Developer coding software on computer showing Kubernetes security policy

Tips for Establishing a Kubernetes Security Policy

These days, Kubernetes is the go-to tool for automation capabilities for developers in deploying, managing, scaling, and enabling the availability of containerized applications. In fact, more than 5 million developers around the world have identified Kubernetes as their preferred container orchestration engine.

Despite its popularity, Kubernetes and containerization creates additional complexities and unique security challenges. Red Hat, for example, found in their 2021 State of Kubernetes Security report that security is the leading concern when it comes to container strategies, with the majority of those who responded experiencing one or more security incidents recently in their Kubernetes environments.

To keep containerized development nimble, and to keep security air-tight in Kubernetes production environments, it’s critical to employ an effective security policy. But what would a Kubernetes policy look like and why should you care about its security? Let’s answer the why first.

Simply put, Kubernetes security directly impacts development work. The agility offered by container orchestration quickly reduces when security challenges impede build and deployment workflows. Secondly, any security weaknesses left unchecked in production environments can – and almost certainly will – lead to data breaches. At an average cost of just over $4 million to remedy, few if any businesses can afford a data breach. This cost doesn’t factor in damaged brand reputation and public relations fall out.

Now that you understand the basics of why Kubernetes security is a must, here are a few tips to help you stand up your Kubernetes security policy and establish a foundation for a more secure container ecosystem.

Put thought into strategies and tooling

As more companies look to reduce IT overhead and costs, the adoption of Kubernetes will continue to increase. This benefit alone is often enough to get the attention and buy-in from C-suite decision makers who may not know some of the more technical benefits of Kubernetes known by developers. Often this leads to hasty adoption without investing and implementing the right security strategies and tools needed to beef-up the Kubernetes environment – and may prove costly in the future. Before jumping in to the Kubernetes pool, consider the following strategies and tools:

  • Automated code security engines that quickly detect security risks in real-time throughout the development pipeline;
  • Scanning and verifying container images to flag vulnerabilities and remove malicious images;
  • Data management platforms that provide data protection, disaster recovery, and data security capabilities;
  • Network separation and hardening processes to prevent escalation and lateral movement;
  • And always follow the principle of least privilege when managing role-based access control.

Be mindful of misconfigurations

The fact is, whether you’re making changes in the control plane, worker nodes, or building a container image from proprietary code, Kubernetes architecture is vulnerable to many misconfiguration risks, including insecure ports and excessive permissions.

Using manual human intervention to locate and identify misconfigurations in a Kubernetes environment is not only an impractical approach, it is almost impossible given its complexities; one workload can have multiple configurations.

When multiplied by dozens – even hundreds – of workloads, hunting for security risks by hand will exhaust resources quickly and without a guarantee of finding the issue. Instead, deploy an AI-powered scanning engine that monitors for security misconfigurations specifically.

Involve security in the development phase

A common misconception is that security interferes with the agility of application development, resulting in security being left out of the development process; the emergence and detection of security weaknesses at Kubernetes app deployment ultimately slows everything down and delays rollout. However, security weaknesses that could’ve been found and remediated earlier are only found later. Why fix it later when you can fix it now?

Adopting a DevSecOps approach that makes security a key part of all stages in application development is the best way forward here. A DevSecOps approach calls for automating early and often. Automated code security tools are essential for finding harmful security errors in code, Kubernetes configurations, and other artifacts in real-time throughout the development life cycle.

Leverage the Kubernetes secrets

A technology’s secret sauce is often what makes it great. Kubernetes is no different in this regard. Kubernetes secrets give the authorization, authentication credentials, and keys that allow access to the resources that applications need to run accordingly. These resources may include, but are not limited to, sensitive databases, additional applications, or related infrastructure. Since the secrets are decoupled from the application’s code and stored as objects, the application doesn’t need to keep the contents of the secret.

This decoupling makes the required resources accessible without requiring secret contents be stored in container images or pod definitions, thereby exposing them to unnecessary visibility. While Kubernetes secrets are extremely useful, organizations should still scan for authorization, authentication credentials, and keys that may inadvertently land in source code repositories, containers, and pods.

 A final word

Whether orchestrating container workloads in Kubernetes for organizational use or customer-facing applications, an overarching strategic benefit of Kubernetes development is to drive modern digital transformations. Business structures and practices have changed rapidly, especially in the wake of the recent global pandemic. But moving too quickly to meet the demands of digital transformation without integrating the proper Kubernetes security policy can quickly derail all efforts.