The use of containers has ushered in a revolution in the industry. It has changed the way modern applications are created, deployed, and managed. Containerization has enabled organizations to streamline the application development process and achieve high scalability and efficiency. Container technology has been available for decades, but it is only in the last few years that the use of containers has grown at a rapid rate.
Yet the increasing adoption of container-first development has also brought many security challenges. Securing containers, especially the images and code associated with them, can be a challenge. Each of them carries numerous vulnerabilities.
Container security helps in solving the issues by securing the containerized application and the infrastructure from all types of vulnerabilities and threats.
In this guide, we will be focusing on various aspects of container security and the best container security practices to follow.
Let’s get started!
What is Container Security?
It is often considered as the practice of securing the containerized environment as well as the layer that includes container image, containerized application, running containers, orchestration tool, and host operating system. During the production deployment process, a large number of containers are produced, and only containers can help in securing them.
This is the reason container security has become a primary component of the modern security environment. Implementing container security scanning enables organizations to mitigate all the potential risks in the containerized environment and ensure the confidentiality and availability of data and workloads.
The integration of container security solutions into the development environment deploys comprehensive security that aids in addressing risk in the CI/CD pipeline, application lifecycle, container runtime, and infrastructure.
What is Container Image Security?
Container images are a series of static files that help in generating containers in a system. A container image carries all the necessary components required to run the container engine, including system libraries, application code Docker, configuration settings, etc.
However, these container images often carry hundreds, sometimes thousands of vulnerabilities that can seriously expose the infrastructure.
Container image security plays a vital role in securing the container images and components associated with it and prevents any vulnerability from being introduced in the containerized environment. This security solution isn’t the responsibility of a single team; instead, it should be managed by the operation, developer, and security team.
Vulnerability scanning serves as the most critical aspect of container image security as it helps identify vulnerabilities within the libraries and software components. Container image security involves many security measures. Best practices incorporate the use of trusted images only. Images are scanned in the build process, and only a minimal number of layers are utilized.
Why is Container Security Important?
Container security plays a pivotal role in a containerized environment. It secures container images containing all the vital roles that enable a containerized application to run smoothly.
Even though the container offers some inherited security benefits, it is still vulnerable to numerous threats. As more organizations adopt containers for application development, containers have increasingly become a prime target for many cyber criminals.
If vulnerabilities occur within a container, it can severely compromise the security posture of the organization and allow malicious actors to gain entry to the organization’s infrastructure.
Container Security Policies Making More Impact
The increasing access points and malware in container images have also become a significant security threat to the container environment. The sudden boost in east-west traffic through different data centers with minimal monitoring has also made the containers vulnerable to attacks.
Container security helps mitigate many issues and ensures there are no vulnerabilities that can affect the environment. It makes sure all necessary measures are taken to maintain the isolation of resources and the protection of microservices.
Most importantly, a container security policy helps maintain a consistent deployment environment by safeguarding the containers against all threats. Cloud container security is also instrumental in assisting companies to adhere to regulatory compliances by implementing best practices and other security measures.
Container Security in Different Ecosystems
Container security varies according to the container ecosystem where they are being used. However, the variance of container security in different ecosystems is marginal.
Some of the popular ecosystems are Docker, Kubernetes, Google Kubernetes Engine, Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Services, and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Services. Here is an overview of container security in different ecosystems:
Docker Container Security
Docker is one of the popular ecosystems that has a million user base. Thousands of images are pulled daily.
The main task of the Docker container security scan is to cull through the Docker images and search for vulnerabilities ensuring complete integrity before they are forwarded to Docker Hub or any kind of registry. Docker security helps the developer identify and remediate all the vulnerabilities before they affect your application and infrastructure.
Kubernetes Container Security
Kubernetes is another popular container orchestration platform where the Kubernetes and containers need to be secured. Kubernetes provides a range of self-configured security controls that help secure workloads, containers, and clusters.
However, it doesn’t provide optimum security alone. The container security helps in deploying RABC, which is vital for managing access priority to Kubernetes resources.
Pod security standard and Container Runtime Interface can also be used to reinforce Kubernetes container security. This can help manage runtime constraints for the containers. For this ecosystem, various network policies can also be implemented to restrict containers from communicating with pods.
GKE Container Security
Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) is a part of Google Kubernetes service tasked with offering an array of security tools for safeguarding workloads. GKE container security provides Google Cloud IAM and Identity Aware Proxy security capabilities to ensure complete protection of the containers.
In the standard mode, GKE will require you to manage the underlying infrastructure manually. However, in autopilot mode, GKE can provision and control the infrastructure. The container security solutions are also instrumental in securing the workloads on GKE and help in identifying vulnerabilities in application codes as well as container images.
