What is Container Security?

Container security is the process of securing the container pipeline, the content running inside the containers, and the infrastructure on which the containers run.

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What is container security?

Container security is the combination of the practices, strategies, and tools dedicated to protecting containerized applications from vulnerabilities, malware injection, and unauthorized deployments.

Containers are lightweight, executable units that package an application and its dependencies together, offering increased agility and scalability by deploying consistently across different computing environments. However, while containers provide application isolation, they share the host system's kernel. This introduces unique security considerations that must be managed throughout the container lifecycle, from development and deployment to runtime operation.

To address these challenges, container security focuses on several critical areas. These include ensuring the integrity and security of container images through vulnerability scanning and using trusted sources, and securing the orchestration systems like Kubernetes that manage container deployment and scaling.

Additionally, implementing robust runtime protection to monitor and defend against malicious activities is essential. Network security and secrets management are also critical, requiring strategies to safeguard communication between containers and manage sensitive data securely. As containers continue to play a vital role in modern software delivery, adopting comprehensive container security practices is essential for organizations to protect their applications and infrastructure from evolving threat

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

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Components of container security architecture

Container security is a multifaceted discipline encompassing various aspects of the container lifecycle and infrastructure. Here, we delve into some of the key areas that require attention:

Container Images

A containerized environment is made up of container images. Vulnerabilities within these images, if left unchecked, expose the environment to attack. Regular scanning of container images for vulnerabilities, using trusted images from reputable sources, and keeping images updated are some common practices for securing images.

Registries

Container registries, where images are stored and retrieved, can be a target for attackers. Safeguarding registries involves:

  • Implementing access controls

  • Scanning images for vulnerabilities before pushing them to the registry

  • Using encrypted connections for data transmission

Deployment

The deployment phase involves configuring and launching containers. Security considerations here include:

  • Ensuring proper configurations to avoid misconfigurations

  • Limiting the use of root privileges

  • Automating the enforcement of security policies

Runtime

Containers in operation are susceptible to threats. Continuous security measures such as real-time monitoring, anomaly detection, and automated response mechanisms can help mitigate these threats. What is container runtime? ->

Secrets

Containers often need to access sensitive data or secrets like API keys, passwords, and tokens. Protecting these secrets is crucial. This can be achieved by using secret management tools, encrypting secrets at rest and in transit, and implementing least privilege access controls.

Access

Access management is a key aspect of container security. Implementing role-based access control (RBAC), robust authentication mechanisms, and regularly reviewing access logs can help prevent unauthorized access.

Network

Containers engage in internal and external communication, necessitating the implementation of measures to protect these interactions. This entails the segregation of the network, encryption of network traffic, and vigilant monitoring for any potentially malicious activities.

Orchestration

Orchestration tools, such as Kubernetes, are responsible for overseeing the deployment and scalability of containers. Ensuring the security of these tools entails:

  • Hardening the orchestration environment

  • Controlling access to the orchestration API

  • Regularly updating the orchestration tools to patch any vulnerabilities

Storage

Containers often need to store data, which must be protected. Security considerations for data storage in containers include:

  • Encrypting data at rest and in transit

  • Implementing access controls on data

  • Regularly backing up data

Each one of these elements assumes a pivotal part in guaranteeing thorough container security. By understanding these domains, organizations can greatly augment the security of their containerized environments.

7 challenges of container security

The ephemeral nature of containers, their rapid deployment cycles, and the shared infrastructure they often utilize create unique security challenges.

