Containers have become hugely popular. In 2019, Gartner reported that 30% of organizations worldwide were running containerized applications. They predicted this figure would jump to 75% by 2022. So far, their prediction seems to be spot-on. Unfortunately, container security is much more difficult to achieve than security for more traditional computing platforms, such as virtual machines or bare metal servers. To understand why, let’s first look at what container security is, then what makes containers challenging to secure, and finally, what steps you can take to do container security right.
What is Container Security?
As security threats and opportunities to tamper with organizations escalate, it’s increasingly important for organizations to assess their system’s attack surface to identify all possible points of vulnerability. Container Security is a critical part of a comprehensive security assessment. It is the practice of protecting containerized applications from potential risk using a combination of security tools and policies. Container Security manages risks throughout the environment, including all aspects of the software supply chain or CI/CD pipeline, infrastructure, container runtime, and lifecycle management applications that run on containers. When implementing solutions for container network security, ensure your strategies are integrated with the underlying container orchestration to provide context awareness of the application.
How does it work?
Container security works in numerous ways, but the end goal is always the same – to protect your network’s infrastructure against threats. Containers store the components you require to operate software in your network successfully. These components include files, environment variables, dependencies, and libraries.
Since the operating system places restrictions on how much access the container has to the host’s physical resources such as the CPU, storage, and memory, a single container cannot use up all the available physical resources. As such, containers can be an attractive target for malicious actors due to the massive increase in container deployment in production environments.
A single container is vulnerable to attacks and has the potential to serve as an entry point into a network’s larger environment. The objective of all container security solutions is to prevent harmful activity within your container environment.
What are the benefits?
Container security has become a primary concern as container usage becomes more popular. The increasing awareness about container security is beneficial, as various stakeholders are acknowledging its importance and beginning to invest in it through various platforms, processes, and training programs.
Because container security is concerned with all aspects of protecting a containerized app and its infrastructure, this focus is leading to a wealth of benefits. Container security is quickly becoming a catalyst and force multiplier for improving IT security overall. By requiring continuous security monitoring across development, testing, and production environments (also known as DevSecOps), organizations can enhance security in total – for instance, by introducing automated scanning earlier in their CI/CD pipeline.
Why is container security important?
As development increasingly migrates to containers, their security will become even more essential. Containers’ relative opacity as outlined above makes security, and associated security tools, critical in initial development. And because containers in general — and the techniques required to secure them — are relatively new, container security needs to be implemented correctly from the beginning, before a major incident occurs.
Security remains a significant concern (if not the top concern) for anyone involved with container development and deployment. Many believe that container security is already falling behind and that the industry has now been forced into a role of playing catch-up with remediation. Also, while numerous security tools are available to improve security posture, many organizations lack a true container security strategy.
4 common Container Security mistakes to avoid
Here are several common container security pitfalls to avoid:
- Forgetting basic security hygiene – Containers are generally considered a new technology, which requires the use of new security methods. However, certain security fundamentals still apply. For example, you need to keep all systems patched and up-to-date, including operating systems and container runtimes.
- Failure to harden and configure tools and environments – Container orchestration platforms offer a set of unique security capabilities. However, to ensure security, you need to properly configure them for each environment. You should never run security configurations using a platform’s default settings. For example, you should grant containers only the privileges needed to run. This can significantly minimize risks associated with privilege escalation attacks.
- Failure to log, monitor, and test – When you first run containers in production, you might lose visibility into the health of your application and environment. If this occurs and you do not catch the issue in time, you might run into critical risks. This is especially important for highly distributed systems spanning multiple clouds and on-premise infrastructure. You need to make sure you have properly configured monitoring, logging, and testing. This can help minimize the number of unknown vulnerabilities as well as reduce other blind spots.
- Failure to secure all phases of the CI/CD pipeline – Do not ignore other components of your software development pipeline. You can avoid this issue by implementing a “shift left” philosophy, which means you implement security early in the development cycle. This often requires consistently applying relevant tools and policies across the pipeline and making changes as needed.
Container Security Challenges
Containers offer many advantages, but also pose certain security challenges that can be difficult to overcome. Perhaps the most noticeable security challenge is the larger attack surface containers create, as opposed to traditional workloads, because of the large number of containers based on many different underlying images, each of which can have vulnerabilities.
Another key issue is the underlying kernel architecture shared by containers. Securing the host is not enough to ensure protection. You also need to maintain secure configurations to limit container permissions and ensure proper isolation between containers.
Because containerized environments are highly dynamic, containerized workloads also pose visibility challenges. This is because traditional monitoring tools may not be able to see which containers are running, what they are running, or scrutinize their network behavior. It is critical to improving visibility as much as possible to ensure timely remediation and prevent breaches.
Secure Your Digital Assets With Container Security
Container security might be a relatively new technological development, but it boasts of in-demand and cutting-edge security techniques. It ensures the implementation and upkeep of the security controls that safeguard containers and their underlying infrastructure.
An attacker’s range of action can be restricted by employing preventative strategies when constructing, distributing, and executing your container with the necessary privileges and protections. And that’s because the majority of containerized applications and their underlying infrastructure are dynamic and distributed.