Containers have been around for some time, but only recently has the technology become mature enough for large enterprises to adopt it both on-prem and in the cloud. The obvious benefits for developers include the ability to dramatically reduce the time to production and the ability to lower the operational burden. This is further supported by implementing a service mesh which provides fast, reliable and secure communication among containerized infrastructure.
The Rise of Kubernetes and its Impact on Security
Kubernetes (k8s), introduced late 2014, bring container orchestration at large scale to both cloud and on-prem environments. The benefits of using k8s is clear and stipulated mainly due to the ability to become agnostic to the infrastructure. An application based on k8s can easily scale out from your datacenter into multiple cloud providers, and back. However, the challenge with Kubernetes is it creates a huge problem for security operations. Trying to enforce micro-segmentation on a large k8s cluster using traditional firewall models is not feasible.
As the move to containers rise, so will container-based cybersecurity attacks. Criminal hackers will always be on the hunt for new ways to exploit this area. As container operations are inherently dependent on the development pipeline (CI/CD) so should be their security attributes. Any other interaction point will be an afterthought resulting in slower operations or reduced security. Organizations moving to containers and k8s should act preemptively due to on-going and increasing complexity driven by scale.
Implementing a service mesh layer ensures that communication among containerized infrastructure services is fast, reliable and secure. It is a configurable, low‑latency infrastructure layer that handles service-to-service communication. It is responsible for the reliable delivery of requests through the complex topology of services that make up a modern, cloud-native application. In practice, a service mesh is typically implemented as an array of lightweight network proxies called sidecars, that are deployed alongside application code without the application being aware. The mesh provides critical capabilities, including service discovery, load balancing, encryption, observability, traceability, authentication and authorization, and support for the circuit breaker pattern.
Criteria and Security Best Practices
- Pre-scanning of images isn’t enough. Enforcing runtime micro-segmentation for container services should be addressed at runtime as they introduce an easier, more prominent attack vector.
- Easy integration with development pipeline. As noted, the alternative will impact business agility or security quality.
- Micro-segmentation should be decoupled from the infra and network as otherwise, it will require some kind of application to IP/PORT/protocol mapping.
Implementing security built for k8s environments and running both on-prem and in the public cloud that uses Istio, a well-known open-source service mesh developed by Google, is recommended. Vet solutions connect directly to the code pipeline with enhanced security capabilities, such as the signing of artifacts that will be deployed to the k8s cluster in the code stage with the ability to generate signed identities. Instead of looking at machines and IPs when workloads boot up, the administrator will see that services will be able to control where they run.
This will also enable you to intuitively create identity-based micro-segmentation. This is an advantage since micro-segmentation was always a complicated task to achieve, requiring administrators to map an application to the network while keeping track of what is running in the environment.
With identities and a service mesh layer, it is only necessary to focus on your business logic. The fact that identities were generated during the CI/CD pipeline, provides the ability to control the application without the need for service discovery. Identities are represented by their business-context names, originating in the CI/CD pipeline, so the operator can easily group them together and assign policies at different layers of granularity.
K8s is a great technology that enables the harvesting of containerized environments. Adopting it can accelerate your organization’s digital transformation dramatically, but it can also require you to adopt new methods of application security. Contracting with a k8s-focused security organization will allow the business to accelerate its migration to cloud-native applications on-prem and in the cloud, in a most automated fashion.
By providing the needed security and operational capabilities, k8s clusters admins are afforded an enterprise-level micro-segmentation solution with policy orchestration, single pane of glass to your clusters in a multi/hybrid cloud deployment and the ability to connect between containerized clusters and legacy applications, as well as other resources that are external to the cluster.