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

Ben Bernstein
Twistlock

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

January 17, 2019

To better align business and IT objectives, enterprise organizations should focus on the core "problems" that individual business units face today in driving out real consumer value. Until the roadblocks and inhibitors — and, ultimately, the resultant technical debt — are removed from the equation, large enterprise organizations will continue struggling to succeed ...

January 16, 2019

Technical debt is what results when legacy platforms or highly integrated and dependent systems and processes inhibit large enterprise organizations from meeting the needs of internal business stakeholders. In many cases, the core objectives that drive real, monetizable business value are not aligned to the esoteric IT goals of "automation" and "Agile development." This creates a fundamental disconnect between business and IT ...

January 14, 2019

Budget season is an important time of the year for businesses because it gives senior IT and security leaders time to reflect on what went right this year and what initiatives need to be given priority in the new year. Recent research from Threat Stack shows security budgets are expected to increase by 19 percent over the next two years, but business leaders are still facing challenges determining where to allocate this budget in the face of rapidly evolving infrastructure ...

January 10, 2019

As organizations of all sizes are embracing hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures, they are experiencing the many benefits of a more agile, distributed and high-speed environment where new applications and services can be built and delivered in days and weeks, rather than months and years. But as the adoption of these next generation architectures continues to grow, so do the complexities of securing the cloud workloads running on them ...

January 09, 2019

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 9, the final installment, covers microservices, containers and APIs ...

January 08, 2019

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 8, covers microservices and containers ...

January 07, 2019

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 7, covers the Cloud ...

December 20, 2018

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 6, covers DevOps Analytics, including AI and Machine Learning ...

December 19, 2018

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 5 is all about testing ...

December 18, 2018

DEVOPSdigest invited DevOps experts for their predictions on how DevOps and related technologies will evolve and impact business in 2019. Part 4 covers Agile, CI/CD and automation ...

Share this