AKS Container Security
Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) from Microsoft offers a host of security features that help secure containers from vulnerabilities. The security features it frequently delivers involve consistent security patches, Azure Active Directory integration, RBAC, and Azure Policy for the governance of the Kubernetes resources.
However, the entire integration of security features can’t be fully automated. You will have to manually enable network policies while introducing new clusters and upgrading the version of cluster components. With access to Azure Security Center, you can easily monitor and secure the containerized applications.
EKS Container Security
Like AKS, Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service also provides an array of security features available by default. Since EKS works along the AWS shared responsibility model, it allows you to define entities responsible for different elements of container security.
The integration of Amazon Elastic Container Registry also comes useful in assessing the Kubernetes containers and configuration and identifying any kind of vulnerability that affects the whole system. The integration with Amazon ECR also enables you to create automated monitoring on containers.
How to Secure a Container?
Securing a container is a combined effort that involves the implementation of various security measures and best practices for protection. Here are some vital aspects you must take into account to secure a container:
- To secure a container effectively, it is a wise move to utilize operating systems that are designed for containers. You should look for OSes with a limited number of features because this limits the attack surface for malicious actors.
- All the containers should be segregated according to their purpose, threat level, and sensitivity to better help in isolation. Segregating the containers aids in reducing the attack surface and narrows the impact of vulnerability or security breach to a limited area.
- Utilizing only base images from trusted sources or repositories is one of the best ways to secure containers. Using trusted container images with minimal components will help secure the container more effectively.
- You should emphasize using container-centric runtime security tools and VM systems. This factor will minimize all the blind spots during vulnerability scanning and will allow the organization to hold a security posture better.
- Enforcing the principle of least privilege will be highly effective in securing containers. It will limit the capabilities and permission of the container. Containers will only have the amount of access permission and use of resources needed to function.
- You can configure the network access for controlling and limiting network access to containers. It will minimize the impact of any unforeseen breach. Implementing various security measures and controls can prevent the container from unnecessary communication with the network.
Top 8 Container Security Best Practices
An efficient way of securing the container is following the best practices that help maintain an optimum posture of container security. Here are eight container security best practices you can follow:
1. Using Images from Trusted Sources with Minimal Packages
Selecting base container images from a trusted source is one of the best security practices to uphold container security. There are numerous trusted vendors, but the most notable among the lot is Docker.
Even with images from a trusted source, it is a best practice to use base images with minimal packages, as fewer moving components will reduce the chance of vulnerabilities.
2. Safeguarding the Public and Private Registries
To maintain a comprehensive container security posture, organizations must safeguard public and private registries as they store container images.
Establishing access control on the private registries will help you control who has the authority to access and publish container images. Using signs in the images is also helpful in safeguarding registries because it prevents the substitution of images with infected ones.
3. Safeguarding the Deployment Stage
Safeguarding the deployment stage is another best container security practice you can follow.
Sealing the containerized environment by hardening the application container security of the host OS, establishing a firewall, and developing VPC rules can help reduce any unauthorized access to the container.
4. Utilizing Access Management
Utilizing access management regarding the access of container images for performing specific tasks is a vital container security practice. Depending upon the container platform, access management can assign users for create, update, delete, or read operations.
The access to administrators should be monitored and limited to specific segments. To minimize unauthorized access, the principle of least privilege should be employed on network access.
5. Securing the Application Code and Its Dependencies
Containers have become an essential aspect of modern cloud application development, and each container carries numerous application codes.
Developers often associate these containers with open-source dependencies, which can hamper the integrity of application code. Organizations should emphasize implementing scanning of the application code with SAST and SCA tools as they can completely automate the scanning process.
6. Comprehensive Security to Container Infrastructure
To ensure comprehensive container security, you also need to implement necessary security measures to secure container infrastructure. To provide comprehensive security, you should begin with a container registry. These are tasked with creating a secure environment for storing and sharing containers.
When establishing a connection with the registry, employing TLS protocol to safeguard the transmission is best. At the network and cluster level, it would be best to apply security controls through Kubernetes.
7. Monitoring Container Activity
Implementing robust monitoring of container activity along with keeping logs of those activities can help you identify malicious activities and take prompt action.
Containerized workloads need to have thorough monitoring. It will provide higher visibility to the security and IT team. Several tools are available for comprehensive monitoring and centralized log management.
8. Education and Training
It is also vital for an organization to conduct regular training for all employees and stakeholders in securing application codes through security policies and incident response methodologies. Establishing a security consensus culture in the organization should be a primary goal.
Container Security Challenges and Risks
Container security is still in its early stages, and securing the containers requires mitigating various challenges and risks associated with containerization infrastructure. Here are container security challenges and risks that you must check:
Previously, it was challenging to follow compliance requirements in containerized environments due to poor security methodologies. As the container realm has advanced, things have evolved.
