In the present world, organizations are increasingly adopting cloud containerization. Cloud containers are an effective solution for reliably executing cloud applications across environments. For instance, cloud containers can be used to execute an application smoothly from a physical machine to a virtual machine that is present in the public or private cloud platform. Reports suggest that almost 38% of production applications execute on cloud containers today. And this is set to rise to more than 46% in the next two years.
Securing cloud containers
To understand how to ensure web security for cloud containers, one needs a fundamental idea about the structure of containerized environments.
Container environments typically consist of several layers of abstraction which can be interpreted, monitored, and protected using special tools. For instance, to protect a container in the production environment, all its entities or layers, need to be secured. Along with the operating system or host, other components that need security include container registry, orchestrator, images, and various microservices present in the application.
So, securing the cloud container means securing the entire stack i.e. all of its encapsulated entities or dependencies as well.
How to secure the encapsulated entities of a container?
To understand how to protect the entities, it is helpful to understand the potential hazards –
- Protecting the operating system (OS) or host – The operating system, or the host to an environment, is the most crucial layer of the container stack. This is because a security breach in the OS layer allows intruders full access to all other entities within the stack. So it is extremely vital to scan and detect vulnerabilities in the host and employ benchmarks set by the Center for Internet Security (CIS). Stringent access control measures must also be enforced.
- Protecting the container registries – The registry is the central repository of the images of the application. Vulnerabilities in the registry can be extremely hazardous to the running applications. The server that hosts the registry must be locked using strict access policies and continuously scanned for any weaknesses. Screening the registry for vulnerabilities is also fundamental to maintaining security. A modern organization can easily own tens of thousands of application images saved in the registry, so the slightest weakness can inflict havoc and threaten security.
- Protecting the orchestrator – There must be access policies to limit and prevent risks from user accounts with maximum privileges. Security teams and the infrastructure department of an organization must ensure proper controls to prevent attacks via network and prevent unsolicited lateral movements, as well. Using an account with the least privileges and whitelisting specific activities ensures that users can perform only specific commands based on the roles assigned. Apart from these, it is equally vital to secure the front-end services to prevent exposure to attackers.
- Protecting the images – Image vulnerabilities are of great concern to running applications, so developers need to build secure images. Along with that, it is also important to scan images for compliance problems, presence of weaknesses, detecting chances of embedded malware, and assessing the possibilities of risks to individual layers of images.
It is of utmost importance to note that scanned components that are considered safe and free from threats today, need not necessarily be considered secure tomorrow. This is because newer versions of threat data can spot newer vulnerabilities in modules that were previously considered secure. Only continuous scanning of images and components can rule out the possibility of security breaches.
Advantages of cloud container security in software development
The rise of cloud containers triggered the evolution of the IT infrastructure. Consequently, cloud containers have entirely transformed the security paradigm with advantages like –
- Containers can be easily used to scale up and down applications – As already mentioned earlier, cloud applications that employ containerization comprise various dependencies or entities that are interrelated. The deployed components in an environment can quickly grow or shrink in quantity as per demand. Securing every entity is thereby not required anymore.
- Software development cycles have reduced considerably – To provide greater business value, as application development cycles shrink to hours, adopting DevSecOps best practices while integrating container security, brings greater advantages.
- Automation drives security in all stages of software development – Automation has made frequent deployments of cloud applications a reality. Deployed containers, along with their dependencies, can be easily moved from development to production via testing environment, retaining the security rules created all along the way.
Apart from protecting the entities encapsulated by a container, organizations need to secure a container at runtime too. Since there is no software that can achieve this, organizations need to focus on securing the entire application instead of securing only the network. Moreover, practicing immutability for software upgrades can also present significant security advantages.