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Assembling A Container Security Program [New Paper]

By Adrian Lane

We are pleased to launch our latest research paper, on Docker security: Assembling a Container Security Program. Containers are now such integral elements of software delivery that enterprises are demanding security in and around containers. And it’s no coincidence that Docker has recently added a variety of security capabilities to its offerings, but they are only a small subset of what customers need. During our research we learned many things, including that:

  • Containers are no longer a hypothetical topic for discussion among security practitioners. Today Development and Operations teams need a handle on what is being done, and how to verify that security controls are in place.
  • Security attention in this area is still focused on OS hardening. This is complex and can be difficult to manage, but it is a fairly well-understood set of problems. But there are many more important moving pieces in play, which are still largely being ignored.
  • Very little attention is being paid to the build environment – making sure the container contains what it should, and nothing else. The companies we talked to do not, as a rule, verify that internal code and third-party libraries are secure.
  • Human error is more likely to cause issues than security bugs. Running services in the container with root credentials, poor handling of keys and certificates, opening up ports inappropriately, and indiscriminate communications are all common issues… which can be tested for.
  • The handoff from Development to Operations, and how Operations teams vet containers prior to putting them into production, are somewhat free-form. As more containers are delivered faster, especially with continuous integration and DevOps engineering, container management in general – and specifically knowing what containers should be running at any given time – is becoming harder.

Overall, there are many issues beyond OS hardening and patching your Docker runtime. Crucial runtime aspects of container security include monitoring, container segregation, and blocking unwanted communications; these are not getting sufficient attention. They ways containers are built, managed, and deployed are all important aspects of application security, and so should be core to any container security program. So we took an unusually broad view of container security, covering each of these aspects in this paper.

Finally, we would like to thank Aqua Security for licensing this content. Community support like this enables us to bring independent analysis and research to you free of charge. We don’t even require registration. You can grab a copy of the research paper directly, or visit the paper’s landing page in our research library, and please visit Aqua Security if you would like to understand how they help provide container security.

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