Cyberattacks are becoming ruthless as time is passing. They are targeting every development aspect, component, resource, and stage. Along with keeping development on time, under budget, aligned to the needs, and up-to-date, developers are now concerned to keep development free from the reach of a cybercriminal.
As the use of containers is on the rise, the current cybersecurity trends are converging on container security. It’s a vast term concerning the containers, infrastructure, components and linked AppSec essentials. In this expert-led and informative guide, you will learn about best security container practices, preferred tools, and other related topics.
An overview of Container Security
The core of modern-day app development lies on microservices-based. The core of this approach implies using fully-sufficient and isolated microservices to develop complex apps. Development takes place at a distributed level and is later combined to form the application. Containers are crucial for a development approach.
They are primal prerequisites as these small, yet crucial software units permit developers to deploy microservices independently and in a fully isolated ecosystem.
Because of fast processing and lightweight infrastructure, containers are preferred over VMs. Wherever they are used, it’s highly recommended to adopt the best security practice related to them. At the very basic level, it means ensuring that containers, corresponding infrastructure, runtime, apps, and deployment ecosystem are fully secured.
In reality, it’s way too complex than any other customary resource security process. As to why, container security demands efforts at two levels: orchestrator and cluster levels. Securing one level is not enough.
As its scope is far-reaching, ensuring through-and-through security remains a great challenge to deal with for the DevOps team. Often, experts recommend combining cutting-edge security solutions, best approached , and recent security policies to have one viable strategy to protect all.
What makes it vital?
Speaking of the significance of container security, we have to mention one fact here. Containers and their associated technologies lack powerful default security.
In fact, very basic security control is offered with these two, which is not enough to keep cyber threats at bay. For instance, no RBAC is used in Kubernetes. Docker is also not flawless. Anyone can drop container images on Docker Hub.
So, if added efforts are not made, developers might end up using a corrupted container and put concerned data, infrastructure, and application at stake.
The next reason to adopt established security practices is the deeper penetration of container images. For any distributed app/project, containers are developed from container images and if they are not secured, the entire process of developing them becomes compromised.
Because most container entities are interconnected, their security becomes a tedious job to handle. In such a closed knit ecosystem, it’s easy for vulnerabilities to glide from a part to another swiftly. If ignored for a longer time, these flaws can easily ruin the entire setup, process, or development.
Container Security Components
- IDE and Source code
Considering their critical role in crafting digital solutions, any vulnerability that these two components inherit can easily pass to the app. Organizations must verify that only a fully encrypted and isolated ecosystem is used for code generation and IDE is also fully secured.
- Container Runtime
It’s the duration when containers operate. Therefore, there should be no lax attitude towards container-runtime security.
In its absence, hassles like unauthorized access, cyberattacks, and vulnerabilities insertion becomes easy for hackers. They can introduce malicious resources swiftly in the runtime and corrupt the entire process. Additionally, it is advised that businesses maintain a close eye on all the resources that containers use during runtime.
They must ensure that only verified and approved runtime resources are utilized.
CI/CD infrastructure is used widely for distributed solution development. Ideally, no outdated images should reach CI/CD. Take the help of automated tests to eliminate outdated images
Every organization needs a place to house the images so that the team can access them easily. This container image warehouse is a container registry. They all must be preserved at all costs.
Unprotected and secured registries act like a gateway for vulnerabilities. Once penetrated, threats may creep far into the SDLC as they might affect all the stored images. To avoid this, developers are recommended to make extensive use of authentication and identity.
- Containers orchestration platforms
We have Docker and Kubernetes as leading orchestrators. They are important for container-based app development because they aid greatly in managing containers, and scale the solution for the DevOps team fast.
Seeing the huge popularity of these two, attackers have started aiming at them. Hence, it’s not recommended to use them without any security measures. Even if they both are verified tools, certain precautionary measures and security exercises must be adopted.
- Infrastructure for containers
Finally, we offer advice on protecting network and server infrastructure, which is a component of container infrastructure, which manages the whole container-creation process. Security flaws in the container infrastructure have a chance to affect the solution. Thus, the focus of the AppSec team should be on protecting the infrastructure with adequate and workable security measures.
Challenges And Risks in your voyage to improving Containers cybersecurity deployments
Although cloud container security cannot be compromised, its complexity cannot be ignored. You will always face certain difficulties and hazards along the procedure. For illustration:
- The components in question are widely dispersed. There isn't a single point of access to all the entities that are under monitoring. Therefore, every element has to receive your whole attention. There isn't a "one size fits all" method to use. You might not find the methods deployed for container images to be appropriate for container-oriented infrastructure. Things get too complicated and vast to handle in this way.
- Network security always remains at stake because containers use the dynamic IP address. Such addresses are hard to protect as they are dynamically updated.
- Interlinking of components. Even when distributed in nature, elements are closely knit. A container image error can easily hamper container runtime or vice-versa. This makes it too difficult for AppSec professionals to keep concerning components fully protected.
