Cloud Security

What is Container Security?: A Comprehensive Guide 101

Cloud security is a cyber security discipline that monitors, analyzes, and protects cloud resources, platforms, services, applications, and assets. Containers have added new layers of complexity to cloud environments, and organizations face an ongoing challenge of safeguarding cloud-native environments.  Let’s break down what Container Security is and what it means to protect containerized applications.  Table […]

Mansi B.

Written by Mansi B.

August 4, 2023 | 6 min read

Cloud security is a cyber security discipline that monitors, analyzes, and protects cloud resources, platforms, services, applications, and assets. Containers have added new layers of complexity to cloud environments, and organizations face an ongoing challenge of safeguarding cloud-native environments. 

Let’s break down what Container Security is and what it means to protect containerized applications. 

Table of Contents

  1. What is Container Security?
  2. Why do we need Container Security?
  3. What are the essential aspects of Container Security?
  4. What are the components of Container Security?
  5. What are the Challenges of Container Security?
  6. What are the Benefits of Container Security?
  7. What are the Container Security Best Practices?
  8. Common Container Security Mistakes to Avoid
  9. What are the various tools available for Container Security?
  10. Conclusion

What is Container Security?

Container Security is a cloud security branch that protects containerized applications. It uses tools and policies to conduct security audits and assessments. Containers are standalone files that package software programs, and containerized applications store dependencies, libraries, runtime, system code, and various tools and resources.

With the evolution of cloud computing technologies, there is a rise in the number of containerized app deployments. Container ecosystems are unique and enforce shift-left security, and container security secures development and production across CI/CD pipelines and bridges security gaps, thus enabling optimal runtime protection.

Why do we need Container Security?

Containers create larger attack surfaces than traditional cloud workloads and pose various security challenges. A key issue has underlying vulnerabilities in the kernel architecture, and secure hosts aren’t enough. Maintaining specific container configurations and permissions and ensuring proper authentication and data flow between containers is critical. 

Containerized apps are highly dynamic and pose visibility risks as well. Traditional security monitoring tools cannot see what’s happening inside containers and determine whether these apps are secure. It is critical to eliminate data breaches, ensure visibility, and improve runtime protection for effective threat remediation.

What are the essential aspects of Container Security? 

Containerized applications offer numerous benefits to organizations and have unique characteristics. These are the essential aspects of Container Security:

  •  Container Runtime Threat Detection – When containers scale, the number of assets that require security and protection increases. Actively detecting threats in nodes and containers and capturing details such as telemetry data, DNS lookups, socket events, and file events fall under runtime protection measures.
  •  Kubernetes Control Plane Lockdown – Attackers find the Kubernetes control plane a lucrative target and seek to exploit its vulnerabilities. Locking down the Kubernetes control plane can fix misconfiguration issues and cover secure pods, deployments, RBAC, and other container security aspects. It also protects workloads and ensures compliance visibility too. 
  • Registry Scanning and DevOps Security – There is a need for effective risk prioritization, and security teams need to coordinate efforts across DevOps and operations departments. Teams need to collect insights on network ports, scan container registries, and discover indicators of compromises. 
  • Uncovering Embedded Secrets– The ability to run embedded secrets scans using custom rules and across CI/CD pipelines are especially important. Applying embedded secrets scans across popular platforms like GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, Jenkins, and more. Doing network security segmentation and analyzing pod configurations to prevent container runtime disruptions and DDoS attempts are also essential aspects.

What are the components of Container Security? 

Container security architecture consists of the following components: Build pipeline, container registries, host machines, runtimes, images, applications, and platforms and orchestrators. 

Global organizations prefer running containerized applications because of simplicity, ease of use, business agility, and increased scalability. Container orchestration streamlines the configuration and management of containerized apps across container environments.

What are the Challenges of Container Security? 

The following are the critical Challenges of Container Security:

  • Out-of-the-box deployments are insecure by default, and hardening is complex.
  • The most common vulnerabilities are container image security and secrets management, network segmentation, and policy enforcement.
  • Issues with role-based access control analysis, malicious or compromised containers, container deliveries, local and external network attacks, and misconfigurations
  • Internal threats due to malicious users 

What are the benefits of Container Security?

Cloud Container Security features various benefits, which are:

  • Lower overhead expenses due to fewer system resources utilized by containerized applications
  • Quick deployments to different operating system environments and fast and efficient software development
  • Container security enables smooth automation of IT processes and helps manage network integrity
  • Container security solutions, including schedulers, monitoring systems, storage tools, and other security suites, are easy to set up.
  • Containers make it easy to perform log file analysis, restrict access control and process monitoring (to deal with the problem of internal threats), and deploy continuous vulnerability scanning for images in real time.
  • Developers can enjoy a frictionless experience moving application code from testing to production. Good container security prevents data compromise and establishes a single source of truth for all application dependencies. It enables faster build times, run times, and considerable gains in productivity too.
  • Teams using multiple containers can collaborate seamlessly, and container security secures cloud-native applications by addressing critical system and application vulnerabilities. 

