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Vulnerability scanning — images, in running deployments

Image and vulnerability scanning should start during the build phase but has to continue throughout the entire application lifecycle, including in runtime. New security vulnerabilities can be discovered at any time, and the ability to detect any vulnerabilities in running deployments is critical to the organization’s security posture. Vulnerabilities in running deployments could result in an immediate security risk and organizations need a way to detect and remediate them as soon as possible.

At the build phase, non-compliant images, including those with severe and fixable vulnerabilities, should fail to build. DevOps teams should get that feedback directly in the CI system. At deploy time, security tooling can apply admission control to automatically prevent containers with known vulnerabilities detected in the image from being deployed. It’s crucial to know how to prioritize remediation, depending on vulnerability severity, the sensitivity of the workload, and the organization’s general tolerance of security risk. Organizations should take the time to create customized policies and implement tools that allow those policies to be enforced - at build time and deploy time - through automation. And after deployments are running, organizations should still continue to scan for vulnerabilities.

Different capabilities in image scanners

Not all image scanners provide the same level of comprehensive checks: Some scan only the underlying operating system, others also scan libraries, others do language-level checks, and others scan file contents. It’s important to choose an image scanner that is at least as comprehensive as the organization needs, as well as one that is compatible with the programming languages used by your applications.

Some image scanners perform a real-time scan upon each image pull, but this approach can increase latency, so organizations have to decide whether the real-time information is worth the performance hit.

Scanning in runtime

As with image scanning during the build phase, not all detected vulnerabilities merit the same response. Organizations need a way to prioritize remediation focus based on workload sensitivity, data sensitivity, Internet exposure, along with the severity of the detected vulnerabilities. No two organizations will have the same procedures or service level objectives to guide appropriate response to discovered vulnerabilities. There are trade-offs associated with, for example, blocking every container with discovered vulnerabilities, regardless of the severity or sensitivity. Successful vulnerability scanning in running deployments requires both the right tools to ensure the right visibility and information as well as thoughtful organizational security policies that hit the right balance between vulnerability management and operational impact.

Last updated: May-30-2020