Containers are a popular software development option, but what are the security implications of using them?
When you’re working with applications that have stringent security requirements, such as those dealing with sensitive data, you need to know exactly how strong container security is. This blog post discusses the benefits and challenges of container security, along with best practices.
Security Benefits of Containerization
Ease of Management
Container orchestration platforms and other solutions provide many user-friendly features for managing containers at scale. You’re able to easily look at specific containers and optimize their security on a granular level, compared to a monolithic application where you’d need to execute changes on a much broader scale.
Software development projects that use microservices in a container environment typically take a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) approach that involves frequent updates to the application. New security best practices, bug fixes, and patches can be applied quickly as part of these updates, and you lessen the chance that a container has vulnerable packages.
The agility improvements offered by containerization also help your software development team reduce application interdependencies. When many applications have these interdependencies, vulnerabilities could be introduced that impact many solutions simultaneously. Trying to fix these security holes could lead to downtime for multiple applications due to this interconnectedness. Isolated containers boost security for these applications, and you’re better able to address any problems that come up without widespread disruption.
Security Challenges of Containerization
While containerization has several security benefits, there are many challenges that this architecture brings to the table.
Attack Surface Size
You’re protecting the entire container ecosystem, which creates a wide attack surface for cybercriminals. When you’re considering the security measures needed to protect the containers, you have to look at all the systems interacting with your microservices.
Another security drawback for containers is the overall complexity of the infrastructure. While container orchestration tools deliver functionality that automates many aspects of management, this architecture can make it harder to stay on top of each container’s security requirements. You end up with many moving parts, and understanding exactly where your most vulnerable areas can be difficult.
A side effect of complex infrastructure is that some containers may not have the right security configuration in place. These misconfigurations may be small, but their impact could be massive on application security. The CI/CD pipeline speed gives you more opportunities to make the appropriate changes, but it also introduces the chance that additional misconfigurations compromise security.
Some contributing factors of security misconfigurations include:
- Lack of IT security budget: If the security budget is already strained in your organization, people may cut corners to keep costs low.
- Unrealistic development schedules: When the development team is rushing to meet demanding deadlines or running into crunch time, they may not have the opportunity to set up the right security measures.
- Lack of technical resources: Configuring container security in the best way possible for your particular application requires the availability of the right technical expertise. Without those specialists, the configurations may fall short of what you need to protect your software.
Difficulties in Effectively Monitoring Containers
Your security monitoring software may not support containers properly. It’s possible that alerts may be mis-attributed to the host OS or lack details on which container needs attention. If a vulnerability involves multiple containers, fixing the issue may be more complex.
Traditional Application Security Strategies Aren’t Applicable
The security strategy you used for non-containerized applications needs a full overhaul in this environment. If you use a one-size-fits-all approach, your containers may face security vulnerabilities.
No Isolation from Host Operating System
Unlike virtualization, containerization does not have isolation from the host operating system. If the underlying OS is behind on patches or has a security hole, then all the containers running on it could be affected.
Containerization Security Best Practices
Here are a few recommendations to follow when optimizing your containers for security.
- Perform a security audit of your container ecosystem: Establish a security baseline by auditing your containerization systems. You can assess whether you have current vulnerabilities, areas of concern, and where the improvements can be made.
- Adopt security policies, procedures, and solutions that best support containers: Container-specific approaches bring in the software and processes that are designed for containerization. Some examples of this best practice include using different development methodologies and using container-aware or optimized security tools.
- Drop general-purpose host operating systems: Host OS’s designed for containers are better suited for keeping your applications safe and secure. If you have a general-purpose solution, the security updates may be ill-suited for containerization security.
- Distribute your container groups across separate host OS kernels: You don’t need to group all your containers together on the same OS kernel. When you group them based on specific criteria, such as the level of security threat that may target them, you are better able to respond to attacks.
Containerization is not the most secure architecture you can use for software development, but a properly optimized ecosystem mitigates many of the risks. Combining security best practices with a frequent patch schedule from CI/CD allows you to optimize your security strategy for this environment.
If you want to learn more about improving container security, contact the containerization experts at Datavail. We can perform security audits, make recommendations, and implement robust protective measures for your applications.
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