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And the other problem, the one that I’ve always found, that is the thing that will get people actually excited rather than something they feel obligated to do is speeding up time to market, improving feature velocity, being able to deliver the right things sooner. That’s the problem companies are biasing towards investing in extremely heavily. They’ll convene the board to come up with an answer there.
That said, you stray closer into that problem space than most security companies that I’m aware of just because you do in fact, speed up the developer process. It let people move faster, but do it safely at least is my general understanding. If I’m completely wrong on this, and, “Nope, we are purely risk mitigation, then this is going to look fairly silly, but it wouldn’t be the first time I put my foot in my mouth.”
Clinton: Yeah, Corey, it sounds like you really read the first three words of the website, right? “Develop fast. Stay secure.” And I think that fundamentally gets at the traditional alignment, where security equals slow, right, because risk mitigation is all about preventing problematic things from going into production. But only doing that as a stop gate at the end of the process, right, by essentially saying we assume all developers are bad and want to do bad things, and so we’re going to put up this big gate and generate an 1100 page PDF, and then throw it back to them and say, “Now, go figure out all of the bad things you did and how to fix them. And by the way, you’re already overshooting your delivery target.” Right? So, there’s no way to win in that traditional model unless you’re empowering developers earlier with the right context they need to actually write more secure code to begin with, rather than remediating after the fact when those fixes are actually most expensive.
Corey: It’s the idea of the people who want to slow down and protect things and not break are on the operation side of the world, and then you have developers who want to ship things. And you have that natural tension, so we’re going to smash them together and call it DevOps, which at least if nothing else, leads to interesting stories on stages. Whether it actually leads to lasting cultural transformation is another thing entirely. And then someone said, “Well, what about security?” And the answer is, “We have a security department?” And the answer is, “Yeah, you know, those grumpy people that say no all the time whenever we ask if we could do anything.” “Oh, that security department. I ignore them and go around them instead.” And it’s, “All right, well, we need help on that so we’re going to smash them in, too.” Welcome to DevSecOps, which is basically buzzword-driven cultural development. And here we are. But there is something to be said for you can no longer be the Department of No. I would argue that you couldn’t do that successfully previously, but at least now we’re a little more aware of it.
Clinton: I think you could certainly do that when you were deploying software a couple times a year, right? Because you could build in all of the time to very expensively and time consumingly fix things after the fact, right? We’re no longer in that world. I think when you’re deploying every few seconds or a few minutes, what you need is tooling that, first of all, runs at that speed, that gives developers insights into what risk are they bringing on board with that application once it will be deployed, but then also give them the context they actually need to fix things, right? I mean, regardless of where those vulnerabilities are found, it still ultimately is a line of code that has to be written by a developer and committed and pushed through a pipeline to make it back into production.
And that’s true, whether we’re talking about application security and proprietary code, we’re talking about vulnerabilities in open-source, vulnerabilities in the container, infrastructure as code. I mean, it used to be that a network vulnerability was fixed by somebody going into the data center, unplugging a Cat 5 cable and plugging it in somewhere else, right? I mean, that was the definition of network security. It was a hardware problem. Now, networking is software-defined. I mean [laugh]—
Corey: Oh, the firewall I trust is basically a wire cutter. Yeah, cut through the entire cable, and that is the only secure firewall. And it’s like, oh, no, no, there are side-channel attacks. It’s not completely going to solve things for you. Yeah.
Clinton: You know, without naming names, there are certainly vendors in the security space that still consider mitigation to be shutting down
access to a workload, right. Like, let’s remediate by taking this off of the internet and allowing it to no longer be accessible.
Corey: I don’t think it’s come from a security standpoint, but that does feel like it’s a disturbing proportion of Google’s product strategy.
Clinton: [laugh]. Absolutely. But you know, I do think maybe we can take the forward-looking step of saying there are ways to fix issues while keeping applications online at the same time. For example, by arming engineers with the security intelligence they need when they’re making decisions about what goes into those applications. Because those wire cutters now, that’s a line in a YAML file, right?
