Container security refers to the implementation of policies and tools that ensure that container infrastructure, apps, and other components are protected from all possible attacks.
One of the most important facts to understanding container security is that it reflects the changing nature of IT architecture itself. Cloud-native computing has revolutionized the way applications are created. We must fundamentally change the way we protect them.
Security used to be about protecting one “perimeter” in the past. This concept has been rendered obsolete by the advent of containers, which add new layers to complexity. Containerized environments contain many layers of abstraction, which require special tools to interpret, monitor, and protect them.
Organizations will need to first understand how cloud native computing environments interact with each other. Then, you will need to find the right tools and processes to create a repeatable set to secure each layer.
Let’s now look at these concepts in greater detail to see the differences between containers, Kubernetes, and virtual machines.
What is Container Security?
A container is either a single file or a package of software files that contains everything needed to run an app. All of the application’s code and dependencies, libraries, runtime, system tools, and code are contained within the container. Containers have simplified the development of applications and made them easier, quicker, more efficient, and even faster.
Cloud computing is on the rise and application development technologies are becoming more sophisticated. Developers have become tired of managing OS and application dependencies on virtual machines. Two factors have led to the adoption of containers and orchestration platforms like Kubernetes or Docker: a desire for portability across clouds and a need for faster time-to-market through DevOps.
It can be hard to comprehend the container ecosystem due to the multitude of tools available and the unique problems that they solve in comparison to other platforms. However, container technology’s rapid adoption offers security opportunities. Containers can be secured from development to runtime using CI/CD pipelines. This allows security professionals to build bridges with security teams.
Before we get into the details about container security, we need to first understand the various platforms that manage containers. Kubernetes is the most prominent and well-known platform.
What are Kubernetes?
Kubernetes is one of the most popular orchestration platforms, that helps to optimize and implement the container-based infrastructure. It is an open-source platform that manages containerized workloads. This allows organizations to automate processes like application development, deployment, and management.
Kubernetes is an open-source platform that is still in its infancy. This presents a great opportunity to secure Kubernetes. When importing open-source code into third-party applications, it is important to ensure a secure environment. Kubernetes’ sprawling platform has so many integrations to manage containers that it makes it easy for developers to create an automated system that embeds security in the Kubernetes build-and-deployment process.
The Benefits of Containers
Containers make it easier than ever to build, deploy, and scale cloud-native apps. Containers offer the greatest benefits for cloud-native app developers:
- Eliminating friction: Developers avoid most of the friction normally associated with Moving application code from production to testing Because the application code is packaged in containers, it can be run anywhere.
- One source of truth for application development: The container contains all dependencies for the application. The application can run seamlessly and identically on virtual machines, bare-metal servers in a local data center, or even on the public cloud.
- Faster build times: The flexibility and portability of containers enable Developers can make enormous productivity gains that were previously impossible.
- Confidence for developers: Developers can deploy applications confidently, knowing that their platform or application will work on all operating systems.
- Enhanced collaboration: Multiple teams can use containers to work on different parts of an app, or service, without disrupting code in other containers.
Cloud-native applications, as with all new IT architectures, still require security. Container environments present a variety of cybersecurity issues that include images, containers, hosts, runtimes, registries, and orchestration platforms, which all need to be protected.
Container vs Virtual Machine (VM)
The 2020 State of Cloud Native Security Report shows that enterprises will run up to 30% of their workloads on virtual machines (VMs) by 2022 and 24% on containers. An enterprise’s cloud workload protection platform will focus on both strategy and understanding how to protect them. Although they have some commonalities, there are many key differences between virtual machines and containers.
- One application is allowed to use a container. It contains the application and all the necessary functions to run it. It is lightweight and easy to deploy across multiple environments making it an ideal choice for cloud-native application development.
- Virtual machines (VMs) can run more functions and operations than one container because they virtualize the hardware. A virtual machine can be larger than a container but it’s not always better, especially in cloud-native development. Trying to run an entire application within a VM can lead to bloated, inflexible VMs that are difficult to manage and have delayed updates and compounding failures. VMs are not as flexible, fast, or portable as containers.
How to Secure Containers
Container users should ensure that they have full-stack security that addresses vulnerabilities management, compliance, and network security requirements for their containerized applications. Below are the four types of container security.
Container Network Security
Container network security prevents malicious communication from reaching your applications and prevents them from being attacked once they are deployed.
