Buildup

Thanks to “https://www.reddit.com/user/MaricxX/” for this photo – it demonstrates how small glitches over time can add up if they aren’t addressed rapidly – or better yet, not allowed to start in the first place.

Cross section of layers of paint showing deformation due to imperfections magnified with each layer.
Layers of paint – credit to MaricxX from Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/user/MaricxX/

At a previous job it was common to take our Windows virtual machine templates and power them on once a month to patch the OS and apply the latest security configurations. We had been doing this with our Red Hat Linux images, but a couple years ago I converted our process so each month we built those VM templates fresh from an ISO and a Hashicorp Packer script using VMware Workstation.

This monthly fresh build ensured that we always knew how to build the VM templates in the event of a disaster, and it ensured that our build process contained exactly what we planned and advertised (through our team Git repository). As new requirements were received from the InfoSec team or other sources with system concerns that could only be readily addressed during the initial build phase, we would add those steps to the Packer config file, then test and build new.

With the prevalence of new worms and other highly effective infection vectors, my fear was that we would get a piece of malware onto the templates and then that malware would be automatically replicated each time a new system was built. And there were many times when we started the patching process each month only to find that a couple of the Windows templates had been left running since the previous months patch effort. There is no telling what might have crawled onto these unmanaged systems in the intervening time, only waiting for us to start using them over time.

While the paint analogy doesn’t perfectly match with the IT world, there are sufficient correlations that it makes the possibility of replicating and amplifying a small defect all the more understandable. Still, I prefer to have my freshly-built template with it’s minimal layers of paint knowing that I am confident that it only contains the bits we wanted.