Guest post originally published on ARMO’s blog by Oshrat Nir, Head of Product Marketing at Armo
Learn about Kubernetes compliance challenges, consequences of non-compliance, and get guidance on maintaining a secure and compliant cloud environment in a dynamic Kubernetes setup.
Kubernetes is a leading open-source platform for automating containerized applications’ deployment, scaling, and management. With the growing adoption of cloud, hybrid, and multicloud environments, the topic of Kubernetes compliance has become increasingly pertinent. Kubernetes compliance means ensuring that the platform and its components adhere to applicable regulations and standards. With a rapidly growing attack surface in modern cloud environments, the emphasis on compliance has increased among Kubernetes users.
This post will explain compliance in Kubernetes, discuss the challenges of compliance, and describe potential consequences of non-compliance. After exploring the complexities of achieving compliance in a dynamic, ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes, insights and guidance will be offered regarding maintenance of a secure and compliant cloud environment.
Understanding Compliance in Kubernetes
Compliance in Kubernetes applies to various aspects of the platform, including security, data privacy, network security, and incident response. The goal of Kubernetes’ compliance requirements is to minimize the risk of security breaches and ensure that sensitive data is protected. This section will present the leading regulatory frameworks and standards that apply to Kubernetes in specific contexts, and discuss the significance of the Kubernetes attack surface.
Regulatory Frameworks and Standards
Several regulatory frameworks and standards apply to Kubernetes, depending on the industry and location of the organization. Some examples include:
- SOC 2: The Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 framework applies to organizations that provide cloud-based services. It addresses data security, availability, processing integrity, and confidentiality standards.
- PCI DSS: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to organizations that handle credit card information, and sets standards for securing sensitive data. PCI DSS requires regular security assessments.
- HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to organizations in the healthcare industry. It is concerned with the protection of patient data, including requirements for access controls, data encryption, and incident response, and establishes standards pertaining to these factors.
- NIST SP 800-53: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-53 regulates the security of federal information systems and organizations. Its scope includes requirements for incident response, access controls, and data encryption.
- GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in EU law for data protection and privacy, applying to all individuals within the European Union. Protecting personal data—including requirements for data breach notification, right to erasure, and data portability—are within its domain.
- ISO 27001: The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 is an international standard for information security management that addresses information security risks, including requirements for incident management, access controls, and data encryption.
Kubernetes Attack Surface
The attack surface of Kubernetes refers to the various areas of a Kubernetes cluster that are vulnerable to an attack. These areas, or attack surfaces, can be grouped as follows:
- Kubernetes control plane
- Add-ons, such as ingress controllers, service meshes, and monitoring solutions
In recent years, Kubernetes has been adopted by numerous organizations, and more complex architectures have come into play as a result. This level of adoption has also increased the attack surface of Kubernetes clusters and led to the attack surface becoming more diverse and harder to control due to increasing numbers of Kubernetes clusters being deployed in multicloud and hybrid-cloud environments. Thus, organizations must implement robust security controls and continuous monitoring in order to protect their Kubernetes stack from potential attacks.
The large attack surface naturally presents challenges in achieving compliance. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in multiple areas to gain access to sensitive information or disrupt operations.
Challenges of Achieving Compliance in Kubernetes
Compliance in Kubernetes is a complex beast, due to the architectural characteristics of the cloud and the limitations of current compliance tools. This section will first discuss difficulties related to the dynamic and ephemeral features of Kubernetes and then look at existing compliance tools’ limitations, before suggesting ways to overcome these limitations.
Why Is Compliance in Kubernetes Challenging?
As a result of its infrastructure and application stack, Kubernetes creates a complex architecture consisting of dynamic, scalable and ephemeral workloads, such as containers. Achieving compliance in a dynamic, ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes can be challenging for a number of reasons, which deserve a closer look.
Kubernetes clusters are commonly used for complex, cloud-native applications that use microservices. Their architectural complexity makes compliance across the entire environment a challenge; there may be multiple interconnected components to consider.
Pods and containers in a Kubernetes cluster are ephemeral, meaning that they are typically created and destroyed quickly and frequently. This transient state makes it challenging to maintain consistent compliance across the entire stack, as resources may be added or removed without proper oversight.