To protect their containers against network-based threats, organizations can use next-generation containerized firewalls. Network-based attacks can be applied to any application regardless of its form factor. Containerized applications are susceptible to the same network-based threats that infect bare metal or VM-based apps. These include ransomware, cryptojacking, BotNetC2, BotNetC2, and many others. Next-generation containerized firewalls prevent malware from spreading inside the cluster. They also stop malicious outbound connections that are used for data exfiltration and command and control (C2) attacks. Shift-left security tools offer protection against known vulnerabilities but containerized next-gen firewalls protect against unknown and unpatched threats.
Next-gen firewalls and microsegmentation tools provide complete container network security. Containerized next-gen firewalls scan all traffic and perform layer-7 deep packet inspection to detect and prevent threats. Identity-based microsegmentation restricts communication between applications at layer-3/4.
Container Runtime Security
In-container security is the process by which new vulnerabilities are identified in containers and the application is secured against them.
Microsegmentation tools with Next-gen firewalls provide complete container network security. Identity-based microsegmentation helps to restrict communication between applications at layer-3/4, while containerized next-generation firewalls perform layer-7 deep-pack inspection and scan all traffic to find and prevent known threats.
Container-using organizations must use enhanced runtime protection in order to set behavioral baselines that keep their container environments in a safe, normal state. This will allow them to detect anomalies or attacks. Runtime container security is able to identify malicious processes and files and monitor network behavior that may be different from the baseline. To protect containers, organizations should employ a defense in depth strategy. Container runtime protection, which can be used to protect against malware, is an additional layer of security that can be added to the container network security using next-generation firewalls.
Runtime protection may also include embedded Web application and API security, to protect against HTTP-based layer 7, such as the OWASP Top 10 denial of service (DoS), or bots.
Container Register Security
Containers are composed of binaries, libraries, and application codes.it’s critical for enterprises to establish an official container registry in their organization. This is an important first step in building security and enabling the move to DevSecOps.
A container registry is a centrally managed way to store and distribute application images. Modern companies can store tens to thousands of images in their registries. It is vital to protect the registry as it is key to how a containerized environment works. Intrusions and vulnerabilities with the registry provide an easy way to compromise running applications.
Monitoring registries continuously for changes in vulnerability status is a fundamental security requirement. Other security requirements include locking down servers hosting the registry and using a secure access policy.
Container Orchestration Security
Container orchestration security refers to the implementation of appropriate access control measures in order to protect against over-privileged accounts, network attacks, and unwanted lateral movements. Utilizing Identity Access Management in cloud security and a least-privileged model. Security and infrastructure teams can make sure that only authorized users are able to execute commands when Docker or Kubernetes, activity is explicitly whitelisted.
Organizations must also protect pod-to–pod communications and prevent attackers from moving laterally in their environment and secure front-end services against attacks.
Also read: What is Security Architecture A Full Guide?
Host Operating System (OS) Security
Host OS security refers to the protection of your OS (operating system) against cyber attacks. Host security is becoming more important as cloud-native app development technology advances.
Security is most important when it comes down to the OS that hosts your container environment. An attack that compromises the host environment could give intruders access to all other areas in your stack. Hosts should be scanned for vulnerabilities and hardened based on CIS Benchmarks. They also need to be protected against inappropriate access control (Docker commands or SSH commands, etc.). or file tampering.
Container Security Solutions
The container security solutions on which organizations can rely have improved in both capability and sophistication over the past year. No matter what stage of DevSecOps maturity you have reached, Container security tools are now easier than ever. Container security solutions that any organization will need to adopt and master include:
- Container monitoring: It is vital to maintain container security by monitoring your registry. Developers are constantly ripping out and replacing containers. Monitoring tools that allow cybersecurity and IT operations teams to apply time-series stamps on containers are crucial when trying to find out exactly what happened in a containerized setting.
- Container scanning tools: Containers must be constantly scanned for vulnerabilities before they are deployed in production environments. Developers can easily mistakenly add a library to a container with known vulnerabilities. Not only are new vulnerabilities being discovered every day, but it’s also important that you keep in mind the fact that there are always more. This means that what might seem to be a safe container image could end up being used by malware distributing organizations tomorrow. This is why maintaining container trust is an essential component of container scanning tools.
- Container network security tools: Containers must be protected against the incessant attempts to steal data and compute resources once they are deployed. Containerized next-generation firewalls and WAAS and microsegmentation tools inspect and protect all traffic entering and exiting containers (North-South, East-West), giving full Layer-7 visibility into the Kubernetes environment. Containerized firewalls can dynamically scale to meet the changing demands of the container infrastructure. This guarantees security and bandwidth for business operations.
- Policy engines: Cybersecurity teams can now define policies using modern tools that determine who is permitted to access any microservice. A framework is needed by organizations to define policies and ensure compliance. They are maintained in a distributed container environment.