Container Security Best Practices

8 no-brainer container security best practices + the key components of container architecture to secure

7 minuti letti

Container Security: A refresher

Container security refers to the set of practices, tools, and measures implemented to secure the entire containerized application development and deployment lifecycle.

Container technology has become a cornerstone of modern software development due to its ability to package an application and its dependencies into self-contained and portable units. This level of portability and consistency across environments has made it popular with developers. However, the distinct structure of containers brings about particular security challenges that organizations need to tackle.

Why container security is crucial across the software development lifecycle

Security breaches can occur at any stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), from the initial development and build phase to the deployment and runtime stages. This means that companies require integrated security measures that span the entire lifecycle. 

For instance, vulnerabilities can be introduced during the development stage due to insecure container images or misconfigurations. During deployment, insecure orchestration settings or insufficient network controls can expose the application to threats. Finally, at the runtime stage, a lack of visibility and monitoring can make it difficult to detect and respond to security incidents on time.

The more widely companies use containers, the more likely they are to call security their top challenge with containers.

CNCF Annual Survey

Key components of container architecture to secure

Securing a containerized environment involves protecting several critical components of container architecture. These include:

  • Container images: As the building blocks of containers, make sure to scan all images for vulnerabilities and only use trusted and minimal ones.

  • Registries: Control access to container image repositories to avoid unauthorized changes. Use only trusted and verified registries to reduce security risks related to image manipulation. What is a container registry? ->

  • Orchestrators: These manage how containers are deployed and interact; make sure to properly configure their security controls. 

  • Container engine: This is the runtime that runs containers. It must be secured to prevent unauthorized access and ensure containers are isolated from each other and the host system.

The potential impacts of compromise for these components can be summarized as follows:

ComponentsPotential Impact If Compromised
Container Images- Malicious code execution - Compromise of the container's application - Lateral movement within the containerized environment
Registries- Distribution of malicious container images  - Compromise of any containers using the corrupted images
Orchestrators- Breach of all containerized applications - Unauthorized access to data - Disruption of containerized services
Container Engine- Full system compromise - Loss of data - Unauthorized access to all containers

Shared responsibility model in container security

In the realm of cloud computing and containerization, security is often viewed as a shared responsibility between the cloud service provider and the user. 

Under the shared responsibility model, cloud providers generally handle the security "of" the cloud, which includes all the hardware, software, networking, and physical infrastructure they provide. This also extends to container orchestration services they might offer, like Amazon ECS/EKS. Azure AKS, or Google Kubernetes Engine.

On the other side of the model, users take responsibility for security "in" the cloud. This means they deal with protecting the workloads they run on the cloud provider's infrastructure, including their containerized apps. 

In the context of container security, the shared responsibility model emphasizes that while cloud providers offer tools and services to secure the underlying infrastructure and orchestration layer, users must take steps to secure their containers and the applications running within them.

Common challenges in securing containers

Securing containers presents unique challenges that can complicate the task of maintaining a secure environment. Here are some of the most common challenges:

  • Complexity: Containers add a new layer of complexity to the IT environment. They are highly dynamic and ephemeral, often spun up and down in response to demand.

  • Vulnerability management: Containers are often built from images that have many layers, each of which could potentially have vulnerabilities. 

  • Configuration errors: Misconfigurations are a common cause of security incidents in container environments. This can include everything from containers running with excessive privileges to insecure network configurations.

  • Visibility and monitoring: Containers can be challenging to monitor due to their ephemeral nature. Traditional monitoring tools may not be able to keep up with the dynamic nature of container environments, making it harder to detect and respond to security incidents.

  • Supply chain attacks: Containers often rely on a chain of images and components pulled from various sources. If any link in this chain is compromised (e.g., a malicious image in a public registry), it can lead to supply chain attacks.

Addressing these challenges requires combining container-specific security tools, best practices, and a thorough understanding of the container lifecycle and architecture. Organizations also have to remain current on the latest container threats and vulnerabilities.