Lack of Holistic Visibility
Kubernetes creates a complex stack with applications running both in the cluster and in the underlying cloud infrastructure. There are widely adopted tools available to improve visibility, such as Prometheus for monitoring, Grafana for visualization, and initiatives such as OpenTelemetry to create a unified platform. However, these tools are limited in terms of their focus, and creating holistic visibility often remains elusive. This creates challenges in identifying and addressing compliance issues in a timely manner.
One of the critical features of Kubernetes is its ability to scale resources automatically based on demand. Although it is a compelling feature, finding security issues in a thousand-node production environment is challenging.
What Are the Limitations of Existing Kubernetes Compliance Solutions?
While Kubernetes poses several compliance challenges, the platform actively fosters collaboration with a vibrant, open-source community, and stays attuned to industry trends. It’s reasonable to assume that in the coming years, compliance management for Kubernetes will be improved and simplified. Current compliance solutions in the Kubernetes ecosystem have several limitations, including a lack of Kubernetes-specific features, limited automation, and restricted integration.
Lack of Kubernetes-Specific Features
Many compliance solutions are designed for traditional cloud infrastructure environments. As a result, their capacity to address Kubernetes-native features—such as extensions with custom resources or RBAC controls—is limited.
Compliance solutions that rely on manual inspections and audits to ensure compliance can prove to be time-consuming and error-prone in an ephemeral environment such as Kubernetes. In addition, without automation and continuous controls, ensuring compliance in Kubernetes is onerous.
Some compliance solutions may be siloed and integrate poorly with other tools and systems used in the Kubernetes ecosystem, such as monitoring, logging, auditing, and node-level container runtimes.
Overcoming Limitations of Kubernetes Compliance Solutions
In order to overcome these limitations, organizations should adopt compliance solutions designed explicitly for Kubernetes environments, with features such as automated compliance checks, Kubernetes-specific auditing, and integration with other tools and systems used in the Kubernetes ecosystem. In other words, relying on a compliance tool that supports a cloud environment does not guarantee sufficient feature set to ensure Kubernetes clusters’ compliance.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
Non-compliance in a Kubernetes environment can create avoidable risks and lead to serious consequences, including:
- Security vulnerabilities: Non-compliance with security standards and regulations can leave a Kubernetes environment open to attacks and breaches. This can cause sensitive data to be compromised, resulting in financial loss and damage to an organization’s reputation.
- Compliance penalties: Organizations that are found to be non-compliant with regulatory standards may be subject to fines, liabilities, and legal action.
- Difficulty in passing audits: Non-compliance can make it difficult for organizations to pass audits and maintain certifications, which can result in lost business opportunities.
- Difficulty in detecting and responding to incidents: Non-compliant clusters can cause failures when it comes to detecting and responding to security incidents, as there may be insufficiencies in monitoring and logging.
- Struggle to maintain a competitive edge: Organizations may lose their competitive advantage in the market if they are non-compliant, as they may not be able to meet the baseline compliance requirements of potential customers and partners.
- Challenges in meeting the compliance requirements of industry standards: Non-compliant organizations may struggle to meet industry compliance standards such as PCI-DSS, SOC2, HIPAA, and NIST.
To mitigate these risks and consequences, organizations should adopt a comprehensive compliance strategy that includes regular audits, automated compliance checks, and ongoing monitoring of the Kubernetes environment.
Compliance in a Kubernetes environment is a complex and ongoing process. The dynamic and ephemeral nature of clusters, combined with the growing attack surface in modern cloud environments, makes it challenging to maintain a consistent state of compliance. Despite these challenges, organizations must ensure compliance in order to minimize the risk of security breaches and protect sensitive data. This requires a comprehensive approach involving continuous monitoring and assessment, automated testing and remediation, and regular updates to policies and procedures.
In light of these challenges, it is crucial to prioritize compliance in a Kubernetes environment and invest in the necessary resources and tools to maintain high compliance standards. This means staying up to date with the latest regulatory requirements and best practices, and adopting solutions that can help automate the compliance process. ARMO Platform, which is powered by Kubescape, is a Kubernetes-focused, comprehensive solution to manage compliance in any Kubernetes environment. Sign up today to secure your Kubernetes environment and stay ahead of regulatory requirements.