What are the Container Security Best Practices?

Here is a list of the best container security practices for organizations:

  1. Use Trusted Images
  2. Minimize Attack Surfaces
  3. Limit Privileges 
  4. Container Activity Monitoring and Logging
  5. Security Team Training

1. Use Trusted Images

Only use container images from unknown sources or download from repositories that have yet to be verified. Container images from unknown vendors may contain malicious code and lack quality or security assurance. Make sure that container images are cryptographically signed to prevent tampering, modification and eliminate the chances of incoming supply chain threats.

2. Minimize Attack Surfaces

Users can minimize attack surfaces by using lightweight container images. Popular options are Alpine Linux, Ubuntu Minimal, Scratch, Tiny Core Linux, and BusyBox.

3. Limit Privileges 

Containers shouldn’t have too many privileges and must run on the least privileged access mode. Disable non-root user mode and restrict access to host systems and other containers to optimize security. Using UID mapping with user namespaces is an excellent practice to isolate containers from host systems without restricting access to host resources. It helps lower the risk of privilege escalation attacks and lets administrators assign different privilege levels depending on the organization’s requirements. 

It is advisable to use Kubernetes RBAC (Role-Based Access Control) to grant specific permissions to groups of users and use authentication and authorization protocols to limit unrestricted access to these containers.

4. Container Activity Monitoring and Logging 

Many container activity monitoring tools are available in the market, like Grafana and Prometheus. Monitoring container activities can help users assess the security and performance of containers that run in clusters. It also helps detect issues with resource utilization and gives insights into other key metrics. Azure Log Analytics is a popular tool for collecting and analyzing log data across AKS resources. Some users prefer using Amazon CloudWatch for container activity monitoring and Amazon CloudTrail for logging and analysis.

5. Security Team Training

The last step is to educate teams on the best container security practices and ensure that members know how to identify, detect, and remediate various security threats. Security team training is ongoing, and regular security assessments are mandatory in organizations. Continuous learning and hands-on training will help security teams adapt to the emerging threat landscape and respond appropriately. Knowing emerging container security trends and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements is equally essential.

Common Container Security Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some common container security mistakes to avoid for organizations:

  1. Neglecting Internal Threats
  2. Not Vetting Container Images
  3. Misconfigurations
  4. Insecure APIs
  5. Other Mistakes

1. Neglecting Internal Threats

Granting unrestricted account privileges and access to all containers within the organization can lead to data breaches in the long term. Lack of runtime monitoring and giving containers unnecessary requests within-host environments can lead to severe escalations. It can also compromise host machines as well as containers.

2. Not Vetting Container Images

Many developers need help to vet container images correctly, a common mistake. Scan container images for malware and vulnerabilities before deployment from public registries. It’s essential for a developer to thoroughly inspect the review and review it before basing additional images on them.

3. Misconfigurations

It’s common for misconfigurations to occur when containers are not set up correctly. Businesses that do not have change management or container monitoring processes suffer from cloud security attacks. Other issues are not updating access controls and misconfigured assets such as firewalls, security groups, and storage buckets.

4. Insecure APIs

Malicious usage of APIs and exploiting vulnerabilities can lead to container compromises. Insecure APIs can mean poor configuration settings and weaknesses in authorization and authentication mechanisms. Not monitoring API activities to detect malicious behaviors is another mistake organizations make.

5. Other Mistakes

Other common mistakes in cloud container security are – failing to install the latest updates, not training security teams adequately, and policy violations for regulations such as the GDPR and HIPAA. Organizations that want to strengthen their cloud security posture must ensure proper container documentation and strategies for risk mitigation. Designing an effective incident response plan should also be a part of their checklist. 

What are the various tools available for Container Security?

The best Container Security Tools in the industry are PingSafe, Sysdig Secure, Sophos Cloud-Native Security, Datadog Cloud SIEM, RedHat Advanced Cluster Security for Kubernetes, and Aqua Security.

There are many Open-source Container Security Tools available. Still, the paid and premium versions offer exclusive features like – agentless vulnerability scanning, improved application portability, automated policy enforcement, malware protection, centralized security management, enhanced visibility, role-based access control monitoring, and permissions management.

Conclusion

Container Security can provide various insights into threat detection and remediation and identify critical weaknesses in container operations within the organization. Security teams can mitigate live attacks and shut down compromises by implementing cutting-edge container security tools. These solutions design and strengthen an organization’s cloud security posture and significantly eliminate the chances of potential data breaches or sensitive information leakages in the future.