What is Container Security?
Container security is the automated and continuous utilization of security tools and policies. Container security ensures each container is running properly and protecting your infrastructure, software, and processes from vulnerabilities and risks.
Today we’re going to answer the following questions:
- What is a container?
- What is container management?
- What are container security risks?
- How can securing containers reduce risk?
Additionally, you’ll learn container security best practices that Docker, Kubernetes, AWS, and Microsoft Azure use to great success. You’ll also learn about Anthos Google (GCP) and Istio and how they can ease your container security processes.
What Is a Container?
A container is one standard, standalone unit of software. Its purpose is to package code (plus dependencies) in a way that allows an application to run quickly and reliably, even when changing computing environments.
Containers contain container images. These images are not actually images as in pictures, but layers of files, with the base image (file) being used as the starting point for creating derivative images. This makes the base image the most important one to secure.
There are different types of containers (Docker, Kubernetes, AWS, and Microsoft Azure), and below you’ll read more about their specific best practices of container security.
What Is Container Management?
Container management controls and allows access to, and the promotion of, all the container images within a container. This is typically done by assessing and protecting all the images your team downloads and builds. Private registries and metadata are used to give out role-based assignments, automate policies, minimize human errors, and identify vulnerabilities.
Other reasons for container management include securing the following:
- Container host
- Network traffic
- Application within the container
- Foundation layers
- Registries, or container management stacks (shared containers)
- Pipeline (deploying code to production compute platforms)
With proper container management, container security risks from mismanagement are mitigated. Here are 4 tips:
- Within any container, limit the number of parent processes allowed to run to one.
- Appropriately name and tag each container image.
- Optimize container image files by using smaller ones that upload and download quickly, require fewer resources, and create fewer vulnerabilities (use a vulnerability scanner to check for vulnerabilities).
- Carefully plan, create, and optimize container images for effective use in the future.
What Are Container Security Risks?
Even though containers are inherently secure, there are some container security risks that can occur due to a lack of the solution’s maturity. The risks include:
- Misconfigurations of images, secrets, runtime privileges, network policies, and more.
- Vulnerabilities of images in runtime libraries and operating system packages.
- Runtime threats coming from external contenders.
- Failed compliance audits.
While these risks do exist, the benefits of using containers far outweigh them. First, when done correctly, containers are much more secure than VMs (virtual machines). Second, container compliance is easy and automated, which reduces human error and closes vulnerability gaps.
How Can Securing Containers Reduce Risks?
Securing containers can reduce the risks mentioned above by integrating security from the very beginning—patching containers later is never as good. When security is at the forefront rather than being an afterthought, the deployment of containers can be easier managed according to industry standards.
Also, secured containers establish an automated, policy-based deployment. This is where security issues are found and flagged while triggering rebuilds that take policies into account. Finally, containers can defend your infrastructure by isolating the host operating system and sequestering applications (among other things).
Machine Identity Best Practices for Cloud Native Architecture
When working with cloud native architecture, you’re getting outstanding security features and capabilities that are already built into the underlying infrastructure.
Let’s review how some of the major players are using best practices for bolstering their container security in the cloud-native market.
Docker Container Security Best Practices
Docker container management is the preferred choice for millions of developers using Windows, Linux, data centers, the cloud, and serverless frameworks. Why? Because they are standard, lightweight, and secure. Plus, when it comes to building containerized apps, Docker enables it to be done in only minutes.
Docker security best practices for containers include:
- Creating a set of namespaces as a form of isolation.
- Each container getting its own network stack.
- Using control groups to implement resource accounting and limiting, and to provide useful metrics.
- Requiring root privileges to control Docker daemon (the background management of Docker objects).
- Starting with a restricted set of capabilities and privileges.
- Using the built-in Docker Content Trust signature verification feature.
Kubernetes Container Security Best Practices
Kubernetes is an open-source system that manages containerized applications by grouping them into logical units. These containers are flexible and scalable, giving you the freedom to effortlessly move workloads as needed without requiring more resources.
Many are migrating from Docker to Kubernetes, thanks to their container orchestration tool. It allows for the instinctive and automatic organization of containers, rather than having to do it all manually.
Kubernetes follows these best practices of container security:
- Using dispersed architecture to provide several additional security-enhanced layers.
- Enabling automated role-based access control to grant users only the permissions needed for specific tasks.
- Using a partitioned approach to keep secrets safe.
- Restricting pod-to-pod traffic using additive network policies.
- Starting pods on the location with the smallest workload, using Taints and Tolerations along with Namespaces.
- Enacting several techniques (such as rolling updates and node pool migrations) to complete updates without much disruption.
- Helping you define and tweak audit policies by tracking actions.
AWS Container Security Best Practices
AWS runs 80% of all containers in the cloud, with customers ranging from Samsung to Autodesk. By design, these containers are deeply integrated into AWS so they can benefit from AWS’ cloud services.
AWS container security follows these best practices:
- Placing cloud security as the highest priority.
- Building a data center and network architecture specifically to meet the needs of the most security-sensitive clients.
- Using the shared responsibility model to protect the AWS infrastructure.
- Regularly having third-party auditors test and verify their security.
Microsoft Azure Container Security Best Practices
Microsoft Azure containers help save costs by offering microservice applications to develop, update, and deploy containers for the scale that works best for your needs.
Microsoft Azure container security follows these best practices:
- Continuously assessing AKS clusters and Docker configurations to make misconfigurations visible.
- Giving guidelines for how to resolve issues.
- Having threat protection for AKS clusters and Linux nodes.
- Alerting on suspicious activity of Azure Defender.
- Offering management tools for Azure images.
Anthos - Google (GCP)
One of the container security tools you should know about is Anthos. Anthos can take cloud-native workloads and architect them into being cloud agnostic (meaning they are easier to move from cloud to cloud).
Key features include:
- Enterprise-grade container orchestration
- Automated policy and security
- Fully managed service mesh
- Modern security for hybrid and multi-cloud versions
Istio uses an open-source service mesh architecture to help with compliance, ensuring modularized groups of containers are secure. It even extends container security down to the microservices level.
The Key Highlights of Container Security
When it comes to container security, our three key highlights are:
- A container packages code so that an application can run quickly and reliably.
- A few container security risks include misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, runtime threats, and failed audits.
- Container management can resolve these risks, as can securing containers using best practices of cloud native architecture.
Finally, here is one last piece of advice for container security: You can rest easy by securing machine identities using the Venafi Control Plane for Machine Identities.