Guest post originally published on ARMO’s blog by Oshrat Nir, Head of Product Marketing at Armo
Learn about Kubernetes compliance challenges, consequences of non-compliance, and get guidance on maintaining a secure and compliant cloud environment in a dynamic Kubernetes setup.
Kubernetes is a leading open-source platform for automating containerized applications’ deployment, scaling, and management. With the growing adoption of cloud, hybrid, and multicloud environments, the topic of Kubernetes compliance has become increasingly pertinent. Kubernetes compliance means ensuring that the platform and its components adhere to applicable regulations and standards. With a rapidly growing attack surface in modern cloud environments, the emphasis on compliance has increased among Kubernetes users.
This post will explain compliance in Kubernetes, discuss the challenges of compliance, and describe potential consequences of non-compliance. After exploring the complexities of achieving compliance in a dynamic, ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes, insights and guidance will be offered regarding maintenance of a secure and compliant cloud environment.
Compliance in Kubernetes applies to various aspects of the platform, including security, data privacy, network security, and incident response. The goal of Kubernetes’ compliance requirements is to minimize the risk of security breaches and ensure that sensitive data is protected. This section will present the leading regulatory frameworks and standards that apply to Kubernetes in specific contexts, and discuss the significance of the Kubernetes attack surface.
Several regulatory frameworks and standards apply to Kubernetes, depending on the industry and location of the organization. Some examples include:
The attack surface of Kubernetes refers to the various areas of a Kubernetes cluster that are vulnerable to an attack. These areas, or attack surfaces, can be grouped as follows:
In recent years, Kubernetes has been adopted by numerous organizations, and more complex architectures have come into play as a result. This level of adoption has also increased the attack surface of Kubernetes clusters and led to the attack surface becoming more diverse and harder to control due to increasing numbers of Kubernetes clusters being deployed in multicloud and hybrid-cloud environments. Thus, organizations must implement robust security controls and continuous monitoring in order to protect their Kubernetes stack from potential attacks.
The large attack surface naturally presents challenges in achieving compliance. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in multiple areas to gain access to sensitive information or disrupt operations.
Compliance in Kubernetes is a complex beast, due to the architectural characteristics of the cloud and the limitations of current compliance tools. This section will first discuss difficulties related to the dynamic and ephemeral features of Kubernetes and then look at existing compliance tools’ limitations, before suggesting ways to overcome these limitations.
As a result of its infrastructure and application stack, Kubernetes creates a complex architecture consisting of dynamic, scalable and ephemeral workloads, such as containers. Achieving compliance in a dynamic, ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes can be challenging for a number of reasons, which deserve a closer look.
Kubernetes clusters are commonly used for complex, cloud-native applications that use microservices. Their architectural complexity makes compliance across the entire environment a challenge; there may be multiple interconnected components to consider.
Pods and containers in a Kubernetes cluster are ephemeral, meaning that they are typically created and destroyed quickly and frequently. This transient state makes it challenging to maintain consistent compliance across the entire stack, as resources may be added or removed without proper oversight.
Kubernetes creates a complex stack with applications running both in the cluster and in the underlying cloud infrastructure. There are widely adopted tools available to improve visibility, such as Prometheus for monitoring, Grafana for visualization, and initiatives such as OpenTelemetry to create a unified platform. However, these tools are limited in terms of their focus, and creating holistic visibility often remains elusive. This creates challenges in identifying and addressing compliance issues in a timely manner.
One of the critical features of Kubernetes is its ability to scale resources automatically based on demand. Although it is a compelling feature, finding security issues in a thousand-node production environment is challenging.
While Kubernetes poses several compliance challenges, the platform actively fosters collaboration with a vibrant, open-source community, and stays attuned to industry trends. It’s reasonable to assume that in the coming years, compliance management for Kubernetes will be improved and simplified. Current compliance solutions in the Kubernetes ecosystem have several limitations, including a lack of Kubernetes-specific features, limited automation, and restricted integration.
Many compliance solutions are designed for traditional cloud infrastructure environments. As a result, their capacity to address Kubernetes-native features—such as extensions with custom resources or RBAC controls—is limited.
Compliance solutions that rely on manual inspections and audits to ensure compliance can prove to be time-consuming and error-prone in an ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes. In addition, without automation and continuous controls, ensuring compliance in Kubernetes is onerous.
Some compliance solutions may be siloed and integrate poorly with other tools and systems used in the Kubernetes ecosystem, such as monitoring, logging, auditing, and node-level container runtimes.
In order to overcome these limitations, organizations should adopt compliance solutions designed explicitly for Kubernetes environments, with features such as automated compliance checks, Kubernetes-specific auditing, and integration with other tools and systems used in the Kubernetes ecosystem. In other words, relying on a compliance tool that supports a cloud environment does not guarantee sufficient feature set to ensure Kubernetes clusters’ compliance.