That’s a Kubernetes deployment, that’s a CloudFormation template, and that is living in code in the same repo with everything else, with all of the other logic. And so it’s fundamentally indistinguishable at the point where all security is really now developer security, except the security tooling available doesn’t speak to the developer, it doesn’t integrate into their workflow, it doesn’t enable them to make remediations, it’s still slapping them on the wrist. And this is why I think when you talk about—to invoke one of the most overused buzzwords in the security industry—when you talk about shifting left, that’s really only half the story. I mean, if you’re taking a traditional solution that’s designed to slow things down, and shifting that into the developer workflow, you’re just slowing them down earlier, right? You’re not enabling them with better decision-making capacity so they can say, “Oh, I now understand the risks that I’m bringing on board by not sanitizing a string before I dump it into a SQL, you know, query. But now I understand that better because Snyk is giving me that information at the right time when I don’t have to context switch out of it, which is, as I’m writing that line of code to begin with.”
Corey: When I look at your website—and I’m really, really hoping that your marketing folks don’t turn me into a liar on this one between the time we have recorded this and the time it sees the light of day in a week or so—it’s notable because you are a security vendor, but you almost wouldn’t know that from your website. And that is a compliment because at no point, start to finish, on the landing page at snyk.io
see anything that codes to, “Hackers are coming to kill you. Give us money immediately to protect yourself.”
You’re not slinging FUD. You’re talking entirely about how to improve velocity. The closest it gets to even mentioning security stuff is, “Ship on time with peace of mind.” That is as close as it gets to talking about security stuff. There is no fear based on this, and you don’t treat people like children and say, “Security is extremely important.” “Thank you, Professor, I really appreciate that helpful tip.”
Clinton: Yeah, you know, again, I think we take the very controversial approach that developers are not bad people who want to make applications less secure, right? And I think again, when you go into that 40-year trajectory of that constant tension between the engineering and the security sides of the house, it really involves certain perceptions about what those other people are like: security are bad and want to shut everything down; developers are, you know, wild cowboys who don’t care about standardization and are just introducing a bunch of risk, right? Where Snyk comes in is fundamentally saying, “Hey, we can actually all live together in a world where we recognize there’s pain on both sides?” And look, Corey, I’m coming to you after essentially waking up every day for 20 years and writing code of some kind or other, and I can tell you, developers are already scared enough, man. It is a fearful and anxiety ridden experience to know that you’re not completely in command of what happens to that application once it leaves your IDE, right?
You know at some point you’re going to get that PDF dumped on you; you’re going to have a build block, you’re going to have a bug report come in from a very important customer at three o’clock in the morning and you’re going to have to do something about it. I think every software engineer in the world carries that fear around with them. They don’t have to be told you have the capacity to do bad stuff here and you should be better at it. What they need is somebody to tell them here’s how to do things better, right? Here’s not necessarily even why a cross-site scripting attack is dangerous—although we can certainly educate you on that as well—but here’s what you need to do to remediate it. Here’s how other developers have fixed that in applications that look like yours.
And if you get that intelligence at the right point, then it becomes truly—to go back to your original question—it becomes about solutions rather than about problems, right? The last thing we ever want to do is adopt that traditional approach of saying, “You did a bad thing. It’s your fault. You have to go figure out what to do. And then by the way, you have to do all the refactoring on top of that because we didn’t tell you you did the bad thing until three weeks later when that traditional SaaS tool finally finished running.”
Corey: Exactly. It’s a question of how much can you reduce that feedback loop? If I get pinged 60 seconds after I commit code that there’s a problem with it, great. I still have that in my head. Mostly. I hope. But if it’s six months later it’s, “Who even wrote this?” And I pull up git blame and, “Ah, crap, it was me. What was I possibly thinking back then?” It’s about being able to move rapidly and fix things, I guess, as early in the process as possible, the whole shift-left movement. That’s important. That’s valuable.
Clinton: Yeah, the context switching is so expensive, right, because the minute you switch away from that file, you’re reading some documentation. You’re out of that world. Most of the developer’s time is spent getting into and out of different contexts. Once you’re in there, I mean, you could rattle off 40 lines of code in a sitting and actually clear a ticket and you feel really good about yourself, right? The next day, when that comes back from QA saying you did something wrong here, that’s the painful part of having to get back in.
And by the time you’ve already done that, you’ve doubled the amount of time you’ve spent on that feature. So, it’s all about integrating the right intelligence in the right context at the right time, and doing so in such a way that we’re not throwing around blame, that we’re not saying, “You should have known better.” We’re saying, “We want to help you do this better because, you know, ultimately, you’re going to write another SQL query. That’s okay. We hope that maybe this will inspire you to sanitize those strings properly, and we’re going to give you some suggestions on how to do that.”
