What is Kubernetes Security Posture Management? 

Kubernetes Security Posture Management (KSPM) is the process of putting into place a system for ensuring the defenses of Kubernetes – also referred to as K8s – clusters are sound and that they comply with internal and external security standards.

According to the Cloud Security Alliance, KSPM “also includes how well it can predict, prevent, and respond to cyber threats that are constantly changing in relation to Kubernetes.” Modern cyber threats are ever-evolving; this means there will be an inherent ephemeral nature to securing Kubernetes clusters running on cloud or hybrid environments.

Before we go any further let’s recontextualize with a basic definition:

Kubernetes is an open-source, container-orchestration platform for managing containerized application workloads and services. Kubernetes is in charge of container deployment and also manages the software-defined networking layer that allows containers to talk to one another. The platform is portable and facilitates declarative configuration and automation.

Securing the management of containerized workloads across environments includes practices like leveraging role-based access controls (RBACs), limiting API access, ensuring Kubernetes itself is up-to-date, and performing proactive scanning and monitoring.

Tasking an organization with self-compliance of KSPM will be what determines its success, particularly as – according to Gartner® – by 2026 more than 90% of all enterprises will extend their capabilities to multi-cloud environments.

What is the Difference Between KSPM and CSPM? 

The difference between KSPM and cloud security posture management (CSPM) is one of containerized workloads versus the infrastructure hosting those workloads. Being that these two methodologies are not apples to apples, let’s take a look at some of their key technical differences to gain clarity on any potential confusion:

  • Focus areas: While CSPM focuses on remediating vulnerabilities and misconfigurations within the overall native cloud platform, KSPM focuses on remediating issues within the Kubernetes containers. 
  • Application security: CSPM tools typically provide minimal protection to their customers' specific application workloads running on the cloud platform. KSPM, however, are customer-based protocols for Kubernetes container security. 
  • Identifying exposures: CSPM tools are specifically designed to identify potential attack surface vulnerabilities that could lead to breaches and data theft. KSPM tools are focused on protecting the K8s containers running within the cloud environment. 
  • Compliance: CSPM tools must ensure the entire cloud environment adheres to strict regulations – particularly within sectors like healthcare and finance. While, to some extent, the CSP must also monitor the compliance of customer operations on its clouds, ultimately those customers are responsible for the compliance of their K8s clusters and must adhere to the specific industry regulations those applications serve.

A tangential aspect to note here is the concept of the shared responsibility model (SRM). This understanding between cloud service providers (CSPs) and end-users of those CSP services essentially prescribes that a CSP will be responsible for managing its security posture while an end-user/customer will be responsible for managing its container security for those instances operating on the CSP’s cloud platform.

How Does KSPM Work? 

KSPM works by ensuring that K8s container defenses are properly secured; this is also known as hardening. Over the course of the monitoring process of a Kubernetes environment for misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, or compliance violations, it's a good idea for IT and security teams to leverage automation to enact the bulk of these defense-hardening techniques.

KSPM solutions should help an organization define the security policies of Kubernetes clusters. In the Kubernetes Hardening Guide, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) recommends a set of KSPM best practices for securing Kubernetes clusters:

  • "Scan containers and Pods for vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
  • Run containers and Pods with the least privileges possible.
  • Use network separation to control the amount of damage a compromise can cause. 
  • Use firewalls to limit unneeded network connectivity and use encryption to protect confidentiality. 
  • Use strong authentication and authorization to limit user and administrator access as well as to limit the attack surface. 
  • Capture and monitor audit logs so that administrators can be alerted to potential malicious activity. 
  • Periodically review all Kubernetes settings and use vulnerability scans to ensure risks are appropriately accounted for and security patches are applied." 

In the guide, CISA also goes on to say that “Administrators should periodically check to ensure their system's security is compliant with the current cybersecurity best practices. Periodic vulnerability scans and penetration tests should be performed on the various system components to proactively look for insecure configurations and zero-day vulnerabilities. Any discoveries should be promptly remediated before potential cyber actors can discover and exploit them.”

Why is KSPM Important? 

KSPM is important because it acts as a safety net for containerized workloads running in a Kubernetes cluster. Ensuring security posture is also important because K8s clusters are constantly expanding to meet the needs of DevOps teams. However, it is the responsibility of the security organization to ensure the security of the previously mentioned containerized workloads.

This, hopefully, will lead to the ultimate creation of a DevSecOps culture – of which KSPM is just one aspect. As discussed, K8s clusters – as well as other workload types – tend to exponentially expand as a business adopts a faster rate of growth. Therefore, it becomes imperative for security to integrate as seamlessly as possible into the application-development process; within the cybersecurity world, this process is also known as “shifting left.”

Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)

The CI/CD process is as fast-paced as it sounds. Workloads are constantly being spun up in order to feed software updates, among other things. For developers, this seems like a straightforward ask. However, those workloads are often being delivered into live and publicly accessible environments, so they must be as secure as possible so as not to be left vulnerable to attackers and breaches.

Thus security – instead of checking processes after they’re complete – must be automated to integrate into that continuous development so that the process is constantly being checked as it’s happening, and that the product that “gets shipped” is as secure as it can be. KSPM processes can help to ensure this security integrity within a Kubernetes-run environment.

What to Look for in a KSPM Solution

As far as specific KSPM solutions, it's important for a SOC to analyze its unique environment in which it is running K8s so that money is not wasted on unnecessary operations. Let's take a look into some of the more general aspects of a KSPM solution that could be applicable across most use cases. 

Adhere to CIS Benchmarks 

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) has established certain benchmarks to which a KSPM solution should align. These benchmarks for Kubernetes network security define a standard by which to determine the state of security in a Kubernetes cluster running either on-prem or in cloud environments like AWS, GCP, or Azure.

In addition, the benchmarks provide guidance for remediation when security shortcomings are identified. These benchmarks typically are incorporated directly into a solution’s technology, allowing companies to use Kubernetes clusters while ensuring CIS compliance.

Ensure a Holistic Approach to Container Security and Compliance

Once a KSPM solution has been onboarded and configured to monitor Kubernetes clusters, it will scan container-configuration resources potentially exposed via API; these can include pods, containers, services, and deployments.

Analysts should then be able to see this scan data in a single model representing both infrastructure and containment. In this way, a KSPM solution analyzes data for configuration and security issues according to policies defined by regulations such as PCI DSS, GDPR, and HIPAA

Protect Data by Replicating It 

It's critical to maintain running applications if a threat is looming or there is an active breach. A KSPM solution makes this possible by allowing for effortless application portability. Applications can be automatically replicated from one cloud server to another in order to maximize redundancy in case of an incident. 

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