3 Pillars of Intent-Based Security for Containers
February 01, 2017

Ben Bernstein

The concept of intent-based security is a new way of looking at applications, specifically those in a containerized environment, down to the application level and adding in extra security. It uses the power of the developer in order to produce a more predictable and secure environment that can be enforced.

To elaborate, today there is more information flowing from the developer. Historically, when developers wrote their code, if you asked them which processes are running in the operating system where their code is running, they would have no idea. Conversely, if they develop a container-based application, they know exactly which processes are running, because they produced the entire container stack top to bottom. Developers must be able to describe the entire OS stack in order for their containers to run. This enables everything to be more automated and it typically results in everything being delivered in small frequent pieces and updates.

When it comes to DevOps and containers, the unique nature of the process and technology allows the intent-based security model to capitalize on three pillars:

1. Containers are declarative

When a developer writes the code, he/she does not just write the code, he/she writes a manifest that describes how this code should work and how it should interact with its environment. While the developer does not provide you with a real security manifest, you can translate the extra information that you have and try to create a security profile. With containers you have dockerfile, you might have a pod, you might have an application group if you're running on top of mesosphere. There is a lot of information in the system that you could use in order to understand what is supposed to happen.

2. Containers are predictable

When you look at containers, they contain less specific logic and more common building blocks because containers are typically made out of layers you download that someone else created.

For example, if you're creating a container, you don't write the OS from scratch, you take an Ubuntu. If you're using MySQL, then you'll just take a MySQL layer and put it in your container. And then if, on top of that, it's just a database and you want to add a thin layer of configuration, you've got Ubuntu, MySQL and on top of that a little bit of configuration. That's a pretty predictable piece of software. It's very minimalistic, there's not a lot of logic in it and it's built out of common building blocks. So you could basically assume what that piece is supposed to do. But even if it wasn't just configuration and there was some logic in it, it would contain less logic than a virtual machine would because it's a microservice. Baselining behavior based on a more minimalistic microservice is much easier than it was in the case of virtual machines.

3. Containers are immutable

In the past, it was hard to understand if something happening with the application was really an attack or not. In the case of containers, whenever you patch a container or change its real intent, it should not happen in real time. What happens is the developer changes things and then he/she pushes in a new version. He patches the OS or adds new functionality and then pushes in a new container and scratches the old one. This gives you a lot of power from a security standpoint because, for the first time ever, if you see a polymorphic change in the behavior of the application (if it starts behaving differently) it's either a configuration drift, which is bad, or a real attack. And depending on the other indicators, you can understand if you're seeing an event that looks like an attack or not.

Leveraging these three pillars, there is a powerful opportunity to use whitelisting, for example, to approve known good processes. In combination with application intent analysis, enforcement measures help to support the intent-based security model and preserve the original intent of the application.

Ben Bernstein is CEO and Co-Founder of Twistlock.

The Latest

April 27, 2017

In a movement that has gained momentum as quickly as DevOps has, it's always good to stop from time to time and evaluate where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. We asked four industry experts some questions about the progress of ALM and DevOps ...

April 26, 2017

It's easy to ignore downtime. But ignoring downtime is a surefire way to upset your customers and your colleagues. More and more, teams need to think about shipping stellar experiences. Proper incident response is a great place to start ...

April 24, 2017

The expectation of regular software updates – it's what developers are tasked with, and what users expect and demand. Increased functionality, better performance, and fewer bugs – often in a week or less. Automation of critical processes such as QA can help meet the gargantuan task of constant updates, but it can also send your software into a death spiral of user abandonment unless deployed correctly ...

April 20, 2017

One could argue that testing is the most important phase of an IT project. It's also time-consuming and expensive. It's essential to strike a balance between an IT testing program that ensures a quality product and the cost-to-value ratio of your project. But when you're dealing with replatforming projects, how much testing is enough testing? ...

April 18, 2017

Whether through formal methods such as classroom or virtual training, job shadowing, and mentoring; or through informal methods such as team discussions or presentations, teaching needs to be a frequent element of team integration. It is a given that IT and business teams have difficulty understanding each other without a common taxonomy. Even teams within IT often fail to understand each other ...

April 17, 2017

Although DBAs fortunately have the rare ability to bridge the gap between development and operations, they have been detrimentally overlooked in many companies that deploy DevOps practices. A DBA's ability to interrogate code and construct a resilient, well–performing database environment uniquely defines the capabilities needed for DevOps – leaving me perplexed about why DBAs were not one of the first operations team members asked to join the DevOps movement ...

April 12, 2017

DEVOPSdigest asked experts across the industry — including analysts, consultants and vendors — for their opinions on the best way for a development or DevOps team to become more Agile. Part 5, the final installment in this series, provides tips on empowering people ...

April 10, 2017

DEVOPSdigest asked experts across the industry for their opinions on the best way for a development or DevOps team to become more Agile. Part 4 covers DevOps technologies ...

April 07, 2017

DEVOPSdigest asked experts across the industry for their opinions on the best way for a development or DevOps team to become more Agile. Part 3 provides some tips for getting started and gaining feedback ...

April 05, 2017

DEVOPSdigest asked experts across the industry for their opinions on the best way for a development or DevOps team to become more Agile. Part 2 covers processes including automation, continuous delivery and testing ..

Share this