Corey: Yeah. Developer time is way more expensive than the infrastructure. That is, I think, a little understood facet of how this works from an engineering perspective because an awful lot of us came up in this industry considering our time to be free. Because we were doing this as a hobby in some cases, it was. When I was in my dorm room back many years ago, as I was basically in the process of being expelled from boarding school, it was very clearly my time was not worth a whole hell of a lot to anyone at that point.
Speaking of expensive things, I want to talk for a minute about your pricing. And what I like about this is, let me be clear here. I am a big fan of taking shortcuts wherever I can, and one of the shortcuts I love doing—and I don’t know if I’ve talked about it on this show before—is when I’m talking to a company and I need to figure out do they know what they’re doing or are they clowns, I cheat and I go to the pricing page. And there are two big things that I look for, and you have them both.
The first is that over on the far left side of the spectrum, it’s do you have a free option? And yes, you do. And, “Click here to get started immediately.” Great because it’s three in the morning, I need to get something done, I’m under a deadline, I do not have time for a conversation with sales, and as an engineer, I absolutely don’t want to deal with that type of sales process because it feels weird to go and ask my boss to go ahead and sign off on something because I feel like my spending authority is capped at $20. Now that I have a little more context, I understand exactly why [laugh] my spending authority was capped at $20 back when I was an engineer.
Clinton: Yeah, exactly right. And so it’s not only that commitment to ensuring every software engineer in the world can have access to Snyk immediately by making one click because, you know, ultimately, we’re committed to that community, right? There’s 3 million developers using Snyk currently. That’s about 10% of all engineers in the world. We’re very proud of that number.
We expect that to continue to grow and I think it shows that there is need out there, right? And if we can enable every engineer who’s up at 3 a.m. faced with some security prospect to say, you know, it is as simple as getting a free account and getting a vulnerability report, getting the remediation advice, being able to sleep easier. I think we’re successful as a company, regardless of what the bottom line is. But when you look at how to scale that into the enterprise, the way security solutions are priced, I mean, it’s like throwing a bunch of wet noodles at the wall and seeing what sticks, right?
Corey: Yes. And that’s the other piece of your pricing that I like is a lot of people are going to be listening to that, what I’m saying right now about, “Oh, well, we have a free tier. Why do you think we’re clowns?” It’s, “Ah. Because the other end is just as important if not more so, which is there has to be an enterprise tier, and the price for that has got to be, ‘Click here to have a conversation.’” And the reason behind that is if you work in procurement, which is very often who’s going to be reaching out on something like this, you are going to need custom contracts; you are going to want a long-term enterprise deal, and if the top tier is X dollars per thing that’s already there, it reeks of unsophisticated vendor to a buyer in that position, and it makes the people a big blue chip companies think, “Oh, they don’t know how to deal with someone at our scale.” Pricing his messaging, and I think people lose sight of that. You absolutely say the right things on both ends. I look at this, and there’s nothing I would change or improve about your pricing page, which to be honest, is really rare.
Clinton: I’m not sure all of our sales leaders would agree with you there, but I will pass that feedback along. Well, and the other thing I would add to that is, what everyone who’s in a pricing conversation wants is predictability about what is this going to be in the future, right? And so we base our pricing on how many developers are in your organization, right? That’s probably a number you know; that’s probably a number that you can predict over time. We’re not going to say, “How many CPUs are we using, right? What’s the footprint of the cloud resources we’re deploying to scan your stuff?” These are all things that you have very little control over and there is alchemy there that introduces a financial risk into that situation. And we’re all about risk mitigation at scale, right?
Corey: You don’t pop up halfway through a cycle of, “Oh, you’ve gone on a hiring spree. Time to go ahead and pay us a bunch more money you didn’t plan for or budget for.” I’ve had vendors pop up a quarter after I signed a deal—repeatedly—and it drives me up a wall because back in my engineering days, it was, great, now I have to spend time on this that I hadn’t planned for; I have to go to my boss and ask for more money, never a great conversation, and as a cherry on top, I get to look like I don’t know how to manage vendors for crap. It’s just everyone is angry about those conversations. And even the salespeople reaching out had the decency to act a little sheepish about having to have that
conversation with me.
