Securing Containers At Scale

While containers deliver speed and agility to software development and deployment, they also add a layer of complexity that invites unprecedented security concerns, including how to manage vulnerabilities in a dynamic container deployment environment. The question then becomes how to ensure the technologies you are using to secure software within containers are keeping pace with both business and security? This is a question DevOps teams have been tasked with as they continually rethink their approach to application security (AppSec) and how to build and ship software in a containerized world. 

In addition to scanning container images before production, DevOps teams today also need to find and maintain continual visibility into their containers. Because containerized applications grow older, they are continually subject to new security vulnerabilities. Even though security patches are helpful, they do not guarantee the stability or security of a container. This must be handled through automation and better container management

Open Source Software

The value of open source tools in modern applications cannot be overstated. It has become a foundational part of the way developers and DevOps teams build and ship today’s digital products and services. Tracking open source software can be challenging when developers are working in a containerized environment where new security issues are always on the horizon. And open source tools that are left untracked can (and do) put containerized applications at risk from known vulnerabilities. 

As a result, organizations working with containers need to find transparency into the open source risks that reside at all layers of their container images, including operating systems, related dependencies, relevant libraries and the application layers themselves. This visibility becomes increasingly elusive when you consider the large, ephemeral nature of container deployments in modern production settings. 

One of the primary challenges related to open source containers is the ability to find this level of security control and visibility. One way to ensure your container security strategy can scale to accommodate an entire cluster includes finding ways to automatically detect and scan container images and proactively monitoring the open source risks in your applications. 

Container security plans need to account for the scale and complexity of today’s container deployments, as manually tracking open source components in a dynamic cluster remains difficult—if not impossible. Automated control driven by policy over open source security vulnerabilities is one of the ways to simplify and speed open source components. Without automated visibility into the open source software being used in your containers (and the security risks associated with each component), there is no way to securely scale containers. 

Container Management

NIST tells us the increased complexity of large container deployments increases overall security risk as tracking vulnerabilities becomes increasingly challenging. Organizations experiencing growing container deployments are discovering that scanning individual containers is not a scalable solution. Tracking security vulnerabilities in thousands of containers demands an automated security solution with the ability to orchestrate security, thereby allowing it to scale up or down based on the needs of container clusters. 

In addition to orchestration, policy management is key to security scalability in containers. It is what allows businesses to identify and enforce security policies across the software development life cycle, ensuring security and DevSecOps teams can find and fix the most pressing, impactful vulnerabilities. Effective policy management, along with well-considered governance and guardrails, empowers teams to effectively prioritize which issues need attention and when. In this way, organizations today can select a container security strategy that suits their unique business needs. 

DevSecOps and Container Security

Because development and DevOps teams are feeling the pressure to build and ship software at increasing speed, container security processes can become the proverbial fly in the ointment. While DevOps teams are responsible for accelerating the velocity of software delivery with containers, they are also tasked with security. This reality is precisely why businesses today need to embrace DevSecOps practices to accommodate both demands, rather than favoring one or the other. 

Many organizations perform regular security audits of their containerized workloads, which helps to prevent breaches on the container level. However, this work demands hours of manual labor—a practice that is clearly not scalable. As such, some would say the practice defeats the purpose of using containers to speed the delivery of software. These practices also defeat the purpose behind DevSecOps principles. Using automation to identify vulnerabilities in containers is less time-consuming and allows organizations to embrace security while also keeping an eye on scalability. 

DevSecOps ideals also encourage security practices that integrate well with the software development life cycle. Because AppSec and DevOps teams can rely on plugins for tools like IDEs and container orchestrators like Kubernetes, they are able to find control and flexibility over where containers are scanned.