Understanding and Hardening Linux Containers

Operating System virtualization is an attractive feature for efficiency, speed and modern application deployment, amid questionable security. Recent advancements of the Linux kernel have coalesced for simple yet powerful OS virtualization via Linux Containers, as implemented by LXC, Docker, and CoreOS Rkt among others. Recent container focused start-ups such as Docker have helped push containers into the limelight. Linux containers offer native OS virtualization, segmented by kernel namespaces, limited through process cgroups and restricted through reduced root capabilities, Mandatory Access Control and user namespaces. This paper discusses these container features, as well as exploring various security mechanisms. Also included is an examination of attack surfaces, threats, and related hardening features in order to properly evaluate container security. Finally, this paper contrasts different container defaults and enumerates strong security recommendations to counter deployment weaknesses-- helping support and explain methods for building high-security Linux containers. Are Linux containers the future or merely a fad or fantasy? This paper attempts to answer that question.

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Version 1.1: 29 June 2016 - Slight fixes and improvements.

Published date:  20 April 2016

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