Clinton: The best ones do, at least. Well, and on top of that, you know, maybe that tool has been capped so that now your bills are breaking because you went one over your cap, right? So, I—
Corey: Yeah. I love it. When I fail in production. That’s my favorite thing. It’s like, “All right, we’re going to wind up not scanning for security stuff anymore. And if you go five beyond your cap, we’re going to start introducing vulnerabilities.” It’s, “That’s awesome. Just, great plan.” But I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I want to be very clear, I have never heard a whisper of an actual vendor doing that, on purpose anyway.
Clinton: Exactly. Right. And you know, look. We want to make it as easy as possible, and that’s why, for example, we’re on AWS Marketplace. You can use your existing EDP program to, you know, buy Snyk, just as—
Corey: At 50% of your spend on Snyk then winds up counting toward your spend commit, which is always an interesting approach that some people are like, “Ooh. So, we can wind up transferring the money that we’re spending on a vendor to count toward our commit?” But in many cases, it’s how much are you spending on other third-party vendors in this space because you’re getting excited about a few tens of thousands in most cases, and you have a $50 million annual [laugh] commit. What are you doing there, buddy? That’s like trying to become a millionaire via credit card points. It doesn’t usually pan out that way.
Clinton: Fair enough. Yeah. And then look, we’re very proud of that partnership with Amazon. And look if hey, if they can lock some of our customers into $15 million a year spend contracts, we’ll take a few pennies on that, right?
Corey: Oh, yeah, as a vendor, you’d be silly not too. It makes sense. But you’re doing significantly more than that. As of this week being re:Invent week, you are—well, tell me about it.
Clinton: Yeah, Corey, we are thrilled to announce this week that AWS is now integrating with Snyk’s vulnerability database within Amazon Inspector. And this is going to bring the best-of-breed security intelligence with a curated vulnerability database, including all of our proprietary research around things like exploit maturity, reachability, vulnerable conditions, social trends on vulnerabilities, all available within Amazon Inspector to any developer utilizing it. We also have an AWS code pipeline integration that makes it easy for anyone utilizing AWS for your CI/CD to get immediate feedback on vulnerabilities in your applications as they move through that pipeline. And remember, we’re never just going to say, “We’ve identified a vulnerability. Now, you need to figure out what to do with it.” We’re always going to integrate the remediation advice because our audience at the end of the day is the developer whose job it is to make the fix and who has such a wide variety of responsibility these days, the best we can do is say to them, not just, “We found something wrong,” but, “Here’s the solution that we think you should implement to get that secure code back out into production.”
Corey: This episode is sponsored by our friends at CloudAcademy. That’s right, they have a different lab challenge up for you called, “Code Red: Repair an AWS Environment with a Linux Bastion Host.” What does it do? Well, its going to assess your ability to troubleshoot AWS networking and security issues in a production like environment. Well, kind of, its not quite like production because some exec is not standing over your shoulder, wetting themselves while screaming. But..ya know, you can pretend in fact I’m reasonably certain you can retain someone specifically for that purpose should you so choose. If you are the first prize winner who completes all four challenges with the fastest time, you’ll win a thousand bucks. If you haven’t started yet you can still complete all four challenges between now and December 3rd to be eligible for the grand prize. There's only a few days left until the whole thing ends, so I would get on it now. Visit cloudacademy.com/corey
. That’s cloudacademy.com/C-O-R-E-Y, for god’s sake don’t drop the “E” that drives me nuts, and thank you again to Cloud Academy for not only promoting my ridiculous non sense but for continuing to help teach people how to work in this ridiculous environment.
Corey: First, congratulations. It’s neat to have a first-party integration like that with an AWS service, as opposed to, you know, their somewhat storied approach of, “Hey, it’s an open-source project. We’re just going to implement something that’s API compatible ourselves, and irritate people.” Now, to be clear, my problem is not that you should expect to build anything and not face competition. My concern is a little bit more along the lines of, “Huh. Why is that same company always the first in line to compete with something.” Which is neither here nor there.
Security is also one of those areas where I think competition is important. You want it continual background level of investment in the space because this stuff is super important. What I like about Snyk and a number of companies in this space is I know exactly where you stand. Let’s contrast that for a second with AWS. You’re integrating with Inspector, which is a great service, but you’re not, I don’t believe, integrating with their other security services such as [big breath in] Amazon Detective, the Audit Manager—if you want to consider that one of them—Amazon Macie, AWS Firewall Manager, AWS Shield, the Network Firewall, IoT Device Defender, CloudTrail, Config.
