Container attack vectors

We live in a containerised world. Container solutions like Docker are now so extended that they are not a niche thing any more or a buzzword, they are mainstream. Multiple companies use it and, the ones that do not are dreaming with it probably.

The only problems are that they are still something new. The adoption of them has been fast and, it has arrived like a storm to all kind of industries that use technology. The problem is that from a security point of view we, as an industry, do not have all the awareness we should have. Containers and, especially, containers running on cloud environments are hidden partially the fact that they exist and they need to be part of our security considerations. Some companies use them thinking they are completely secure, trusting the cloud providers or the companies that generate the containers take care of everything and, even, for less technology focus business, they are an abstraction and not real and tangible thing. They are not the old bare metal servers, the desktop machines or the virtual machines they were used to it, and till a certain point, they worried because they were things that could be touched.

All of that has made that while security concerns for web applications are first-level citizens, not as much as it should but the situation has improved a lot on the last few years, security concerns about containers seem to be the black sheep of the family, no one talks about it. And, this is not right. It should have the same level of concern and the same attention should be paid to it and, be part of the development life cycle.

In the same way that web applications can be attacked in multiple ways, containers have their own attack vectors, some of which we are going to see here. We will see that some of the attack vectors can be easily compared with known attack vectors on spaces we are more aware like web applications.

Vulnerable application code

Containers package applications and third-party dependencies that can contain known flaws or vulnerabilities. There are thousands of published vulnerabilities that attackers can take advantage to exploit our systems if found on the applications running inside the containers.

The best to try to avoid running container with known vulnerabilities is to scan the images we are going to deploy and, not just as a one-time thing. This should be part of our delivery pipelines and, the scans should apply all the time. In addition to known vulnerabilities, scanners should try to find out-of-date packages that need an update. Even, some available scanners try to find some possible malware on the images.

Badly configured container images

When configuring how a container is going to be built some vulnerabilities can be introduced by mistake or if not the proper attention is paid to the building process that can be later exploited by attackers. A very common example is to configure the container to run with unnecessary root permissions giving it more privileges on the host than it really needs.

Build machine attacks

As any piece of software, the one we use to run CI/CD pipelines and build container images can be attacked successfully and, attackers can add malicious code to our containers during the build phase obtaining access to our production environment once the containers have been deploy and, even, utilising these compromised containers to pivot to other parts of our systems or networks.

Supply chain attacks

Once containers have been built they are stored in registries and retrieved or “pulled” when they are going to be run. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee the security of this registries and, an attacker can compromise the registry an replace the original image with a modified one including a few surprises.

Badly configured containers

When creating configuration files for our containers, i.e. a YAML file, we can make some mistakes and add configurations to the containers we did not need. Some possible examples are unnecessary access privileges or unnecessary open ports.

Vulnerable host

Containers run on host machines and, in the same way, we try to ensure containers are secure host should be too. Some times they run old versions of orchestration component with known vulnerabilities or other components for monitorisation. A good idea is to minimise the number of components installed on the host, configure them correctly and apply security best practices.

Exposed secrets

Credentials, tokens or passwords are all of them necessary if we want our system to be able to communicate with other parts of the system. One risk is the way we supply the container and the applications running in it these secret values. There are different approaches with varying levels of security that can be used to prevent any leakage.

Insecure networking

The same than non containerised applications, containers need to communicate using networks. some level of attention will be necessary to set up secure connections among components.

Container escape vulnerabilities

Containers are prepared to run on isolation from the hosts were they are running, in general, all container runtimes like “containerd” or “CRI-O” have been heavily tested and are quite reliable but, as always, there are vulnerabilities to be discovered. Some of these vulnerabilities can let malicious code running inside a container escape out into the host. Due to the severity of this, some stronger isolation mechanisms can be worth to consider.

