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Network segmentation

By default, Kubernetes allows all pods within a cluster to communicate freely. This makes application operations easier, but also creates a security risk. Although the defaults are overly permissive, Kubernetes also has built-in enforcement capabilities that can be configured to restrict communication between assets. Network segmentation is a part of restricting communication between parts of the deployment. Network segmentation is also required by some compliance frameworks, including PCI-DSS.

Network segmentation works by breaking networks into smaller subnetworks. From a security perspective, the primary advantage is that if a malicious actor gains access to one application running on the same Kubernetes cluster with other applications, network segmentation prevents that malicious actor from accessing all of the apps on the cluster. It’s also a way to isolate sensitive workloads and/or workloads that are in-scope for a particular compliance framework from other parts of the application.

Network policies should be as restrictive as possible, allowing individual containers to communicate with only the containers that are necessary for the application to function as designed.

In Kubernetes, network segmentation is done by enforcing network policies, both through Kubernetes native network enforcement capabilities as well as through using additional infrastructure layers like a service mesh.

By default, there are no restrictions on communication between pods, containers and nodes, either within the same namespace or between namespaces. Putting network policies in place to restrict communication, generally starting with a policy that denies all communication, is a good best practice starting point. Because pods do need to communicate with each other, it’s best to then systematically whitelist the other pods that a given pod needs to communicate with. Ingress from and egress to the public internet should also be allowed on a whitelist basis, for only the pods that need it.

There is also some operational risk associated with changing network policies and increasing network segmentation. Using a tool to visualize how changes to system-wide network policies would impact the application can help minimize the risk of unexpected consequences from adjusting network policies.

Last updated: Jun-2-2020