Amazon Inspector is in one you’re there, but not really Security Hub, or GuardDuty, or IAM itself. And I look at all of these services—I mean, IAM is free, of course, but the rest are very much not—and I do some basic arithmetic and I’m starting to realize that if I can figure all the various AWS security services together and what that’s going to cost me, it turns out the answer is more than the data breach. So, on some level, it’s one of those—at what point is it so confusing and it starts to look like a cross-sell deal between all of the different services, and turn them all on because you could ever have too much security, we still have to ship things eventually. And their security messaging has been extraordinarily confused for a long time. At some level, the fact that you are now integrating with them on the Inspector side means that for the first time, I think I understand what Inspector does now, which is more than a little messed up. But here we are.
Clinton: Indeed. Well, the first thing I would say on that is, you know, stay tuned. As we move into the new year. I think you’re going to see a lot more announcements both, you know, on the AWS side, but also kind of industry-wide and terms of integration with Snyk. That Vulnerability Database feed also, as you mentioned earlier, in use in Docker Hub, so anyone with Containers and Docker Hub can get advantage by scanning with our Snyk container tool.
We have other integrations with Red Hat, for example. And there are actually many other companies utilizing that DB feed to, again, get access to that best in breed vulnerability data. When you talk about that model of, you know, being outcompeted on the security front, I think that’s more difficult to do when you’re actually talking about data, right? Like tooling, on some level—and I might get in trouble for saying this—but tooling is commodity, right? Somebody tomorrow is going to come out with a better tool to do a thing a little bit faster in a little bit more intuitive way. What can’t be easily replicated is the data and intelligence behind that, right? And so that’s why—
Corey: Yeah, the secret sauce that makes you folks work is not the fact of, “Ah, we can fire off or catch a web hook, and then run the following command against the codebase.” That is—sure it’s handy and it’s useful and you’re good at that, but that is not the reason that people become your customer.
Clinton: Exactly right. Look, there’s a lot of tools that can resolve the dependency tree within your open-source application, right? We can do that as well. We leverage a lot of open-source to do that, you know, we’re very open with that. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of Snyk tooling is available on GitHub, you can see how it works, that code is public.
Really the value we’re providing is in that curated security research that our dedicated team is working on day in and day out and verifying public security data that’s out in CVEs. Is this actually accurate? Do we agree with the severity rating? Might there be other factors that could modify that severity rating? What happens when you are scanning an application that might have some vulnerable conditions versus others? Don’t you want to prioritize those vulnerabilities differently? What happens at runtime, right? If you’re deploying an application to an EC2 instance with an OpenSSH ingress into your security group, that’s going to make certain vulnerabilities a lot bigger risk than if you’ve got your IAC configured correctly, right? So, the really the overall mission of Snyk as we move into this broader, kind of, ASPM application, you know, security posture management space, is to say, how many different signals across the SDLC can we combine in intuitive ways for the developer to understand that risk at the right time with the right context and armed with the remediation advice to make a better decision as they’re writing their code, you know, rather than after the fact? If I could sum it all up, kind of, that’s the vision of where we are both today and ultimately where we’re going.
Corey: There also needs to be an understanding of who the customer is. If I go through the launch wizard and spin up in a brand new account, my first EC2 instance, and I spin up an instance by going through the wizard, the first thing it does is yell at me. Because, “Ah, that SSH port is open to the world.” Which you need to get into it, once it’s there. So, it sets that up for me and yells at me all in the same breath. And it’s, this is not a promising start; I kind of need that to get into it.
Conversely, if you’re not someone learning this stuff for the first time, and you’re, oh I don’t know, a production engineer at a bank, you care quite a bit differently in that use case about things like OpenSSH groups, it’s security posture, et cetera, et cetera. An awful lot of the tooling is, “Ah, you’re failing this benchmark, and this benchmark, and this benchmark,” from CIS and the rest of all these rules of, oh, you’re not encrypting your data at rest. Well, it’s in an AWS data center environment. Yeah, if someone could break in and steal the drives from multiple facilities and somehow recombine them together and get out alive, yeah, that’s really not my threat model.
But it’s easy to turn it on and check a box and make an auditor go away. But that’s not where I would spend the bulk of my energies if I’m trying to improve my security posture. And it turns into rote checklists super easily. The thing I’ve always appreciated about the stuff that you’re tooling in the open-source world has highlighted is it’s not nonsense. And I really can’t understate just how valuable that is.