Ground-level practices to fortify your container security

In the dynamic landscape of container security, it is crucial to implement comprehensive security measures that address threats. These practices should be incorporated into every stage of the software development lifecycle to ensure a robust defense against potential breaches.

  1. Secure Container Images

  2. Reduce the Attack Surface

  3. Leverage Container Security Tools

  4. Prepare an Incident Response Plan

  5. Implement Regular Audits

  6. Enforce Principle of Least Privilege

  7. Update and Patch Regularly

  8. Protect Container Orchestration

Suggerimento professionale

Looking to go beyond the basics? Download the Advanced Container Security Best Practices Cheat Sheet for:

  1. – Actionable best practices w/ code examples + diagrams
  2. – A list of the top open-source tools for each best practice
  3. – Environment-specific best practices
Ulteriori informazioni

1. Ensuring Secure Container Images

Always verify the origin of your container images, especially when pulling from public repositories like Docker Hub. Regularly perform container image scanning to identify vulnerabilities before deployment. Use minimal, well-maintained base images from trusted sources to reduce the attack surface and improve your overall security posture. This reduces the risk of introducing vulnerabilities into your production environment.

2. Reducing the Attack Surface

Minimizing potential attack vectors is a fundamental security practice. This can be achieved by eliminating unnecessary software, services, and open network ports: The fewer components and services you have, the fewer opportunities for hackers.

3. Utilizing Robust Container Security Tools

Various tools are available to help secure container environments. These include vulnerability scanners to identify potential weaknesses, configuration checkers to ensure best practices are followed, and runtime security monitoring tools to detect and respond to threats in real time.

Suggerimento professionale

To be effective, a container security solution must be able to discover and scan containers, hosts, and clusters across cloud-managed and self-managed Kubernetes environments, including serverless containers such as Fargate ECS as well as standalone containers running on VMs.

Ulteriori informazioni

4. Preparing an Incident Response Plan 

Despite best efforts, security incidents can still occur, including those involving container technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. Having a well-defined response plan can help minimize damage and downtime. 

This plan should specifically outline how to identify and recover from a security incident involving containers. It should cover potential scenarios such as container breakout, image vulnerabilities, and misconfigurations. Like any good plan, it should also be regularly updated and tested to ensure its effectiveness and to keep up with evolving threats.

5. Implementing Regular Audits 

Regular audits of container activities, configurations, and components are crucial in maintaining a secure container environment. These audits can help detect any irregularities or deviations from standard operations, which could indicate a potential security issue. This includes auditing container images for vulnerabilities, checking container runtime configurations, and monitoring inter-container communications. 

Audit logs from your container orchestration and runtime platforms should be monitored and analyzed regularly to identify trends and detect anomalies. This aids in maintaining the integrity of your containerized applications and infrastructure.

Suggerimento professionale

Kubernetes audit logs and reports mapped to the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Foundation Benchmarks for Kubernetes can help you assess the security of your Kubernetes environments and ensure compliance.

Ulteriori informazioni

6. Enforcing Strict Access Controls

Detecting and remediating excessive privileges is critical to securing containers

Container registries, like Docker Hub or private ones, act as central repositories for your container images. Enforcing strict access controls on these registries is crucial to prevent unauthorized access and potential image tampering. This involves:

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Implement RBAC to assign granular permissions to users and groups. Restrict actions like pushing or pulling images based on specific needs.

  • Least Privilege: The principle of least privilege (POLP) dictates that a process should have only the permissions it needs to function and nothing more. In a container environment, this includes limiting container permissions, using read-only file systems where possible, and controlling access to system resources

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Enable MFA for all registry access. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification factor beyond just a username and password.

7. Updating and Patching Regularly

It's essential for companies to regularly carry out updates and apply patches. This includes not only the container runtime and orchestration tools but also the applications running within the containers and the host systems themselves. Only then can you ensure a continuously secure environment. 

