It’s 2023: Do you know if your Kubernetes environments are secure?

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“Kubernetes” is a word businesses are hearing more and more, but most outside of the IT and security space probably don’t have a clear understanding of what it means. The word itself is Greek for “cox” or “pilot”, which actually provides a decent sense of what Kubernetes is all about.

Essentially, Kubernetes is an open source system used to automate the deployment of software, one that is very good at managing and scaling containerized applications. It steers the ship, so to speak, for software developers operating at the scale that today’s technology landscape demands.

That may sound technical, and it is. But as Kubernetes adoption increases, business leaders will need a more complete understanding of how it is used within their organization. Those outside of the development team may not even know that Kubernetes is used, which poses a significant problem. As it becomes more popular, cybercriminals are turning their attention to Kubernetes, and organizations without a deep understanding of Kubernetes risk leaving a significant part of their environment unprotected.

Why Kubernetes is booming

Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for automating the scaling, deployment, and management of containerized applications. There are a number of factors that drive its adoption, but it mostly comes down to enabling developers. The simplest explanation for how Kubernetes works is that instead of developers deploying code directly to a server, they can bundle the code into a container, which can then be deployed anywhere.


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Kubernetes is like a head chef, making sure everyone in the kitchen is in the right place, doing what they’re supposed to do. This abstracts away typical developer concerns like disk space or how many copies of an application they might need. Instead, all they need to think about is whether their Kubernetes cluster has enough resources to operate.

In the past, developers typically built a monolithic application with a massive code base and directly deployed it to huge servers. This works for a while, but as the business grows, the demands on that server would increase, and ultimately it’s only possible to throw so much CPU and memory at a problem.

Servers have limits, after all. This makes it easy to see why Kubernetes has become popular: it allows businesses to scale out. Instead of scaling up (by buying more and more powerful servers), they can simply add more instances of an application as needed. This creates a different paradigm for scaling the business, one that is incredibly valuable, particularly for startups.

It’s also worth noting that Kubernetes introduces a layer of abstraction between the developers who write the code and the code that gets deployed and executed. It means developers can focus on writing code and Kubernetes can take care of scaling and managing maintenance. In the past, this required a dedicated team of employees keeping an eye on those applications, monitoring outages, and adding more memory, servers, or CPUs when necessary. Kubernetes eases that pain, which is just another reason why it has become extremely popular.

Building Kubernetes Awareness

While Kubernetes is great for developers, it also presents challenges, especially when it comes to security. Since Kubernetes is still (relatively) new, it can be difficult to find security professionals with Kubernetes experience.

These experts are understandably in high demand right now, which means it can be challenging for small businesses and startups to onboard them. That being said, as Kubernetes becomes more widespread, that knowledge base will grow, and there are partners and service companies. they can resort if they cannot attract the necessary experience themselves.

It’s important for organizations to think of Kubernetes as an extension of their existing infrastructure. It requires the same levels of control, monitoring, and response that a traditional development environment would have. Like all cybersecurity, securing Kubernetes is more of a journey than a destination, but it’s important to start implementing controls as soon as possible.

Organizations need to take stock of where they are from a security perspective versus where they would like to be, and then start thinking about the steps needed to get there. This can be intimidating – some companies spend years building their security infrastructure and this may seem like starting from scratch, but it doesn’t have to be.

Taking the first steps towards Kubernetes security

First, and perhaps most important, one of the biggest mistakes organizations make when it comes to Kubernetes security is assuming that they can simply buy a product that will take care of the problem for them. This is almost never the case when it comes to security. All security tools require a mature understanding of how they will be implemented, how they will be used and maintained, and what expected results they will produce. As nice as it is, there is no single product that simply “solves security” for all Kubernetes environments.

Instead, the best first step is to engage with the engineers and DevOps teams that actually use Kubernetes. No one is better positioned to explain not only your goals, but also the potential risks associated with them. Bringing development and security teams together to discuss where existing vulnerabilities may be, and how they can be accounted for without compromising productivity, is critical. These insights can help identify what solutions are needed, leading to better purchasing decisions and more effective controls. When done correctly, security can be built into the Kubernetes environment from the start.

A daunting but necessary task

Securing Kubernetes can be a daunting task, but it’s one that today’s organizations will need to commit to sooner rather than later. As an increasing number of developers turn to Kubernetes to enable easier scalable software development, securing Kubernetes environments will only become more critical.

Business leaders can get off to a good start by talking with developers and engineers, learning about the basic principles behind Kubernetes, and working to get a more complete picture of the potential risks and challenges involved. Simply put, it’s 2023 – Kubernetes is only going to get more ubiquitous and it’s important to know your environments are secure.

Dan Whalen is a Senior R&D Manager at Expel.


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