Clinton: Absolutely. And that comes from a combination of signals across that SDLC, from the open-source, from the container, from the proprietary code, from the IAC, but then also what’s happening at runtime, right? Like, how are those containers actually deployed onto EKS? What ports are open? What running binaries are on the container that might influence, you know, what packages you choose to upgrade, versus not?
All of that matters, and what—you know, the issue I think now is getting that visibility to the developer at the right time so that they can make it actionable. And the thing about infrastructure as code, that I think that’s really interesting and not super well understood is a lot of those defaults are really insecure. And developers have no idea, right? Like, they might not be aware that if you don’t define that encryption for your S3 bucket, it’ll happily deploy unencrypted, right? Yes, that’s a compliance problem, but that’s also potentially exacerbator have other vulnerabilities that might be in that application.
But you only see those when you can combine and have a single pane of glass that gives you the runtime signaling plus everything that’s happening in the application, armed with the correct information to actually remediate that at the time, and say, “Don’t you think you wanted to add, you know, AES encryption to this bucket? Don’t you think you wanted to close down port 22?” And also, combine that with your internal business logic, right? Like maybe for an internal only application that never transits beyond your VPC perimeter, sure, it’s fine to have port 22 open, right? There’s just going to be people within your zero-trust environment authenticating to it. But for your production web application, that might be a different story.
Corey: There are other concerns, too. For example, I’m sitting here complaining about the idea of encrypting at rest in an AWS environment, but if you’ve signed customer contracts that state that you’re doing it, you’d better freaking do it, as opposed to, “Well, I know what the actual security risk is and it’s no big deal.” Yeah, don’t make that decision. If you are contractually obligated to do a thing. Don’t YOLO it; do what you say you’re going to do. That’s that whole integrity thing.
Clinton: Oh, sure. And look in a battle between security and compliance. Compliance always wins, right? But from a developer perspective, I don’t know that we on the front lines writing code actually differentiate, right? That certainly is a matter for the people defining the policies and, you know, creating their gating mechanisms in CI to figure out.
What I want to know as a developer is, is my build going to succeed, right? Or am I going to get shut down and get the nastygram that says, you know, “We couldn’t launch this for x, y, and z reason.” Now, everybody on my team hates me, my lead dev is on me, now there’s a bunch of merge conflicts because my branch is behind. I want to get that out into production, but in order to do that, I need information on how are all these signals going to be compiled together in a way that, you know, creates that red light or green light on the risk dashboard later on. But up until I think, you know, relatively recently, I don’t have visibility into that except to launch the commit, you know, start the build and see what happens, and then I have that context-switching problem, right, because it’s hours or days later, that I finally get that signal back.
So yes, I think we have a compliance story to tell from the Snyk perspective as well. A lot of those same issues, you know, we’re detecting, especially with regard to infrastructure as code, but it ultimately is up to various parts of the organization to work together and say, “What balance do we want to strike between security and velocity,” right? Understanding that those are not mutually opposed. What we need is tooling and more importantly a culture that takes both into account and allows us to develop securely and fast at the same time.
Corey: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about all this. If people want to learn more, where can they find you? And for God’s sake, please don’t say in your booth at re:Invent.
Clinton: [laugh]. I will not be at re:Invent this year. I’ve had a little bit too much of the Vegas Strip here recently.
Corey: No, I hear you. Right now, the people going are those whose employers find them expendable, which is why I’m there.
Clinton: I wouldn’t say that Corey. I think you’ll do great, and you know, just make sure to bank all your vacation for a couple weeks after. Look, come to snyk.io
start a conversation, but more importantly, just start using it, right?
I don’t want to give you the sales pitch; I want you to see the value in the tooling, and the easiest way to do that as an engineer is just to start using it. And if there is value there, you want to bring it to your enterprise. I would love to have that conversation and move forward. But engineer to engineer, like, figure out if this is going to work for you: does it make your life easier? Does it reduce the pain and anxiety you feel before making that commit into the production branch? And if so, then yeah, we’d love to talk.
Corey: I will, of course, put links to that in the [show notes 00:33:22]. Thank you so much for speaking to me today. I really appreciate it.
Clinton: Thank you, Corey. Glad to do it.
Corey: Clinton Herget, principal solutions engineer at Snyk. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry comment yelling at Snyk about how they’re a terrible company because they continually refuse to patronize your side business down at the Vowel Emporium.
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