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Container Runtime Security

Container runtime security is the combination of measures and technology implemented to protect containerized applications at the runtime stage.

5 min read

What is container runtime security?

Container runtime security is the process of safeguarding containerized applications during their execution phase. With robust container runtime security practices, applications operate securely and remain free from threats while serving users. And by focusing on runtime protection, organizations can protect their applications from unforeseen vulnerabilities that might emerge during this stage, maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of their data.

For an in-depth understanding of runtime container security, let’s first look at the broader landscape of development. Each development phase presents unique challenges and necessitates specific security measures to mitigate potential risks:

  • Build-time security ensures that the code and container images are free of vulnerabilities, establishing a secure foundation for the application.

  • Deployment security involves the secure configuration and deployment of the containerized application, focusing on setting up a safe environment for the application to run.

  • Runtime security, the focal point of this article, ensures that the application remains secure when it is live and serving users, safeguarding against potential threats that can occur during operation.

It’s essential to recognize that threats mitigated during the build or deployment phases can resurface during runtime due to various factors, like configuration drifts or other runtime-specific vulnerabilities. For instance, a vulnerability patched during the build phase might reappear due to a configuration change during runtime, posing a renewed threat to the application. That’s why it’s important to adopt a continuous security approach that spans all stages.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at many different facets of container runtime security. Let's start with the most prevalent threats at runtime.

Most prevalent threats at runtime

Understanding the most prevalent threats during the runtime phase is crucial in fortifying container environments against potential breaches. Let's delve deeper into the technical aspects of these threats:

Configuration driftConfiguration drift occurs when there are unintentional alterations to a container's configuration from its secure baseline. These drifts happen because of manual errors or automated processes that change settings, including changes in file permissions, security settings, or network configurations. Monitoring tools can track configuration changes and alert teams to potential drifts, helping maintain a secure and consistent environment.
Malicious codeThe execution of malicious code can lead to many security issues, including data breaches and system crashes. This threat can manifest through code injections, where attackers insert malicious code into the application. Runtime security measures should include mechanisms to detect and prevent code injections, such as input validation and employing web application firewalls (WAFs).
Malware in container imagesContainers might carry malware if sourced from untrusted repositories or if they include compromised dependencies. This threat can be mitigated using trusted repositories and digitally signing container images to verify their integrity. Regular scanning of container images using automated tools can help identify and remove malware before deployment.
Privilege escalation attacksPrivilege escalation attacks exploit vulnerabilities to gain higher privileges within a container or the host system. Technical defenses against such attacks include implementing least privilege principles, where applications and processes are granted the minimum level of access—or permissions—necessary to perform their functions. Utilizing security-enhanced Linux distributions can offer additional layers of security.
Kernel exploitsSince containers share the host's kernel, vulnerabilities in the kernel can be exploited to compromise the containers. Kernel exploits might involve leveraging known vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access or execute code at the kernel level. Hardening the kernel through measures such as turning off unnecessary modules and applying regular security patches can be effective mitigation strategies.
Secrets leakageSecrets leakage is the unwanted exposure of sensitive information like API keys or database credentials. Causes include inadequate encryption, improper handling of environment variables, and storing secrets in code repositories. Employing secrets management systems that encrypt sensitive data and allow the secure sharing of secrets help to mitigate this risk.

By understanding these threats from a technical standpoint, organizations can better equip themselves to secure their container environments during runtime. The following section will explore various teams' roles in ensuring runtime security.

Who is responsible for runtime security?

In the evolving landscape of DevOps, ensuring security—especially during the runtime phase—is a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders. In recent years, the “shift left” concept has emerged to emphasize security early in the development lifecycle. While it is essential to focus on security from the outset, maintaining this focus during the later stages is equally crucial. The aim is a continuous security posture that spans the entire application lifecycle.

