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Ensuring Container Security: Safeguarding Software Supply Chains with SSL/TLS Certificates

Ensuring Container Security: Safeguarding Software Supply Chains with SSL/TLS Certificates

The popularity and role of containers in DevOps continue to rise due to their many benefits and compatibility for collaboration between developers and operations teams. According to Gartner’s “The CTO Guide to Containers and Kubernetes”, containers, along with Kubernetes, are becoming the defacto technologies for DevOps teams.  Gartner projects that by 2027 more than 90% of global organizations will be running containerized applications in production.

A container is a standard unit of software that packages up code and all its dependencies, configuration files, and libraries in OS-level virtualization form so the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another. Each container can independently run, test, and deploy at its own pace without impacting other container environments. They travel easily across teams and switching computing environments doesn’t affect container production performance or source code.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of containers and how you can safeguard containers in DevOps with SSL/TLS certificates.

The Benefits of Containers in DevOps

Containers provide more than just the velocity that DevOps teams desire. Their effective provisioning of Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, ease of use across an organization, and automated testing allow developers more time for further experimentation and innovations. The many features and capabilities of containerization include:

  • Agile and flexible integration with existing technology
  • Can run on any system i.e., Mac, Windows, Cloud, and Linux
  • Faster time to deployment, automated patching, and application scaling
  • Greater system consistency due to no dependence on the system configuration
  • Lightweight through sharing the machine’s OS system kernel, without requiring an OS per app
  • Highly portable for use across any system without code change

Docker created the industry standard for containers, so they could be portable anywhere. Docker provides the strongest default isolation capabilities in the industry and is the most frequently used container service, along with Linux and CRI-O.

Container Orchestration Streamlines Multi-container Systems

DevOps can run hundreds of containers and microservices in one or more application cycles. Related and unrelated container pods and clusters require time-consuming management for efficiency and security. Container orchestration makes the operational complexity of container clusters manageable for DevOps teams through automated deployment, management, scaling, and networking.

Docker Swarm and Kubernetes are the most frequently used orchestrators.

  • Docker Swarm helps with clustering and scheduling of containers; managing Docker clusters as a single virtual system
  • Kubernetes is an open-source tool developed by Google that enables automation, management, scheduling, and networking of applications defined by individual containers for rapid production of software modules

Cloud-native app development that leverages containers and orchestration frameworks like Kubernetes, offers considerable advantages in portability, scalability, and performance.

Container orchestration provides simplified operations and added security, efficiently managing such tasks as:

  • Provisioning and deployment
  • Configuration and scheduling
  • Traffic routing and load balancing
  • Efficient resource allocation
  • Scaling containers as needed to balance workloads across infrastructure
  • Container health monitoring
  • Secure interactions between containers

Security Risks and Why Containers Must Be Secured 

Developers frequently optimize the building of containerized applications with open-source software. However, this can lead to numerous security vulnerabilities. Because containers can become easy security targets, it is crucial to secure the container pipeline so containers remain reliable and trusted.

Signature enforcement and trust authentication through PKI certificates offer DevOps teams the optimal assurance of the security, identity, and compliance of containers and their code. Container and container cluster connections benefit from the authentication and end-to-end encryption capabilities of SSL/TLS certificate security.

Container Vulnerability Factors:

  • Scope of Threat Exposure – A single container threat exposure can affect the whole infrastructure as all containers share a common operating system. All traffic and data flowing to the containers should be authenticated and encrypted using SSL/TLS certificates.
  • Networking – Communication between containers is not secured by default, so they must be secured through HTTPS protocol using SSL/TLS Certificates.
  • Unauthenticated Docker API – Docker, by default (and by extension Docker Swarm) has no authentication or authorization within its API, relying instead on the filesystem security of its Unix socket /var/run/docker.sock, accessible only by the root user. Use of the Docker API over TCP will need to be secured so that root access will not be given out arbitrarily to anyone.

SSL/TLS Requirements in Kubernetes

Docker containers are increasingly being adopted by DevOps teams as a more efficient solution for the deployment and management of applications, however require SSL / TLS certificates to secure communication between containers, hosts and clients. Some of the key use cases for Container security using SSL/TLS certificates include Image Signing and securing Client and Daemon API.

Kubernetes gives DevOps teams the platform to schedule and run containers in clusters of physical or virtual machines. Kubernetes architecture divides a cluster into components, or microservices, that work together to maintain the cluster's defined state.

Different use cases and points for SSL/TLS to secure a Kubernetes environment:

  1. At the load balancer - The most common use case for terminating TLS at the load balancer is to use publicly trusted certificates. This use case is simple to deploy and the certificate is bound to the load balancer itself. 
  2. At the ingress - If there is no strict requirement for end-to-end encryption, the process can be offloaded to the ingress controller or the NLB. This helps DevOps teams optimize the performance, configuration, and management of workloads.
  3. On the pod - In Kubernetes, a pod is the smallest deployable unit of computing and encapsulates one or more applications. End-to-end encryption of the traffic from the client to a Kubernetes pod provides a secure communication model where the SSL/TLS is terminated at the pod inside the Kubernetes cluster.
  4. Mutual SSL/TLS between pods - This provides secure encryption in transit for data flowing inside a Kubernetes cluster.

Securing DevOps containers with SSL/TLS certificates adds a necessary layer of protection, ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and authentication of the communication channels. It helps mitigate security risks, facilitates compliance with regulations, and fosters trust in the containerized environment.

Click here to download the GlobalSign eBook “Your Journey with DevOps: Partner with GlobalSign to improve the security of your software supply chain”.

Learn more about how to secure your containerized environments

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