3 min. read

What is Containers and Kubernetes Security?

Cloud-Native Approaches Explode with Containers and Kubernetes

As a cloud-native approach, containers and Kubernetes have become widely adopted because they enable software developers to respond to the demands of frequent updates, iterative SDLCs, and emerging market opportunities. Containers are isolated environments, offering lightweight and easy deployment while holding all the necessary software components – executables, binary code, libraries, and configuration files.

Initially created and launched by Google in 2015, Kubernetes (aka K8s) is open-source, container-centric management software that automates the deployment and operation of containerized applications. K8s streamlines software update roll-out, application deployment, scaling up or down, and providing continuous monitoring.

What Makes Containers and Kubernetes Popular Also Makes Them Security Targets

Containerized software delivers new levels of modernization and efficiency like greater computing scale, faster time-to-market, and the ability to maximize the value of APIs. However, these capabilities create inherent vulnerabilities and establish a unique risk profile.

RedHat’s “The State of Kubernetes Security in 2022” shared that 94% of respondents to their survey had experienced at least one security incident in their Kubernetes environments in the previous 12 months. Another analysis from Veritas found that 89% of organizations have determined ransomware attacks on their Kubernetes environments are a considerable risk.

Addressing the Unique Needs of Containers and Kubernetes

On its own, Kubernetes is not inherently secure and requires configuration, specialized expertise, or dedicated security tools. As one of the leading orchestration platforms, it is a sprawling platform that poses unique security issues, including:

  • Workload and cluster security configuration and deployment
  • Networking and pod management
  • Infrastructure security across nodes, clusters, pods, and the application code that runs within them
  • Ensuring that the minimal base image is secure and trustworthy
  • Adequate authentication since APIs control all core services in the cluster

Container and Kubernetes security models need to provide multiple layers of defense. These measures, practices, and tools must protect containers, the applications they hold (along with their data), as well as the cloud-based systems where they run.

Setting the Stage for Robust Containers and Kubernetes Security

Cloud-native applications using container and Kubernetes security demand policies, processes, and tools that address the unique challenges of a containerized environment. In addition to configuring defaults for specific security needs, here are six other areas to tackle.

Begin in the design phase

Container and Kubernetes security should be discussed and planned for early in the development process. For example, security should be top of mind when making architecture decisions, choosing base container images, and establishing image registries.

Automate continuous scanning & monitor registry vulnerabilities

It’s essential to maintain ongoing container security. The nature of how developers continually change containers means monitoring tools must apply time-series stamps. This is critical to auditing security events in a containerized environment. Continuously scanning for vulnerabilities—before deployment and after replacement—helps avoid mistakes that increase risk.

Utilize policy engines

Using policy engines in container and Kubernetes security enables teams to govern who or what is permitted to access any given microservice or API. This streamlines container management and ensures the distributed environment is adequately maintained.

API Security

API authentication and authorization are critical to governing which APIs can have access to bind containers together. Enabling admission controllers and configuring API request certificates provide additional protection.

Visualize vulnerabilities

Choose tools that provide data visualizations or dashboards that display workloads, including their namespaces, deployments, containers, and connections. A shared view should focus on active and potential risks. It should enable remediation by priority based on a trusted risk score framework.

Configuring Audit Logs

Auditing as part of container or Kubernetes security creates a security-relevant, time-based record documenting action sequences with a cluster. The audit logs provide essential information like abnormal activity in a cluster. Auditing enables fast and flexible action when malicious activities are found. Consistent auditing supports cluster hardening, as well as, catching and addressing any misconfigurations.

Avoid Common Containers and Kubernetes Security Failures

Arguably the world’s most popular container orchestrator, Kubernetes offers scalability and multi-cloud support that meets business, market, and operational demands. With over 3,000 contributors and over 100 Kubernetes distributors, DevOps leaders have speed and flexibility at hand. And yet, they also face distinctive security challenges.

Decentralized cloud-native architectures have significantly increased the number of attack surfaces, driving greater attention to establishing robust container and Kubernetes security.

Containers and Kubernetes Security Begins with Panoptica

Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation (ET&I) team is paving the way with “DevOps-friendly” cloud-native security solutions that fundamentally simplify conventional offerings. Built from the ground up to meet the needs of mission-critical modern applications, our Panoptica solution simplifies cloud-native application security making it easy to embed into the software development lifecycle.  Panoptica protects the full application stack from code to runtime by scanning for security vulnerabilities in the cloud infrastructure, microservices (Containers or Serverless), the software bill of materials, and the interconnecting APIs. And best of all, it integrates with the tools that your application development and SecOps teams are already using. Try Panoptica for free!