Building a Container Security Program 2018: Introduction

By Adrian Lane

The explosive growth of containers is not surprising – these technologies, such as Docker, alleviate several problems for developers deploying applications. Developers need simple packaging, rapid deployment, reduced environmental dependencies, support for microservices, generalized management, and horizontal scalability – all of which containers help provide. When a single technology enables us to address several technical problems at once, it’s very compelling. But this generic model of packaged services, where the environment is designed to treat each container as a “unit of service”, sharply reduces transparency and auditability (by design), and gives security pros nightmares. We run more code and faster, but must accept a loss of visibility inside the container. It begs the question, “How can we introduce security without losing the benefits of containers?”

Containers scare the hell out of security pros because they are so opaque. The burden of securing containers falls across Development, Operations, and Security teams – but none of these groups always knows how to tackle their issues. Security and development teams may not even be fully aware of the security problems they face, as security is typically ignorant of the tools and technologies developers use, and developers don’t always know what risks to look for. The problem extends beyond containers to the entire build, deployment, and runtime environments.

The container security space has changed substantially since our initial research 18-20 months back. Security of the orchestration manager is a primary concern, as organization rely more heavily on tools to deploy and scale out applications. We have seen a sharp increase in adoption of container services (PaaS) from various cloud vendors, which changes how organizations need to approach security. We reached forward a bit in our first container security paper, covering build pipleine security issues because we felt that was a hugely underservered area, but over the last 18 months DevOps practitioners have taken note, and this has become the top question we get. Just behind that is the need for secrets management to issue container credentials and secure identity. The rapid change of pace in this market means it’s time for a refresh.

We get a ton of calls from people moving towards – or actively engaged in – DevOps, so we will target this research at both security practitioners and developers & IT operations. We will cover some reasons containers and container orchestration managers create new security concerns, as well as how to go about creating security controls across the entire spectrum. We will not go into great detail on how to secure apps in general here – instead we will focus on build, container management, deployment, platform, and runtime security which arise with containers. As always we hope you will ask questions and participate in the process. Community involvement makes our research betters so we welcome your inquires, comments, and suggestions.

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It might be part of “platform”, but looking at secure application connectivity (networking - L3-7) will also help the community.  Containers and microservices have very ephemeral workloads that traditional VM-based security offerings may find difficult to cover.

By Todd Thiemann

Can you elaborate more about the “entire spectrum” ? It can be so big….

By Sharon Besser

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