Non-compliance in a Kubernetes environment can create avoidable risks and lead to serious consequences, including:
To mitigate these risks and consequences, organizations should adopt a comprehensive compliance strategy that includes regular audits, automated compliance checks, and ongoing monitoring of the Kubernetes environment.
Compliance in a Kubernetes environment is a complex and ongoing process. The dynamic and ephemeral nature of clusters, combined with the growing attack surface in modern cloud environments, makes it challenging to maintain a consistent state of compliance. Despite these challenges, organizations must ensure compliance in order to minimize the risk of security breaches and protect sensitive data. This requires a comprehensive approach involving continuous monitoring and assessment, automated testing and remediation, and regular updates to policies and procedures.
In light of these challenges, it is crucial to prioritize compliance in a Kubernetes environment and invest in the necessary resources and tools to maintain high compliance standards. This means staying up to date with the latest regulatory requirements and best practices, and adopting solutions that can help automate the compliance process. ARMO Platform, which is powered by Kubescape, is a Kubernetes-focused, comprehensive solution to manage compliance in any Kubernetes environment. Sign up today to secure your Kubernetes environment and stay ahead of regulatory requirements.
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Guest post originally published on the Nirmata blog by Jim Bugwadia
In Kubernetes, policies are a special type of configuration resource that control other configuration or runtime behaviors. For example, a simple policy declaration may be, “HTTP (non-encrypted) endpoints are not allowed”.
Kubernetes allows several types of policies to be configured. In this post, we introduce the four types of policies available in Kubernetes and provide guidance on how they should be used.
Kubernetes has several API objects, like NetworkPolicies, Roles, ResourceQuotas, role-based access control configurations, etc. that act as policies and control other configuration and runtime behaviors. For example, a Network Policy defines what traffic is allowed to, and from, an application.
Kubernetes has built-in admission controllers that operate directly in the API server and intercept API requests for mutation and validation. For example, the DefaultIngressClass admission controller can be used to mutate an API request to create an Ingress and configure a default Ingress class if none is specified. The built-in admission controllers can be enabled or disabled using the API server –enable-admission-plugins and –disable-admission-plugins flags. Some built-in admission controllers may allow additional configuration via a file accessible to the API server.
Kubernetes version 1.26 introduced an alpha feature to allow more flexible admission control checks using a language called Common Expression Language (CEL). The CEL validation is defined in a new resource called ValidatingAdmissionPolicy. Since this is an alpha feature, both the validatingadmissionpolicy admission controller and admissionregistration.k8s.io/v1alpha1 group/version have to be enabled for it to be used.
In addition to built-in admission controllers, Kubernetes allows execution of admission control decisions in a separate process. These processes are referred to as admission webhooks. This allows extensibility of the API server with CNCF policy engines like Kyverno and OPA/Gatekeeper that use Custom Resources to manage policy artifacts.
It is important to first learn and properly use the built-in Kubernetes API objects like NetworkPolicies and RBAC resources.
The built-in admission controllers are also important to learn about. However, it may not be clear how and when to use the different types of admission controllers. For managed Kubernetes services, it may not be possible to change API server configurations or files required for additional configurations. This limits their usage to clusters where the API server can be configured. Even in those cases, re-configuring the API server is an operation that may cause downtime and is not the most flexible way to enable and enforce policies.
The ValidatingAdmissionPolicy is more flexible, as it allows custom checks to be written using the Common Expressions Language (CEL). Since these validation checks run directly in the API server, the ValidatingAdmissionPolicy avoids the complexity of having to maintain a separate highly-available (HA) workload for policy enforcement. However, this feature is currently an alpha stage feature and only supports basic validation checks for data within an API request, along with lookups for a few other parameters like namespace labels. Additional API server, or external service calls, are not supported. Also, currently other policy types such as mutation rules, generate rules, and cleanup policies are not supported. Additionally, reporting and background scans are also not supported.
Admission webhooks, and policy engines like Kyverno and OPA/Gatekeeper, require managing a highly-available workload to intercept API requests and enforce policies which can be an operational challenge and requires careful management as with any other critical workload. As a benefit, these engines allow complex validation checks, with flexible API server and external service lookups, for data-driven policy decisions. Beyond validation checks, policy engines like Kyverno also offer mutation, generation, image verification, and cleanup policies. And, in addition to execution of policies at admission controls, policy engines can be executed in the CI/CD pipeline via command-line interfaces. For reporting, engines like Kyverno also produce policy reports that are easily consumable as an Kubernetes API server resource.
Due to extensibility and versatility, Kubernetes is being widely used as a platform for building platforms. Policies are critical for proper Kubernetes operations, and allow platform engineering teams to provide the necessary guardrails.
As with other critical components, Kubernetes provides a lot of flexibility and choices for policy management. For production clusters with mission critical workloads, all four Kubernetes policy types will likely be used.
If you are interested in learning more about Kubernetes policy and governance, including a in-depth comparison of the four Kubernetes policy types, grab a free copy of our new eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Policy-based Governance, Security & Compliance for Kubernetes.
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