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Seven biggest container security mistakes that you must avoid

As more modern organizations increasingly adopt containerization of applications, container security has garnered major attention.

A man with a laptop. Photo credit: NY Daily News

As more modern organizations increasingly adopt containerization of applications, container security has garnered major attention. The extensive use of containers in the production environment makes it more tempting for cyber miscreants to launch attacks.

While containers come with certain default security benefits, they also heighten the exposure of organizations to threats. So companies must establish a robust foundation for container security, and also take measures to prevent mistakes that hamper their smooth sailing.
That being said, here are seven container security mistakes that must be avoided at any cost.

Safeguarding containers without securing their platform

The most common mistake that companies make is securing their containers without ensuring the security of the OS on which they are deployed. Platform security is of utmost importance because otherwise, the workloads running on it become vulnerable to security threats. Selecting a robust platform and securing it, is the primary step to safeguarding the deployed containers and applications.

Not considering API security

When companies have applications comprising microservices, APIs play a vital role. So securing the applications within containers includes management of both, the application as well as API authorization and authentication. An application designed for API security can nullify security concerns and offer advanced control features that extend beyond the basics. It takes care of actions like regulating access policies for user groups, limiting access to certain endpoints or ports, setting limits for API calls to secure the infrastructure and maintain the flow of traffic.

However, if many independent API services are present in an application, the count of service endpoints also increases. In such situations, some additional measures should be adopted to ensure comprehensive container security.

Not monitoring known vulnerabilities

Not monitoring vulnerabilities that are already known, is perhaps the greatest mistake in container security. The list of known weaknesses is never a static one. So, as it evolves with time, organizations must regularly scan and track the vulnerability status over time for all contents, including container images that were first downloaded, approved, or deployed.

For this operation, they need to invest in tools designed to scan containers. Such applications come with regularly updated databases for the latest information about known vulnerabilities. Employing a private container registry can also help companies to closely monitor all activities and status of container images built internally or downloaded.

Focusing on container application security over container security
It is extremely vital to ensure the security of applications present within a container itself, to rule out inherent vulnerabilities. But focusing totally on the application security can lead to compromising container security.
While containers offer several security advantages over other virtualized environments for deployment, they are susceptible to attacks in a very different way. Essentially, a container is a running program on a Linux node that becomes the “contained”. So, by default, the container will share kernel space with the node. It is therefore critical to understand the attack vector of the deployed container environment and ensure that it provides adequate protection from unforeseen threats.

Granting unrestricted privileges to running containers
Since containers share kernel space with the underlying host OS, allowing full privileges to the container also means allowing unrestricted access to the applications it contains. This can trigger serious concerns regarding container security.

The best way to prevent security breaches here is by granting minimum required privileges to processes or applications. Also, administrators must leverage security context constraints to define (and restrict) accesses of a running container at specified levels within the host OS.

Failure to integrate working containers into continuous scanning and monitoring processes
To ensure the security of the entire application stack, it is crucial to scan all running containers regularly, and regularly updating image sourcing and patching. The process of continuous integration should ideally take account of policies that instantaneously highlight security issues, and pause deployment until the vulnerabilities are fixed.
During container deployment, the following security considerations are vital –

  • Patch deployments: Automatically detecting security patches makes it more efficient, fast, and also ensures continuous security.
  • Background of software supply chain and image: A trustworthy source registry is vital for companies to ensure patched, safe, and updated images. The security policies should be designed to consider the origin of container images, where and how they are currently executing.
  • Scanning and monitoring based on security policies: Real-time monitoring and security scans are an additional level of security.

Failure to align enterprise security requirements with container agility
Containers are designed to be highly dynamic, and most often challenge conventional static security practices. So it is important to level up to the speed and flexibility of containers and enforce appropriate security solutions. The idea is to embrace security standards that work in conjunction with enterprise-level containerized applications and also enhance organizational efficiency.