- There are too many compliance requirements to meet, such as SOC-2, GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. All these compliances have different parameters and standards for the desired security level. Meeting all these standards is not easy.
Types of Container Security Solutions
- Monitoring Aids
Feature-rich container security tools permit the AppSec team to monitor app’s performance throughout the procedure. As containers are ephemeral, their dealing becomes too complex. Hence, container-based solution surveillance is also time and effort consuming.
With automated tools to monitor , it’s possible to gather real-time app performance data at a large scale. Not only is performance data not collected, also it’s analyzed without errors. These tools are capable of performing with the same ease and perfection as clusters and workloads upscale or downgrade.
These tools are of great significance because they let business ventures ensure that container-based apps and infrastructure are optimal. Advanced monitoring solutions can track CPU usage and past data. This way, it helps analysts to figure out key troublemakers.
- Container Scanners
Using container security scanning tools is preferred to confirm that only validated and trustworthy container pictures enter the SDLC procedure since container images are obtained from several sources. The security issues or loopholes, hidden in clusters, IaC templates, and containers, can all be checked simultaneously using modern container scanners.
- Container Networking
Tools related to container-specific networking are widely used for establishing the highly optimized and virtualized connection between concerned containers. At the foundation level, this technique is accountable for integrating multiple container-based applications so that they can integrate into a highly secured ecosystem.
Based on the organizational needs and capacity of used container networking tools, it’s possible to integrate multiple networks simultaneously. While a couple of networks exist, these tools make all the concerned networks fully isolated.
The viability of these tools is of high importance as they make data easy to access, without compromising data security and data integrity. This way, they are contributing heavily towards the interconnectivity of microservices and distributed apps.
Container Security Best Practices
If you’re not securing container images, you’re putting all your efforts in vain. If they are not secured, resulting containers will come out as corrupted. Hence, securing images should remain the priority for the security team.
Now, you also need to understand that all aspects of container images should be protected. Generally, the forming components of a container image are dependencies, solution’s code, tools, and libraries. Out of all these, concerning tools and libraries are the biggest threat from a security point of view.
Tools, especially 3rd party tools, could be non-verified and heavily infected with vulnerabilities. If such poorly-secured solutions are used without any verification and scanning, notorious vulnerabilities will impact the containers, images, runtime, and ultimately, applications.
Open-source libraries are accessible to everyone, and even developers can contribute to them, and there is no vigilance on the changes done. Hence, open-source libraries are always at risk and shouldn’t be used without extensive background checks and verification.
Base images are mostly used for image generation. Hence, they should be under the preview of applied security strategy. We strongly recommend using only verified base image providers. Verified and official images are the best. Such images are curated by experts, are mostly scanned for vulnerabilities, and are not open-source. Hence, their security is non-questionable. Even if you’re using trusted base images, scanning before use is highly preferred.
Lastly, make sure that container images should not have root-level access to the concerned containers. Container images should only be introduced into the system, even with a dedicated user account. Use Dockerfile to do this. Also, make sure that the same account is always for accessing images.
Registries are a crucial part of containers, and organizations often maintain utterly private used registries that store useful container images. In simple words, registries are the database of container images. Hence, its security should be non-compromised.
In order to keep stored container images safe, inaccessible for manipulation, and original integrity from the moment they are exported from the registry and utilized in development, organizations should educate themselves on optimal security approaches.
To ensure established registry security practice is at a top-notch level, developers must:
Implement stringent access control measures on registries. It should be clearly mentioned who should have direct access to images and for which purposes, who can modify the images and up to which level, and who all can transfer the access to others.
Digitally sign the images as it makes image usage tracking easier than ever. The admin-level access to a signed image remains with the signer. No other person can edit or tamper with such an image. Hence, the possibility of tempering becomes too low. A notary is an established open-source tool that one can use to sign the images.
Always scan the images. Regardless of the authenticity of the image source, developers are advised to conduct a scan before using an image. A single scan is not enough as certain vulnerabilities are deep-rooted and will ask for extensive scanning. Every time an image is used, a scan must be performed, even if no vulnerabilities were detected in the previous scan.
Any known and unknown threats that occurred during deployment will put all your efforts in vain. Here is how one can secure the deployment process:
- Make sure that the concerned ecosystem is fully secured, and this is possible by hardening the OS of the concerned hosting device. Using a firewall and VPC rules are also viable ways to secure the targeted environment.
- With the help of the right kind of orchestration tool, it’s easy to secure API endpoints and apply RBAC. When these two are protected, incidents of unauthorized access are very less likely to occur.
- Keep your deployment process immutable – as much as you can. One can achieve this by generating an instance image at the early stage and using this for any further image creation process.
- As project updates happen, new images are generated, and old ones are discarded.
A poorly secured container runtime acts like a catalyst for container vulnerabilities, as hackers can easily use such runtime to exploit applications/images/infrastructure. The most preferred ways to achieve viable container runtime security are as mentioned below.
- It’s better to generate fully individual and distinct virtual networks for the concerned containers. With this isolation of container networks, the attack surface shrinks and threat possibilities as less as possible.