Many organizations pursuing SOC 2, PCI, and GDPR must identify all the regulatory standards’ compliance requirements and implement them in the containerized environment.
Limited Lifespan of Containers
The short-lived nature of the container is one of the significant challenges in container security because containers are only designed for a temporary lifespan.
These temporary containers are used for specific tasks and then are eliminated, making it tricky for security teams to maintain a log of security incidents.
Misconfiguration in Container Settings
Another primary challenge that has plagued container security is the misconfiguration in container settings. These misconfigurations occur in the form of insecure default settings and excess privileges. These misconfigurations allow attackers to exploit the container environment.
Inadequate Data and Traffic Encryption
Inadequate network security measures and encryption of traffic from the container to and from the network can expose the wire-sensitive transmission to attackers.
Eavesdropping methodology could lead attackers to exploit the inadequate security measures and breach the containerized environment. However, deploying appropriate container security scanning tools helps avert the issue.
Poor Implementation of Runtime Security Measures
Poor implementation of runtime security measures can expose the whole containerized environment, allowing it to be exploited. Monitoring the container during the runtime is critical to container security as it prevents attacks from privilege escalation and lateral movement.
4 Common Container Security Mistakes to Avoid
Here are four primary container security mistakes every organization should try to avoid:
1. Avoiding Basic Security Fundamentals
Container is a reasonably new technology in the industry. Organizations are making more effort to secure them. However, while taking a proactive security approach, organizations should not forget to follow the basic security fundamentals that help maintain the basic security hygiene of an infrastructure.
2. Lacking Monitoring and Logging of Containers
While running a container in production, there is a chance that developers and security teams may lose sight of their application health if proper monitoring and logging measures are not employed.
Deploying adequate monitoring and logging of container activity is vital, especially for distributed systems running on multi-cloud infrastructure, because it helps minimize security gaps and vulnerabilities.
3. Not Configuring and Hardening the Tools
When a container or orchestration tool is implemented, it gets integrated into its default settings.
You need to configure the container or orchestration tool to allow exploitation of its security benefits. So, it is important to properly configure the tools that will help you unlock all its security capabilities and make the most out of it.
4. Inability to Secure CI/CD Pipeline at Every Phase
While devising a container security strategy, many teams often forget to utilize the “shift left” strategy to secure every phase of their application delivery pipeline.
While securing the container, an organization should prioritize implementing security tools and policies at every phase in the software development cycle.
Using CloudDefense.AI Container to Container Security Solutions
CloudDefense.AI is a top multi-layered CNAPP platform that helps your organization secure and manage all container issues. CloudDefense.AI implements a comprehensive security solution for the containerized application and mitigates all the risks throughout every phase of the CI/CD pipeline. One of the best things about CloudDefense.AI is that it implements container security solutions even for runtime controls and firewalls.
CloudDefense.AI container security solution continuously scans the container images and ensures the container is free from vulnerabilities, configuration issues, and unknown components. Using the platform, you can even develop policies that will enhance the overall protection of the container.
This container security solution is also effective in securing the container against advanced security threats that can severely affect the containerized application.
A considerable benefit of this solution is its runtime protection of the containerized applications that protect the running containers from exposure to vulnerabilities. CloudDefense.AI integrated with the container repositories and prevented forbidden images from widening the attack surface.
How do I fix security vulnerabilities in containers?
Fixing vulnerabilities in containers is a multi-step process. Following all those steps will help you secure your containerized application. Prioritizing critical issues, using multiple scanning and patching tools, and applying security patches are the basic steps you need to follow first.
Afterward, you must use tools for image verification, securing container connectivity, and isolating containers. You will also have to implement RBAC, monitoring, and image vulnerability management to fix vulnerabilities.
What is container scanning?
Container scanning can be described as the process of systematically checking all the container images and their contents to identify any potential vulnerabilities. Container scanning also helps you to address all the identified vulnerabilities and proactively protect the containerized environment from any potential security breach.
Are containers secure?
Containers have become widely popular in recent years for their capabilities in efficiently deploying applications. Despite many capabilities, containers are not entirely secure, and they are often affected by security risks and vulnerabilities. However, they can be secured by implementing effective container security solutions and best practices.
How to secure a Docker container image?
Securing docker container images is an essential aspect that every organization should follow to ensure the security and integrity of their containerized application. To secure a Docker container image, you must follow certain practices such as avoiding root permission, limiting usage of resources, continuously scanning for images, and performing Docker container monitoring.
Containers have become an essential part of modern application development. This rising popularity has also made them vulnerable to attacks.
Container security solutions help keep the container protected from all vulnerabilities and reduce the attack surface in the containerized environment. A platform like CloudDefense.AI has proven to be instrumental in assisting organizations to secure their containers and deploy applications without any vulnerability. Book a demo today!
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.