Container Security: What Is It, and Do You Need It?

A container is a bundle of software that contains all the elements it needs to run in any computing environment. That typically includes an operating system. This technology allows applications to be extracted from their environments in a sense, and makes it easy to move applications around from one environment to another – even different types of environments, like from a laptop to a public cloud drive to a private server.

Of course, with every new software technology comes new security concerns. What does container security entail? Do you need it? Yes, if you operate software in a containerized environment, you need to take steps to secure those containers.

Container Security Defined

A container is a light unit of software that includes all the necessary components an application needs to run. That means the application code itself, code libraries, runtime, and configurations. All of this is built on an immutable image that can’t be changed – if you want to update or patch the container, you have to build a new image and replace it entirely.

Container security consists of securing the application that runs inside the container and the host system that the container operates on. You will need to mitigate risks from exposure by controlling the privileges your application has. This can also protect your container from external attackers. You’ll also need to check libraries for vulnerabilities and malicious code before including them in your containers. Any third-party images should be properly vetted before you deploy them. And you should make sure that any images you use are truly immutable – making changes to the container can compromise its security by opening up pathways for attackers to access and exploit it.

How It Works

Container security works by minimizing the number of vulnerabilities within a container so that attackers can’t access it, as well as minimizing the vulnerabilities in a host network and on a host machine, because if attackers are able to access a host machine or network, your containers are just as much at risk as if they’d been compromised themselves.

To secure your containers, you can use a container-specific operating system (OS) to host them. These OSes are created with minimal features, so there are less handles for attackers to grab onto, so to speak. You should also group containers together according to their sensitivity to threats, their purposes, and their security posture, or level of readiness to defend against cyberattacks. Doing this can help confine breaches as much as possible.

Container security also must be achieved with container-specific tools. Traditional security tools can miss vulnerabilities and other security issues with containers. Instead, you need tools that allow you to check container security at runtime, rather than focusing on traditional security issues like intrusion prevention.

Container Security What is It, and Do You Need It1

Why It’s Important

Container security is the only way to protect your applications, data, and system when you’re running a containerized system. Traditional cybersecurity options simply aren’t designed with the infrastructure and needs of a containerized system in mind. While containers do offer higher levels of application isolation, which can make a system to some extent inherently more secure, containers are becoming an increasingly tantalizing target for malicious actors as they become more common in the enterprise space. All it takes is one compromised container for attackers to make their way into your entire system and maybe even onto your entire network.

And containers can be compromised. Major container building software company Docker found in 2021 that just five of its container images had been infected with malicious code, but that those five images had facilitated secret cryptocurrency mining on 120,000 systems. Another attack on Docker infected an image that was used 1.5 million times, which goes to show the magnitude of threats to container security. Millions of users can be affected when attackers compromise a popular container image, and traditional network security solutions can’t protect your containers. That’s because these solutions have not been designed to protect against lateral threats coming from inside a container on the system – they’re designed to protect against external traffic that might break through a network firewall to compromise devices.

Are you running your business operations on a containerized system? Containers can make it easy to move applications from one software environment to another and have them up and running without delay. But it’s very important to understand the importance of specialized container security to keep these software packages from compromising the host system and even the rest of your network.