NIST Guidance on Container Security

Here, a selected few of NIST documents which I’ve found very informative may help those who seek formal criteria, guidelines and recommendations for evaluating containerization and security.

NIST SP 800-190

Application Container Security Guide

Published in September of 2017, this document (800-190) reminds us the potential security concerns and how to address those concerns when employing containers. 800-190 details the major risks and the countermeasures of container technologies include image, registry, orchestrator, containers and host OS.

Worth pointing out that in section 6 of 800-190 recommends organizations should apply all, while listing out  exceptions and additions in planning and implementation to, the NIST SP 800-125 Section 5 recommendations in a container technology context.

NISTIR 8176

Security Assurance Requirements for Linux Application Container Deployments

Published in October of 2017, this document (8176) explains the execution model of Linux containers and assumes the attack model is that the vulnerability in the application code of the container or its faulty configuration has been exploited by an attacker. 8176 also examines securing containers based on hardware and configurations including namespace, cgroups and capabilities. Addressing the functionality and assurance requirements for the two types container security solutions, 8176 complements NIST 800-190 which provides the security guidelines and counter measures for application containers, .

NIST SP 800-180

NIST Definition of Microservices, Application Containers and System Virtual Machines

As of January of 2018, this document (800-180) is not yet finalized, while the draft was published in February of 2017 and the call for comments had ended in the following month.

The overwhelming interests on container technologies and their applications have energized organizations for seeking new and improved ways to add values to their customers and increase ROI. At the same time, as containers, containerization and microservices have become highly popular terms and over and over again being abused in our daily business conversations, the lack of rigorous and recognized criteria to clearly define what containers and microservices are has been in my view a main factor confusing and perhaps misguided many. For those who seek definitions and clarity before examining a solution, the agony of being in a state of confusion suffocated by the ambiguity of technical jargons indiscreetly applied to statements can be, or for me personally is, a very stressful experience. And some apparently has had enough and urged us that “There is no such thing as a microservice!”

With 800-180 serving a similar role to what NIST 800-145 to cloud computing, we now have a set of criteria to reference as a baseline for carrying out a productive conversation on containers., microservices and related solutions. And that’s a good thing.

NIST SP 800-125

Guide to Security for Full Virtualization Technologies

Like many NIST documents, this document (800-125) first gives the background information by explaining what full virtualization is, the motivations of employing it and how it works, before depicting the use cases, requirements and security recommendations for planning and deployment. Although today most business and technical professionals in the IT industry are to some degree versed in virtualization technologies. 800-125 remains an interesting read and provides an insight into virtualization and security. There are two associated documents, as below, point out important topics on virtualization to for a core knowledge domain of the subject.

  • NIST SP 800-125A Security Recommendations for Hypervisor Deployment on Servers
  • NIST SP 800-125B Secure Virtual Network Configuration for Virtual Machine (VM) Protection
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