Some other risks related to containers but not directly been containers can be:

  • Attacks to code repositories of application deployed on the containers poisoning them with malicious code.
  • Hosts accessible from the Internet should be protected as expected with other tools like firewalls, identity and access management systems, secure network configurations and others.
  • When container run under an orchestrator, i.e. Kubernetes, a door to new attack vectors is open. Configurations, permission or access not controlled properly can give attackers access to our systems.

As we can see some of the attack vectors are similar to the one existing in more mature areas like networking or web application but, due to the abstraction and the easy-to-use approach, the security on containers, unfortunately, is left out the considerations.

Reference:¬†“Container Security by Liz Rice (O’Reilly). Copyright 2020 Vertical Shift Ltd., 978-1-492-05670-6”

Container attack vectors

Container Security: Anchore Engine

Nowadays, containers are taking over the world. We still have big systems, legacy system and, obviously, not every company out there has enough speed to migrate to containerized solutions but, wherever you look, people are talking about containers.

And, if you look in the opposite direction, people are talking about security. Breaches, vulnerabilities, systems not properly patched, all kind of problems that put at risk enterprise security and users data.

With all of this, and it is not new, projects involving both topics have been growing and growing. The ecosystem is huge, and the amount of options is starting to be overwhelming.

We have projects like:

  • Docker Bench for Security: The Docker Bench for Security is a script that checks for dozens of common best-practices around deploying Docker containers in production. The tests are all automated and are inspired by the CIS Docker Benchmark v1.2.0.
  • Clair: Clair is an open-source project for the static analysis of vulnerabilities in application containers (currently including apps and docker).
  • Cilium: Cilium is open source software for providing and transparently securing network connectivity and load-balancing between application workloads such as application containers or processes. Cilium operates at Layer 3/4 to provide traditional networking and security services as well as Layer 7 to protect and secure use of modern application protocols such as HTTP, gRPC and Kafka. Cilium is integrated into common orchestration frameworks such as Kubernetes and Mesos.
  • Anchore Engine: The Anchore Engine is an open-source project that provides a centralized service for inspection, analysis and certification of container images. The Anchore Engine is provided as a Docker container image that can be run standalone or within an orchestration platform such as Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, Rancher, Amazon ECS, and other container orchestration platforms.
  • OpenSCAP: The OpenSCAP ecosystem provides multiple tools to assist administrators and auditors with assessment, measurement, and enforcement of security baselines. We maintain great flexibility and interoperability, reducing the costs of performing security audits.
  • Dagda: Dagda is a tool to perform static analysis of known vulnerabilities, trojans, viruses, malware & other malicious threats in docker images/containers and to monitor the docker daemon and running docker containers for detecting anomalous activities.
  • Notary: The Notary project comprises a server and a client for running and interacting with trusted collections. See the service architecture documentation for more information.
  • Grafaes: An open artefact metadata API to audit and govern your software supply chain.
  • Sysdig Falco: Falco is a behavioural activity monitor designed to detect anomalous activity in your applications. Powered by sysdig’s system call capture infrastructure, Falco lets you continuously monitor and detect container, application, host, and network activity – all in one place – from one source of data, with one set of rules.
  • Banyan Collector: Banyan Collector is a light-weight, easy to use, and modular system that allows you to launch containers from a registry, run arbitrary scripts inside them, and gather useful information.

As we can see, there are multiple tools within this container security scope. These are just some example.

In this article, we are going to explore a bit more Archore Engine. We are going to create a basic Jenkins pipeline to scan one container. Fro this, we are going to need:

  • A repository in GitHub with a simple dockerized project. In my case, I will be using this one. It’s a simple Spring Boot app with a hello endpoint and a very simple ‘Dockerfile’.
  • We are going to need a Docker Hub repository to store our image. I will be using this one.
  • Docker and docker-compose.

And, that’s all. Let’s go.