Democratization of security

In modern DevOps cultures, security is no longer confined to specialized security teams; it is a shared responsibility. The democratization of security means that developers, operations teams, and even quality assurance teams have a role to play in safeguarding an application during its runtime phase. Organizations can build more secure and resilient applications by fostering a culture of collective responsibility.

Developers' role

Developers are at the forefront of the security paradigm, and so they’re pivotal in ensuring container runtime security. Developers’ responsibilities include:

  • Writing secure code: Developers must adhere to secure coding practices or risk introducing vulnerabilities that threat actors can take advantage of at runtime.

  • Addressing vulnerabilities: Being vigilant in identifying and addressing vulnerabilities during the development phase can prevent security issues at runtime.

  • Utilizing security tools: Tools such as IDE plugins can help developers write secure code by identifying potential security issues during the coding process.

Ops and security teams

Operations and security teams play a vital role in maintaining the security of live applications. Their responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring live applications: Implementing monitoring solutions to keep an eye on the application's performance and security is a big part of the job.

  • Responding to security incidents: Operations and security teams need to always be prepared to react swiftly to security incidents.

  • Infrastructure security: Ensuring that the underlying infrastructure is patched and secure provides a safe environment for the application to run.

The following section will delve deeper into the intricacies of runtime security in a Kubernetes environment.

Runtime security and kubernetes

Kubernetes facilitates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. However, it also introduces specific vulnerabilities at the runtime phase, such as misconfigured role-based access controls or exposed dashboards, which attackers can potentially exploit. Understanding the Kubernetes environment and implementing runtime security measures are vital in safeguarding applications.

Kubernetes-specific threats

Kubernetes environments can be susceptible to a range of threats, including:

  • Exposed etcd interfaces: etcd is a key-value store Kubernetes uses for configuration and state management. If exposed, it can be a potential entry point for attackers.

  • Insecure API server configurations: Misconfigurations in the API server can lead to unauthorized access, allowing attackers to manipulate the Kubernetes environment.

  • Misconfigured network policies: Incorrect network policies can expose internal services to the public, increasing the risk of attacks.

Security policies and best practices

Implementing and enforcing security policies can significantly reduce the risk of attacks. Some of the best practices include:

In the next section, we will explore strategies to discover runtime risks in your environment, helping you to strengthen your security posture further.

How to discover runtime risks in your environment

Identifying and mitigating risks during the runtime phase is critical to container security. With the right strategies and tools, you can discover  dangers in your environment quickly:

Continuous real-time scanning

Real-time monitoring tools can detect anomalies or breaches as they happen, enabling quicker response times. These tools can be configured to send alerts in case of suspicious activities, helping teams to act promptly and prevent potential damages.

Mapping and analysis

Understanding the interconnections between various services, their permissions, and their network communications can be a potent strategy for identifying potential weak points. Tools that offer network visualization can aid in mapping the service architecture, providing a clear view of the communication pathways and potential vulnerabilities.

Snapshot scanning

Snapshot scanning involves taking periodic snapshots of running containers and scanning them for vulnerabilities. This strategy helps detect vulnerabilities that have been missed during the build or deployment phases. It provides a safety net, ensuring that any overlooked vulnerabilities are caught and addressed.

Behavioral analytics

Behavioral analytics tools check for the expected behavior of a containerized application and detect anomalies that might indicate a breach or an attack. Machine learning algorithms can analyze the behavior patterns and identify deviations, signaling potential security threats.

The following section will discuss how to unify container security from code development to runtime, providing a holistic approach to security.

Unifying container security from code to runtime

Unified solutions are essential for achieving comprehensive protection because they offer end-to-end visibility and defense against potential threats. These solutions empower security and development teams by providing the necessary visibility, context, and risk prioritization throughout the entire development lifecycle. 

When it comes to unified solutions, Wiz emerges as the CNAPP tool meeting all your cloud security needs. The platform offers remarkable features including, but not limited to, container & kubernetes security, cloud security posture management (CSPM), and cloud workload protection to safeguard your applications at every stage and offers enhanced functionality through various integrations. Request a demo today

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