Your Guide to Container Security

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Your storage system should be locked down with all security and access
control tools available to you as well. That is true whether the storage
serves containers or any other type of application environment. How do
you secure containers? That may sound like a simple question, but it
actually has a six- or seven-part answer. That’s because securing
containers doesn’t involve just deploying one tool or paying careful
attention to one area where vulnerabilities can exist. Because a
containerized software stack involves so many different components, you
need to secure many different layers. The tools designed to help you
harden one part of your environment won’t protect other segments.
Commercial security tools do exist, and are designed to provide
relatively comprehensive security or container environments. They are
good tools, and they can certainly be useful parts of a container
security strategy, but they have their limitations. To be truly secure,
you need to analyze each of the layers in your stack, and be sure that
they are covered adequately by the security tools or processes you put
in place. This post helps you plan a complete container security
strategy by outlining all of the layers you need to secure, and
explaining the primary considerations to keep in mind when securing each
one.

Understanding the Layers

When planning your approach to container security, you should begin by
identifying all of the different layers of the software stack that you
have to secure. Those layers include:

Your image registry. This is the part of your stack that hosts your
images. Security vulnerabilities here could allow attackers to add
malicious images to your environment, or steal private data. The
orchestrator.
Your orchestrator is the brains of your container
cluster. If it’s not secured, an attacker could use it to disrupt
service, or possibly intercept private information. Your hosting
infrastructure.
The operating system or cloud environment that hosts
your container environment needs to be secure—otherwise, it can become
the front door for an attack against your environment. Storage
systems.
To protect the sensitive data hosted on your container
cluster, you need to keep the storage system you use free of
vulnerabilities. The container daemon. If the Docker daemon is
compromised, attackers can shut down containers or gain unauthorized
access to the ones you’re running. Application code inside your
containers.
Last but not least, you need to make sure the code that
runs inside your containers is free of vulnerabilities that could allow
attackers to disrupt or control your application when it is running.


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Securing the Stack

There are two main considerations to bear in mind when securing your
image registry. First, you need to make sure to lock down access
control. Your approach to doing this will vary depending on which
registry you use. Some registries offer finer-tuned access control
features than others, but all of the mainstream registries provide some
security controls. (For an overview of different registry options,
including a comparison of the security features built into them, check
out Container Registries You May Have
Missed
) The
second challenge is detecting security vulnerabilities inside container
images themselves. For this task, two tools are available: Clair from
CoreOS and Docker Security Scanning from Docker. Both of these image
scanners will check an image for known malware signatures. They’re
designed mainly to be integrated into CoreOS’s and Docker’s registries,
but they can also work in standalones mode by manually scanning an
image.

Orchestrator

Securing your orchestrator requires more work than simply turning on
some access control features or running a scanner. Orchestrators are
complex tools, and their inner workings vary from one orchestrator to
another. Explaining all of the details of configuring an orchestrator
for maximum security is beyond the scope of this article. In general,
however, key principles to follow include:

  • Making sure you install your orchestrator from an official source.
    Be wary of third-party package repositories.
  • Keep your orchestrator up-to-date.
  • When configuring your orchestrator and the cluster it manages, limit
    public-facing network connections to the minimum necessary to run
    your application.
  • Configure your orchestrator for automatic failover and high
    availability in order to mitigate the impact of potential DDoS or
    similar attacks.

If you use Kubernetes, you may also find this article on security best
practices

to be helpful. A similar guide for Mesos is available
here.

Hosting Infrastructure

The infrastructure you use to host your container environment could be
on-premises, in the cloud, or in some cases, a mix of both. Whatever it
looks like, you should be sure to secure the infrastructure as much as
possible. If you manage your host servers yourself, make sure they are
locked down with kernel hardening tools like SELinux or AppArmor. For
cloud-based deployments, take advantage of access control features (such
as IAM roles on AWS) to configure access to your environment. Security
auditing and monitoring tools will help to keep your infrastructure
secure, too.

Storage

When it comes to containers and storage, however, one important point to
keep in mind is that, in many cases, many containers might share access
to the same storage directories. This happens if you map directories
inside containers to a shared location on the host. Under these
conditions, it’s especially important to make sure that any container
with access to a shared storage location is secure. You should also
limit storage access to read-only in cases where a container does not
need write permissions. And it’s always a good idea to have rollback
features built into your storage system so that you can undo changes to
data if necessary.

Container Daemon

Running SELinux or AppArmor on the container host can help to defend the
Docker daemon against attack, but that is only one security challenge to
keep in mind when it comes to the daemon. You should also make sure that
daemon socket connections are securely authenticated and
encrypted
. Of course,
it’s also essential to keep your Docker installation up-to-date to avoid
security vulnerabilities in the daemon.

Application Code

You should secure the code running inside your containers just as you
would secure any type of application code—by obtaining the code from a
trusted source and auditing it with security tools designed to catch
vulnerabilities. Clair and Docker Security Scanning can help with the
latter, but they are not designed to be all-purpose static application
security testing solutions. For that reason, you may benefit from
deploying a tool like Veracode or OWASP to scan your code for
vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

Keeping a container environment secure is a big task because there are
so many moving parts. The details of your security strategy will vary
depending on exactly which types of registries, orchestrators, hosting
infrastructure and so on that you choose to include in your stack. But
whatever your environment looks like, the key to keeping it secure is to
remember that there is no one-stop shopping. You have to keep all of the
different layers in mind, and develop a security plan that addresses
each one. Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has
spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional
development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling.
In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author,
regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps
strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the
tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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