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Build It Now, Protect It Later Mentality Challenges the Security of Containers

Build It Now, Protect It Later Mentality Challenges the Security of Containers

Contain security is often an afterthought
January 27, 2017 | Scott Carter

The adoption of container technology is growing rapidly. Nearly 40% of the organizations surveyed for the 2017 Thales Data Threat Report indicated that they use containers in production environments. The report also revealed a growing concern about container security, stating “Like other emerging technologies like cloud, Big Data and (IoT), not surprisingly, security remains the #1 Docker adoption barrier (46.7% of respondents) and the #1 method for securing containers is encryption.” However, in these fast-paced, dynamic environments, the secure use of encryption is not without its own challenges. 

The study also highlighted a growing sense of vulnerability, “nearly one in three respondents feel their organizations are either ‘very vulnerable’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’ to threats to sensitive data.” This may be due in part to 63% of respondents who indicated that their organizations deploy new technologies before they have appropriate levels of data security in place. Development and IT technologies are simply moving too fast for security to keep up.

This build it now, secure it later mentality is particularly troubling for container technology which is engineered to support speed and agility. Venafi director of product marketing, Walter Goulet comments, “Containers are a core component of the ‘immutable infrastructure’ approach that we are seeing organizations take to deploying services in their environment.” But the benefits of speed and agility come at a price. And that price is often security.  

“Containers can be created and destroyed in milliseconds, and the common practice is to continually restart, recycle and destroy them,” notes Venafi DevOps expert Carl Bourne. “However, since keys and certificates are foundational to the security between the containers, ensuring that the keys and certificates are available can present significant challenges. In many cases this leads to developers following bad practices such as reusing keys and certificates, using unapproved certificate authorities (CAs) or creating certificates with long expiration dates.”  

Circumventing security best practices for the sake of speed, can undermine the very foundations of the infrastructures that developers are creating. Goulet recommends that organizations ensure that applications running on containers are using keys and certificates that comply with organizational security policies. He advises, “It is critical that the processes used to deploy containers include a step to obtain keys and certificates from a centrally managed certificate management service. This will allow containers to obtain short lived keys and certificates that are unique to each container and avoid the need to distribute shared keys across containers.”

Building security into your DevOps process is the most effective way to ensure compliance with your organization’s security policies. But the security processes you introduce must be compatible with the rapid-fire nature of Fast IT. Are your processes frictionless and transparent enough that your DevOps teams won’t try to go around them?

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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott Carter writes for Venafi's blog and is an expert in machine identity protection.

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