In software development, a container is a software package that contains all the resources an application needs to function in any data environment. A container does not emulate an entire, independent operating system (OS). Instead, it runs off of a host OS’s kernel, and it can share that kernel with other containers. Containerization gives development teams the ability to work quickly and efficiently to deploy software at an increasingly large scale.
But, while they make it easier for software developers to write programs, containers have their drawbacks, too. They can introduce a number of security risks to your system. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement containerization. It simply means that you need to know the risks and how to protect yourself so you can use containerization to your company’s benefit.
A container is a fully self-contained OS environment that surrounds an application and allows it to exist and function independently of any other containers running alongside it. Containers contain their own configuration files, dependencies, and libraries, so that they contain everything an application needs to function fully within the container environment. Individually, containers emulate different OS environments and the processes they run are run in isolation. Multiple containers can share the kernel of an OS, running alongside each other but in isolation from each other.
Doing it this way makes it easy to move applications and even operating systems around from one computing environment to the next, on the cloud or off. They can run on a server network or on an individual device. They allow for efficient use of computing resources, and remove concerns about how applications will perform in different environments and with different dependencies. Container-based software applications can be deployed consistently and quickly to any operating environment, with predictable results.
Of course, security is always a concern in computing, and container security is no exception. Container computing introduces certain risks into a digital environment. For example, because containers run on a system’s OS kernel, any threats that breach that kernel could compromise every container operating on the system.
Vulnerabilities could be packaged inside containers themselves, too – for example, weaknesses in container libraries can leave containers compromised. Hackers can also perpetrate what’s known as a supply chain attack, by targeting the packaging or other more vulnerable components in a container configuration.
How to Protect Your Containerized System from Cyber Attacks
If you’re operating a containerized system, you need to make sure that you’re installing needed security patches to protect the kernel from being exploited by bad actors. It isn’t just the kernel that needs regular and consistent installation of security patches. The containers themselves may require updates to their libraries and other elements. An attacker could use a flawed library to breach a container, and that puts them one step closer to attacking the kernel and the entire containerized system.
It’s also a good idea to use an end-to-end container security solution. Many antivirus programs aren’t going to emphasize container security, but will instead emphasize hardware security. Not to mention, the process of tracking new vulnerabilities and what needs to be patched and what doesn’t can be laborious, and it can require highly specialized skills. An inconsistent patching routine can leave kernel and containers alike vulnerable to cyber attacks, but a consistent one can do a lot to protect your containerized system from attackers.
You need to maintain an update and patching schedule to keep your containerized system safe, and using an end-to-end container security program can help. New tech always introduces new security issues, and it’s not always easy to guess what they are. A security solution optimized for use on containerized systems can help you discover vulnerabilities in your container software and compliance violations that need to be addressed. You’ll be able to address any vulnerabilities before they’re exploited. Some container security tools even allow you to visualize patch layers on top of vulnerability layers, so you can minimize false positives and see where the real vulnerabilities in your container and on the system’s kernels lie.
If you’re running a containerized system, you’re not immune to cyber risks. Containers are prone to a number of security flaws, and they can be compromised if the kernel they’re running on is compromised by an attacker. You need to protect your containerized system with the right security software. Otherwise, if one container on your system is compromised, every container and the kernels they run on could soon be compromised as well.