How to secure Docker containers on AWS?

So far, we have taken a detailed look at this emerging technology, but Docker containers on AWS come with their own specific set of security issues.

These approaches tie into the general Amazon EC2 security guidelines that are established for the cloud platform. But there also are quite a few pioneering solutions to securing your Docker containers on ECS, as well as a selection of tools and algorithms that help accomplish this.

We are going to deal with the topic of securing your Docker containers on AWS in this article.

How secure are Docker containers?

And are they secure, at all? With their increase usage across almost all cloud scenarios, questions are being asked in different quarters whether Docker containers are secure enough? To understand this, we will need to see how the security of containers stacks up against virtual machines, and how they differ from VMs in terms of the overall security.

Virtual machines are typically heavyweight, hence bloated. Whereas most containers are lightweight, hence slim. This creates a difference in the security implications of both paradigms.

Since hypervisors are the centralized and core controllers of the virtual machines, any kind of access to a virtual machine needs to go through this virtualization solution — even one that is unauthorized and unauthenticated. Which is to say that any attack on a virtual machine is smaller in comparison to a container, because the hypervisor has to be hacked first or broken into in order to impact the VMs.

Not so much, in case of containers.

Since containers are placed directly on top of the kernel of the host system to create a lean and mean architecture that is highly efficient due to the lack of an emulation layer, they also offer a much higher container density. A cybercriminal can easily gain access to the host and other containers if any of the containers is compromised, due to the fact that the attack surface of a container is much larger.

Luckily, the developers of the Docker platform are aware of this, and have given due consideration to this security risk. The system they have designed substantially enhances the container security.

In other words, the container movement is blessed with decent security.

Steps to secure Docker containers

Even with this fairly robust security in place, if you are running containers in a multitenant system, and not using proven security practices, there lurk substantial dangers around the security front. As noted above, security breaches can happen at different service levels, which necessitates the need for security architects to figure out what can go wrong, where, and then put inti place proven security and preserving methods.

Here are some basic tips and steps you can take to secure your containers.

  • Get rid of privileged access.
  • Try to limit root usage of your containers and services, as much as possible.
  • Only download software from a trusted repository.
  • Apply security updates and patches to fix vulnerabilities as soon as they are released.
  • In a larger cloud setup, have a security response team available to regularly find and fix flaws.
  • Always be sure to check the security of the operating system.

Basically, you want to put in as many security barriers as possible to prevent any kind of a breakout. And if a privileged access process does manage to break out of one containment mechanism, you simply have to have something in place to black them with the next barrier in the hierarchy.

Docker makes it possible for you to take advantage pretty much all the security mechanisms of Linux. For example, it is vital to have proper filesystem protections in place, with filesystems ideally read-only to prevent any kind of unauthorized write.

Good Linux and Windows security practices have their use in the world of containers.

Because at the end of the day, software flaws in distributed and complex applications, like an OS for example, open the way for intelligent hackers and attackers to break into systems that host critical and confidential data.

Read  more about EC2 containers here