How to Secure Containers for Cybersecurity

Containers have many benefits but can be a cybersecurity risk if not secure. Here’s what you need to consider

Today, innovative organizations and those that are quick to adopt new technologies, display faster growth rates than those that don’t. Technology brings with it a wide range of benefits such as automation, agility and efficiency, which boost a company’s productivity. However, with all new technologies come vulnerabilities and security threats.

DevOps Dozen 2023

Such is the case with containerization. Though containerization has been around for decades, its revolutionary role in cloud computing has increased its popularity and uptake in recent years. It is estimated that over 50% of Fortune 100 companies now rely on containerization to develop and deploy applications.

In 2019, only 20% of organizations had containerized applications. However, a Gartner report suggests that by 2023, 70% of organizations across the globe will have at least two containerized applications in production.

Containerization comes with benefits including:

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  • Compared to virtual machines, containers offer greater efficiency as fewer resources are required as well as better utilization of computing resources.
  • Easy to transfer applications from different clouds and platforms.
  • Enhancements can be delivered a lot faster.
  • Easy to integrate with existing DevOps as containers offer greater agility.
  • Easy management.
  • Enhanced security as applications are separated from each other and from the host system.

However, along with these benefits, containers can be a source of exposure if not secure. As such, your organization should have comprehensive risk management methodologies in place. Read on to learn more about containers and how to secure containers for cybersecurity.

What Are Containers?

By definition, containers are units of software in which the code and all its dependencies are packed, allowing applications to run quickly and efficiently from one computing environment to another. They are gaining popularity as they simplify the process of building, packaging and promoting applications and their dependencies at every stage of their life cycle and on different environments, as well as deployment targets.

Container Security

Despite all its benefits, containerization also comes with vulnerabilities such as misconfiguration, inadequate authentication and authorizations and bugs. According to a Tripwire survey on container security, there were container-related security incidents at 60% of companies that use containers in 2018.

This highlights the need for container security as more organizations adopt containerization. When it comes to container security, there are three phases of concern:

  • The build process.
  • The container contents.
  • The runtime process.

The Build Process

Your efforts at container security should begin at the build process. This phase has become a primary target for attackers as any malicious code deployed at this stage offers greater access. Therefore, it is essential that the perimeter of the build process, most likely a cloud environment, is secured. Before you push the code into production, it should be subjected to a static and dynamic code review.

The Container Contents

In regards to container contents, you should minimize exposure by limiting content to only those that are essential. Tools to facilitate this are availed by container vendors. However, there are also third-party tools that you can use. In addition, you must use digital signing and create a cryptographic digest of all image contents as well as track them throughout the life cycle of your container. This will ensure that your environment is free of unapproved images.

The Runtime Process

As you bolster container security, the environment in which it runs must also be hardened. To ensure that any compromise does not affect everything, have the workloads segregated. There should also be limits on how much access containers have to the operating system resources. This will prevent containers from accessing each other’s data.

Tips for Successful Containerization

Container security comes with a lot of complexity, and the dynamic nature of the container environment makes it different from traditional security. As such, it will require a unique approach. Here are some tips to help you along:

  1. Successful containerization requires a suitable operational culture and supportive technical processes for creating, running and supporting applications. To achieve this, you must adjust and adapt your existing culture and methods of development to the needs of your container environment.
  2. For greater security, do not mix containers that serve different purposes or those that have varying levels of sensitivity in one OS.
  3. Ensure that operating systems you use are container-specific to reduce risk.
  4. The vulnerability management tools and processes used to prevent image compromises should be container-specific.
  5. Container-aware runtime tools are also important for security. They help detect anomalies and malicious activity in the container environment.
  6. To gain a basis for trusted computing, use hardware-based solutions.

It’s Time to Jump Onboard

Containers offer a lot of benefits when it comes to the development and deployment of applications and is here to stay. As such, it is essential to adopt containerization to gain greater agility, speed and ease of development and deployment. However, to draw the most value out of containers, you must first ensure they are secure and that your organization’s operational culture and development methodologies align with container needs.

Jordan MacAvoy

Jordan MacAvoy is the Vice President of Marketing at Reciprocity Labs and manages the company’s go-to-market strategy and execution. Prior to joining Reciprocity, Mr. MacAvoy served in executive roles at Fundbox, a Forbes Next Billion Dollar Company, and Intuit, via their acquisition of the SaaS marketing and communications solution, Demandforce.

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