8. Protecting Container Orchestration

Container orchestration systems like Kubernetes and Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) can be complex and have their own set of security considerations. 

Protecting Kubernetes will include securing API access, using network policies to control traffic, regularly checking your orchestration configurations, and leveraging built-in security features like role-based access control (RBAC)

For Amazon ECS, some best practices include implementing AWS’ shared responsibility model, zero-trust identity and access management (IAM), and end-to-end encryption. More details on securing ECS can be found in the AWS documentation.

Open-source container security tools by use case

There are various tools that are useful to implement these best practices. The leading open-source tools can be found in the table below:

Use CaseOpen Source Tools
Ensuring secure container imagesClair, Docker Bench
Reducing the attack surfaceCIS Docker Benchmark, Kubernetes Pod Security Policies
Utilizing robust container security toolsFalco, OpenSCAP
Preparing an incident response planTheHive, FIR (Fast Incident Response)
Implementing regular auditsAuditd, GRR
Enforcing the principle of least privilegeKubernetes RBAC, Docker user namespaces
Updating and patching regularlyWatchtower, Anchore Engine
Protecting container orchestrationKubernetes Network Policies, RBAC

By implementing these ground-level practices, you can establish a strong foundation for your container security. However, as threats evolve, you will need to revise your security measures and look for more exhaustive solutions.

Going beyond the basics with Wiz

While basic security practices form the foundation of a secure container environment, they often fall short in addressing the complex and evolving landscape of threats. Generic advice, while helpful, may not always be applicable or effective in every situation. This is where tailored, actionable insights can provide greater value, helping you navigate your specific environment's unique challenges.

At Wiz, we understand the complexities of containers and Kubernetes security. Our platform is designed to provide the tools you need to secure your container images across the lifecycle, from development to deployment and runtime.

Wiz provides a comprehensive container security solution that helps implement best practices through various features and capabilities. It connects directly to Kubernetes clusters via API to scan for vulnerabilities, configuration issues, network, and identity exposure. Wiz analyzes containerized environments for risks and represents them on the Security Graph, which models relationships between resources and risks.

Key ways Wiz helps implement container security best practices include:

  1. Scanning container images for vulnerabilities, malware, and exposed secrets, using both agentless workload scanning and direct scans of container registries.

  2. Evaluating container configurations and the architecture of Kubernetes clusters to identify potential security issues.

  3. Assessing the effective permissions of containers to prevent excessive privileges that could be exploited by malicious actors.

  4. Providing a contextual cloud risk assessment that generates context-rich issues for prioritization and remediation.

  5. Integrating with CI/CD pipelines to enforce security policies early in the development lifecycle ("shift left" approach).

  6. Offering the Wiz Admission Controller to defend Kubernetes clusters from unsafe deployments based on unified security policies.

By leveraging these capabilities, organizations can proactively protect their containerized environments and ensure that security best practices are consistently applied.

Securing your container environment is a journey, not a destination. As your partner in this journey, Wiz is committed to providing you with the insights, tools, and support you need to navigate the complex landscape of container security. Take the next step in your container security journey with Wiz, and start your demo today!

What's running in your containers?

Learn why CISOs at the fastest growing companies use Wiz to uncover blind spots in their containerized environments.

Richiedi una demo

Other security best practices you might be interested in:

Continua a leggere

What is a Data Poisoning Attack?

Team di esperti Wiz

Data poisoning is a kind of cyberattack that targets the training data used to build artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models.

Dark AI Explained

Team di esperti Wiz

Dark AI involves the malicious use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to facilitate cyberattacks and data breaches. Dark AI includes both accidental and strategic weaponization of AI tools.

What is Policy as Code? 

Policy as code (PaC) is the use of code to define, automate, enforce, and manage the policies that govern the operation of cloud-native environments and their resources.