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In today’s highly volatile business landscape, the ability of businesses to change products and processes based on changing businesses demands and customer needs are great indicators of success. Container technology has thus become extremely popular, as it allows organizations to safely and successfully package, deploy, run, and manage updates and changes to different components – without risking or affecting other components.

However, as containers march into mainstream IT, concerns around container security are becoming widespread. Despite emerging as one of the most significant technologies for modern IT infrastructure, containers, like any other technology, can fall prey to security attacks of many kinds: bugs, viruses, poor authentication, misconfiguration, and more.

Given how complex containerized applications can be, comprising many discrete components that communicate with one another over a network, a different kind of approach to security needs to be taken to minimize the large attack surface of the environment.

What organizations must know about container security

To protect containers against vulnerabilities, organizations must be aware of the various nuances of container technology as well as be aware of the various best practices and guidelines that can allow them to have the right security controls in place and thwart the occurrence of an attack or breach – before it causes severe damage.

Here are 5 things enterprises need to know about container security:

  1. Container security is multi-faceted: Unlike traditional applications where security is rather straightforward, container security is multi-level. Not only do organizations have to secure the container host via access control, vulnerability patching, and hardening, they also have to secure each and every image from where containers are deployed. If one image is created with a vulnerability, then every container deployed from that image will carry the vulnerability forward, causing security issues to seep through the entire product. To ensure the highest level of container security, organizations need to bake security into every step of the development pipeline using concepts like DevSecOps.
  2. Lesser the dependencies, lesser is the risk: Most container components have heavy dependencies on several other processes and components in the ecosystem that automatically increase the threat surface. Given the complexity of interactions between different components, it is important for organizations to reduce the dependencies as much as possible, to reduce risk. Limiting interactions and dependencies to only those that the services actually need is a great way to minimize the likelihood and impact of unnecessary risks.
  3. Strong authentication and authorization practices are integral to container security:  Since containers and microservices create several moving parts within the lifecycle, they tend to introduce far more vulnerabilities into the system that hackers can exploit. Having strong authentication and authorization practices in place is essential to prevent, intercept, and mitigate such attacks. Such practices can help safeguard the software that powers business applications while ensuring secure access to sensitive data residing in other applications.
  4. Container-specific operating systems can help minimize attack surface: Container-specific operating systems are designed specifically to only run containers. These minimalist Operating Systems employ read-only file systems and other systems hardening practices while disabling all other services and functionality. Since they reduce the number of software and packages running on the OS, they are known to greatly bring down the attack surface area, offering fewer vulnerabilities and triggering fewer opportunities for attack. In addition, most container-specific Operating Systems lack in-built management tools that reduce the chance of configuration changes or incomplete runs from adversely affecting the operational stability of the container.
  5. Embrace automation to strengthen security: Given how multi-faceted container security is, making automation a key part of the overall strategy is a great way to further strengthen security. Using orchestration tools like Kubernetes, organizations can manage deployments and also mitigate container-related security risks. These tools can help in determining which containers should be deployed to which hosts while constantly monitoring health and well-being and detecting anomalies as and when they emerge. However, while using Kubernetes, organizations must make sure to secure the administrative interface, enable end-to-end encryption, and isolate low-sensitivity workloads from the high-sensitivity ones, to make it more grueling for hackers to gain access to sensitive data.

The ability of containers to streamline the process of building, testing, deploying, and managing applications on multiple environments has resulted in their adoption to surge in the past couple of years. Analysts expect the application container market to expand at a CAGR and reach $8.2 billion by 2025. However, like any other technology, containers also need to be secured – especially if they operate in large-scale environments spanning multiple networks. Being aware of the various nuances of container security and implementing appropriate security controls can pave the way for better agility, speed, and success of your containerized applications.

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