ChallengeDescription
1. MonitoringVisibility is a significant challenge in container environments. Containers are dynamic and ephemeral, often spun up and down in response to demand. This can create blind spots in security monitoring, making it difficult for security teams to keep track of every container in their environment. Overcoming this requires robust monitoring tools that maintain visibility even in highly dynamic, containerized environments.
2. Identification and MitigationAnother challenge lies in identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in containers. Containers often come from public registries, which may contain outdated or vulnerable images. Additionally, misconfigurations during the setup and deployment of containers can introduce security risks. Regular scanning for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations is essential to address these issues.
3. Proper EvaluationContext is also crucial in container security. Security teams need to identify each vulnerability as a higher or lower risk based on its potential impact. This requires a deep understanding of the container environment and the applications running within it.
4. Shift LeftIncorporating security into the development cycle is another critical challenge. Security must be embedded from the earliest stages of development rather than being bolted on at the end. This approach, known as shift left, helps catch and resolve security issues earlier on, resulting in a lower chance of vulnerabilities getting into the production environment.
5. Industry RegulationsCompliance with industry standards and regulatory requirements is another important aspect of container security. Organizations must ensure that their container environments meet all relevant compliance requirements, which can be a complex task given the dynamic nature of containers.
6. Runtime ThreatsThese threats pose a hidden danger to container and Kubernetes workloads. They can arise within the container environment and be challenging to detect and mitigate. Real-time monitoring and threat detection are critical to addressing these threats.
7. Multi-TenancyFinally, multi-tenancy in containerized deployments presents its own set of security challenges. In multi-tenant environments, multiple users or applications share the same container infrastructure. This can lead to potential security risks if one tenant can access another's data or resources. Strong isolation measures are needed to ensure security in these environments.

These challenges demand that organizations be proactive when it comes to container security. This includes implementing robust security measures, following best practices, and using advanced security tools. In the following sections, we’ll explore the key aspects of container security and how to address these challenges effectively.

Containers vs virtual machines (VM)

A container and a virtual machine are both technologies used for virtualization, but they differ in their approach and level of abstraction. A container is a lightweight, isolated environment that runs on a host operating system, sharing the same kernel and resources. It encapsulates an application and its dependencies, allowing for efficient and portable deployment across different environments.

On the other hand, a virtual machine is a complete emulation of a physical computer, including its own operating system, hardware, and resources. It provides a higher level of isolation and flexibility but comes with a higher overhead in terms of resource consumption. In summary, containers offer a more lightweight and efficient solution for application deployment, while virtual machines provide a higher level of isolation and flexibility at the cost of increased resource usage.

Container technologies: Kubernetes and Docker

Kubernetes

Kubernetes, as a container orchestration platform, provides a framework for managing and deploying containerized applications at scale. In this context, container security refers to the measures and practices implemented to protect the integrity and confidentiality of containerized workloads.

Kubernetes plays a crucial role in enhancing container security by offering built-in security features such as role-based access control (RBAC), network policies, and secrets management. Thus, container security and Kubernetes are interdependent, with Kubernetes serving as a foundation for robust container security implementations. Learn more about the role of Kubernetes in container security from our piece on Kubernetes security best practices.

Docker

Docker, as a popular containerization platform, enables the creation and management of lightweight, isolated containers that encapsulate applications and their dependencies. Docker Hub plays a crucial role in container security by providing various built-in security features such as isolation, resource control, and image signing. Additionally, Docker offers a secure image registry and supports the implementation of security best practices, including vulnerability scanning and image hardening. Consequently, Docker serves as a fundamental component in ensuring the security and integrity of containers throughout their lifecycle.

Features of a container security tool

Below are the key capabilities you should consider when evaluating a container security solutions.

Container scanning

An example of a hosted container image with multiple vulnerabilities

A container security solution must offer automated scanning capabilities to detect container image and configuration vulnerabilities. This feature enables you to uncover and remediate any problems before containers are deployed.

Real-time monitoring and detection

Example detection of a data exfiltration attempt from an EKS container

The dynamic nature of containerized environments necessitates real-time monitoring to identify and mitigate potential security threats quickly. An ideal solution should therefore provide live threat detection and response capabilities.

CI/CD integration

Example of a command line tool running a Docker scan to detect security misconfigurations early in the development cycle

Integrating security into the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines allows for early detection and resolution of security issues. This "shift left" approach to security helps to ensure that security is a consideration throughout the development process, not just at the deployment stage.

Runtime protection

Ensuring safety during the operation stage is crucial. A robust container security solution should provide container runtime protection features, such as behavioral monitoring and anomaly detection, to identify and respond to threats during container operation.

