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Runtime detection and response

Runtime security is a critical line of defense against malicious actors. Ideally any unpatched vulnerabilities, insecure configurations, or insecure credentials would be caught at the build or deployment stage. In reality, though, runtime detection and response is essential because sometimes vulnerabilities slip through these earlier phases, and because new vulnerabilities are continually being discovered. It’s also important for compliance reasons and as a line of defense against internal threats.

Declarative, immutable workloads require an entirely new model for detecting and responding to potential security incidents in runtime. The fact that containers generally run a minimal number of processes, combined with the declarative nature of Kubernetes, actually makes some aspects of runtime security easier than in virtual machine (VM)-based applications. On the other hand, running containers should not be ‘patched’ the same way security patches would be applied to a VM-based app; instead they should be treated as immutable and be killed, updated, and restarted.

Detection is the cornerstone of runtime security. This involves finding a baseline for how the application behaves and investigating any activity that deviates too far from the baseline. Some of the activities that might be tracked include network requests and process executions. When those activities deviate from what is expected it could be a sign of potentially suspicious or malicious activity. For example, trying to connect to the Internet when that isn’t allowed. Regardless, that type of anomalous behavior would point to something that needs to be addressed.

Anomaly detection can be more accurate in containers than it is for VM-based workloads, because containers only contain one application, making it easier to isolate what is and is not baseline behavior for a container. Anomaly detection, however, should also always be connected to an incident response process.

Depending on the type of anomalous behavior, the best course of action might be to respond automatically, by having the platform kill the impacted pods or containers. In other cases, it might be more appropriate to send an alert and evaluate the behavior manually. However, potential incident response should be as automated as possible to minimize response times and increase overall security of containerized applications.

Last updated: May-29-2020