We can see in the next image the pipeline we are going to implement:

Install Anchore Engine

We just need to execute a few commands to have Anchore Engine up and running.

mkdir -p ~/aevolume/config 
mkdir -p ~/aevolume/db/
cd ~/aevolume/config && curl -O && cd - 
cd ~/aevolume
curl -O

After that, we should see a folder ‘aevolume’ with a content similar to:

Running Anchore Engine

As we can see, the previous step has provided us with a docker-compose file to run in an easy way Anchore Engine. We just need to execute the command:

docker-compose up -d

When docker-compose finishes, we should be able to see the two containers for Anchore Engine executing. One for the application itself and one for the database.

Install the Anchore CLI

It is not necessary but, it is going to be very useful to debug integration problem if we have (I had a few the first time). For this, we just need to execute a simple command that it will make the executable ‘anchore-cli’ available in our system.

pip install anchorecli

Install the Jenkins plugin

Now, we start working on the integration with Jenkins. The first step is to install the Anchore integration on Jenkins. We just need to go to the Jenkins management plugin area and install one called ‘Anchore Container Image Scanner Plugin’.

Configure Anchore in Jenkins

There is one more step we need to take to configure the Anchore plugin in Jenkins. We need to provide the engine URL and the access credentials. This credentials can be found in the file ‘~/aevolume/config/config.yaml’.

Configure Docker Hub repository

The last configuration we need to do, it is to add our access credential for our Docker Hub repository. I recommend here to generate an access token and not to use our real credentials. Once we have the access credential, we just need to add them to Jenkins.

Create a Jenkins pipeline

To be able to run our builds and to analyze our containers, we need to create a Jenkins pipeline. We are going to use the script feature for this. The script will look like this:

pipeline {
    environment {
        registry = "fjavierm/anchore_demo"
        registryCredential = 'DOCKER_HUB'
        dockerImage = ''
    agent any
        stages {
            stage('Cloning Git') {
                steps {
                    git ''

            stage('Building image') {
                steps {
                    script {
                        dockerImage = registry + ":$BUILD_NUMBER"

            stage('Container Security Scan') {
                steps {
                    sh 'echo " `pwd`/Dockerfile" > anchore_images'
                    anchore name: 'anchore_images'
            stage('Deploy Image') {
                    script {
                        docker.withRegistry( '', registryCredential ) {
            stage('Cleanup') {
                steps {
                    for i in `cat anchore_images | awk '{print $1}'`;do docker rmi $i; done

This will create a pipeline like:

Execute the build

Now, we just need to execute the build and see the results:


With this, we finish the demo. We have installed Anchore Engine, integrate it with Jenkins, run a build and check the analysis results.

I hope it is useful.

Container Security: Anchore Engine

Docker for Java developers

Today, it has been one of this days to learn something new. If you have seen any of my blogs, you should know that I like to write about what I am learning and I like to write it myself, I am not a fan of just paste resources or other people’s materials or tutorials but, sometimes, I need to make exceptions.

Today, I was learning Docker, you know, the container platform that allows us to deploy applications in containers in a easy way. Unless you have been living for a long time under a rock probably you what I am talking about.

Looking for resources I have found a video of one of the presentation in the Devnexus conferences in 2015 that it has help me a lot. Considering it is a great resource, I am gonna link the video here, instead of writing myself an article, because I consider that it is very well explained and the tricks and solutions he shows are very interesting.

The speaker is Burr Sutter, a former employee (at the time the article is written) of Red Hat. He has a blog, a github account and a twitter account you can check. The video is quite interesting and not boring at all, it is more than one hour but it feels much shorter than that.

In addition, I strongly recommend you to go to his github account (listed before) and take a look to the tutorials he is using during the video:

  • Docker tutorial: Simple deploy of a Java EE application.
  • Docker MySQL tutorial: Same application than the previous one but with two different containers, one with the application server and the application and another one with the MySQL database.

Just a tiny addition to the excellent job he has done. Right now, we can download from the Docker page the native version of Docker for MAC and for Windows. They are still in beta version but I have not had any problem with that and everything looks a bit simpler.

Good luck with your learning and enjoy it.

See you.

Docker for Java developers