Deployment security policy checks

Dashboard of fine-grained rules for a Kubernetes controller admission policy that are used to detect non-compliant containers at deployment

The role of the admission controller in maintaining security is crucial. It ensures that only validated and authorized containers are deployed in the environment. An ideal solution should provide policy checks at the deployment stage.

Automated remediation

An example of remediation guidance for a vulnerable s3 bucket

The ability to automatically resolve detected threats is a valuable feature in a container security solution. This ability speeds up remediation and minimizes any negative impacts.

Compliance checks

Example of a compliance dashboard reporting current compliance posture against a CIS framework

A comprehensive container security solution should also help organizations meet relevant compliance standards and regulations. This includes features like compliance reporting and automated compliance checks.

Scalability

As your container environment grows, your security solution needs to scale with it. Look for solutions that can handle the increased complexity and volume of a growing containerized environment without compromising security.

By considering these factors, organizations can choose a container security solution that not only meets their current needs but also adapts to their evolving security requirements.

Best Practices: How to secure a container

Use CaseChecklist Items
1. Image security- Regularly scan container images for vulnerabilities and apply updates promptly. - Use trusted images or build them from verified base images. - Remove unnecessary components and dependencies to minimize the attack surface.
2. Registry protection- Implement access controls for your container registries, limiting who can push and pull images. - Scan images for vulnerabilities before pushing them to the registry. - Use encrypted connections for data transmission between containers and the registry.
3. Deployment- Ensure proper configurations to avoid misconfigurations that can expose security risks. - Limit the use of root privileges within containers to reduce potential damage from exploits. - Leverage automated tools to enforce security policies consistently across deployments.
4. Runtime monitoring and threat detection- Implement real-time monitoring and anomaly detection to identify and respond to threats quickly. - Use behavioral monitoring to detect unusual activities within running containers. - Establish automated response mechanisms to mitigate potential threats.
5. Secret management- Securely manage access to sensitive data and secrets used within containers. - Use secret management tools to encrypt secrets at rest and in transit. - Apply the principle of least privilege to control access to secrets.
6. Access control- Use role-based access control (RBAC) for managing user access to container resources. - Implement strict authentication mechanisms, e.g., multi-factor authentication (MFA). - Regularly review access logs to identify and address unauthorized access attempts.
7. Network security- Segment the network to prevent unauthorized access between containers. - Encrypt network traffic to protect data during transit between containers. - Monitor network activities for any signs of suspicious or malicious behavior.
8. Orchestration platform security- Harden the orchestration environment, such as Kubernetes, to resist potential attacks. - Control access to the orchestration API to prevent unauthorized control of containers. - Regularly update the orchestration tools to patch known vulnerabilities.
9. Storage protection- Encrypt data at rest and in transit to ensure the security of sensitive information inside containers. - Apply access controls to limit who can read, write, and modify data stored by containers. - Regularly back up data to ensure resilience against data loss or corruption.

By following these key steps, you can bolster the security of your containerized environments, enabling your organization to confidently harness the benefits of containerization while safeguarding against potential security risks. 

Build containerized applications without risk

Container security is ultimately about making your developers more productive across every stage of the development lifecycle. Achieving this goal requires your organization to shift left and enable a partnership between developers and the security team.

Melody Hildebrant, the CISO at Fox, has witnessed the power of democratizing security firsthand:

Pairing engineers who understand the risks with the tools to remediate them is incredibly powerful. There are 10X as many environment owners, developers, and engineers using Wiz than there are security team members at FOX. This helps us to ensure that the products shipped across over 1,000 technologists across the company have security baked in, which is beyond the impact that a small and mighty cybersecurity team can have alone

Melody Hildebrant, CISO, Fox

Shift left doesn't have to be a pipe dream. You too, can experience the power of democratizing security with a cloud native container security that scales with developers and DevOps. Enter Wiz.

The Wiz security stack includes a full-fledged container security solution that delivers complete agentless visibility into your containers and Kubernetes clusters across clouds and architectures. Curious what that looks like? Schedule a demo to see how Wiz can secure everything you run and build in the cloud.

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