Container Vulnerability Scanning: How It Works

container vulnerability scanning how it works software security

The adoption of container encapsulated software has really spiked up our collective need, within the industry, to deepen our overall security measures. Most of that responsibility is being shifted to developers. Container scanning is an efficient and powerful way for developers to guarantee that their containers are secure. Let’s dig into how container vulnerability scanning works, and some of the basics of container security. 

Why Are Containerized Deployments Growing In Popularity? 

A container is a unit of software that packages not only code but other dependencies — a single container might include small services and executable or small software processes to larger, much more complex applications. It all depends on the developer. A container might hold libraries, configuration files, executables, and even binary code. 

Containers have become a popular way to deploy applications in the cloud and on-premise. They are lightweight, portable, and offer developers a standard way of packaging and deploying their code. The benefits of containerization are many, but the most important ones are the speed of deployment, portability, and consistency. 

A single container might allow a developer to package an application with all its dependencies into one bundle that can easily be deployed to any environment rapidly. This is important because it permits developers to be sure that their application will work as expected in any environment they land on regardless of the characteristics of that ecosystem — including connectivity range. 

Today, containerized deployments are the standard in most industries and it has rapidly become the go-to way to deploy software. Why? Developers can position their code and software anymore, without worrying about compatibility issues between different environments or other mitigating factors. 

Why Is Container Image Security A Challenge For Organizations Today? 

As container adoption continues to grow, organizations are increasingly running into security challenges. Containers are designed with the assumption that all bundles in a given host environment have the same privileges. This means that a container running on a host with more privileges can access more data and resources than it should be able to access. 

A container image is immutable, which means that once it is created, it cannot be updated or patched without creating a new one. This creates an environment where vulnerabilities in containers can persist for months or years before being discovered and resolved. Once an error is introduced into the code, intentionally or unintentionally, it is incredibly hard to detect — vulnerabilities can stay hidden from developers for years, vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and other lowlifes. 

One of the most important factors, when it comes to evaluating a company's liabilities is risk assessment — taking into account what might hinder your company and rating it not only by its probabilities but by the damage it can create. With containers, due to their nature, risk assessment becomes unreliable — unless a proper scan is performed there is no way to sum up your company's exposure to a future threat or a risk. 

Type Of Vulnerabilities In Containers 

The use of containers has blossomed over the last few years — containers can turbocharge DevOps development which is a huge selling point for them, one that has made them incredibly popular. By 2021 over 64% of organizations were using containers and by the end of 2022, that number is expected to grow by at least 10%. 

Nevertheless, they are a controversial subject when it comes to cybersecurity professionals — containers and their associated tools can in fact introduce a myriad of vulnerabilities. For example, a couple of years back Tesla was breached via an unprotected container. And not just Tesla, Shopify was almost compromised due to one of these bundles. 

Most container security vulnerabilities are well known to specialists — partly because they represent the classing vulnerabilities of most apps and operating systems. 

• Misconfiguration of Access and authorization protocols. 

• API server access — faked or spoofed credentials can open the container to illicit activity. 

• Image vulnerabilities — hacks that occur before deployment, when malware is introduced into the DNA of the container, the images, and the bundle is “poisoned.” 

• Container to container network traffic — containers, in mocks cases communicate with each other or other software, normally over an encrypted link. 

If the container is compromised hackers can spread malware to another container and use that encryption to hide their intentions and digital footprint. That’s why it is critical to have proper container vulnerability scanning. 

What Is Container Vulnerability Scanning? 

Container vulnerability scanning is the act of auditing a container’s image - images are the DNA of the container and its tools - for vulnerabilities. Container images are usually scanned to find vulnerabilities that might have been introduced during the build process. 

It is important to note that container images are not always vulnerable, but it is critical to scan them nonetheless. The goal of a vulnerability scan is to identify any gaps that might exist in the container image and notify the developer about them in order to be able to take appropriate action. 

Container vulnerability scanning normally involves a software tool that analyzes the container's images layer by layer and tries to pinpoint any security issues. Normally, this type of saving is done by parsing through the whole package and each of the dependencies within the container — each of the things you added into the bundle. 

Best Container Vulnerability Management Practices 

Aside from container vulnerability scanning, companies can also invest in other practices such as: 

 Bug Bounty Program — in which the company pays researchers, users, and freelancers to discover and reveal flaws in their systems. For example, Spotify pays out over $1 million in bounty per year. 

• Pencil in a continuous brainstorming sessions with developers on the state of container security. 

• Shift-left lifecycle protocols — in which the container or software is inspected from day one of inception for security issues. 

• Investing in tools that focus on ensuring container security — there are different tools and algorithms and services online. It's important for organizations to budget into the day-to-day these types of tools.

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