- The principle of least privilege is a great way to keep container runtimes protected as it permits only essential container connectivity.
- Don’t keep every port open. Each open port acts as an entryway for vulnerabilities. Also, make sure that only SSH-based ports are used.
- Every communication happening inside the runtime should be backed by TLS encryption. In addition, make sure that fully authorized endpoints are permitted.
- Make sure there are no bind-mounted storage volumes used in container runtime. Storage volumes are fully protected, and concerned data is protected. Also, make sure that volumes should be available as read-only.
- Lastly, we would recommend using the Docker Image policy plugin. This plugin ensures that no container runtime process is pulling the unverified image.
Secrets are a key part of container usage, and they shouldn’t be left unprotected. This is possible by ensuring that concerned secrets are not stored in plaintext. With such a storage system, secretes are fully managed as every container is used.
Secrets are also managed via in-built secret management. Various cloud-based and open-source secret management tools are available that have fully automated scanning and threat prevention processes. Most of these tools use encryption at the time of configuration and make things ultra–secured.
Not one key should be used for managing all sorts of secrets. Secret keys should be used in rotation and the old ones should be discarded as development progresses. With key rotation, it’s easy to confuse the hackers and reduce the attack possibilities.
The volume mount method is also a great way to keep secrets protected. This approach involves using codes to interpret the files’ secret value only in a verified and known location.
This way, no unwanted and unverified resources can use secrets. This method is so apt that most of the orchestrators support this process.
Kubernetes is one of the most containerization tools that developers of the present era use. Starting from container generation to container implementation, Kubernetes is doing everything. Hence, its protection shouldn’t be compromised at all. To secure Kubernetes, the AppSec team should:
- Use TLS encryption everywhere and make it an auto-enabled encryption
- Always prefer using the service mesh architecture as this ensures that sidecar proxies are always interacting in a secured environment. Also, the service mesh is great for policy enforcement, traffic monitoring, and end-to-end management.
- Use OPA. OPA or Open Policy Agent is a great tool to implement customer policies on all the Kubernetes objects without causing any disruptions to the microservices.
- Never trust the default network policy of Kubernetes as it doesn’t apply encryption on all the pods. Hence, network policies should be applied across Kubernetes.
- Try to implement a private network for Kubernetes processing. All the concerning master nodes and workers should be used under a highly private and secured subnet so that these two resources become unreachable to unauthorized personnel.
- Take the help of a feature-rich firewall to isolate the etcd clusters, so that stored data is not overused.
- Rotate the encryption key usage. Encryption keys and certificates should be regularly rotated to reduce the attack surface.
- Analyze the YAML with static analysis as it involves denying the API server access to unauthorized personnel.
- Always keep an eye on the code and scan them with static analysis so that only verified codes make it into the development process.
- Adopt RBAC or Principle of Least Privilege, which are the two most common security exercises that the AppSec team must perform to secure Kubernetes. With these two, it’s possible to controlled k8s access.
- Protect API servers with 3rd party authorization. A wide range of Kubernetes APIs are used for containerization. If these APIs are not protected, they can introduce loopholes easily to the development process or even directly to the applications. Hence, developers should ensure that API servers are backed by solid authorization.
Zero Trust Principles
Trust no one and verify everyone, says the Zero-Trust model. Its implementation makes container security better than before as each container user is verified each time s/he tries to reach/use the container or related resources.
Monitoring Container Activity
No matter what measures you have adopted, it’s important that container activities must be kept under observation. As we all know, container images are dynamic and are often backed by various running instances. In addition, new container images are always added. Hence, applied container security practices are not going to remain relevant and viable for every running instance and image.
With constant activity monitoring, it’s easy for the DevOps team to detect any vulnerability at an early stage.
Container Security with Wallarm
Wallarm is a well-established cybersecurity solution provider offering automated and feature-rich security solutions. The first offering is cutting-edge cloud-based WAF that can protect all API varieties and microservices in all the leading cloud ecosystems.
The distributed nature of microservices is not an issue with Wallarm's Cloud WAF as it can work in such an environment easily. It's a fully compiled tool with nearly zero false positive results. As it can work in fully blocked mode, no one will be able to trace its presence.
There is also a highly extensive API Threat Protection platform that can keep Kubernetes APIs fully protected. The platform can protect APIs from OWASP Top 10 threats, account take-over, bot attacks, and many other threats.
Along with threat detection to future prevention strategies, the API Threat Protection platform of Wallarm takes care of everything. As it can automate API testing and scanning in CI/CD pipeline, it's easy to protect the entire infrastructure and secure the application.
There is a separate security platform for Kubernetes that safeguards APIs, websites, and microservices backed by Kubernetes, irrespective of the cloud type used.
The tool effortlessly integrates with Kubernetes infrastructure while working in blocking mode. As it offers low-maintenance security rules, things are easy to manage. With all these tools and solutions, it’s easy to protect containers at any stage, cloud type, and application.
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