Container Security: Understanding Common Threats

Container environments are digital counterparts of physical containers. Just like physical containers have revolutionized global trade, container environments have revolutionized application development. Container environments have emerged as a go-to solution in the fast-paced technological landscape.

Photo: Pixabay / TheDigitalArtist

These days, industries extensively use container environments. This widespread usage necessitates robust security measures, and neglecting them can have severe consequences. This article looks at some of the most common threats to container security.

1. Unauthorized Access and Container Breakouts

By default, containers function in isolation. They operate independently and encapsulate their dependencies and applications. The unauthorized access compromises the container’s isolation. After breaching its environment, the malicious actors exploit its resources.

Unauthorized access has severe consequences like data breaches, service interruptions, manipulation of applications and codes, and lateral movement. One particular type of unauthorized access is container breakout. In a container breakout, the attacker gains control over the host system.

2. Insecure Container Images

Container images are the foundational units of containerized applications, so securing them is essential. Unfortunately, there are several ways through which attackers exploit the vulnerabilities in them. Let's have a look at some common loopholes:
  • Outdated or unpatched software within container images are weak points that are easily exploited.
  • Images from credible sources are harmful because such sources don’t have proper security measures.
  • Non-credible container images can also contain malicious payloads, a harmful code embedded in an image or digital content.
  • There is a high probability that these images might have been tampered with.
  • Images with poor configuration will likely grant excessive permission, allowing unauthorized actions. So, organizations that do not scan container images before deploying them create an opening for attackers.

3. Misconfigurations and Security Gaps

Despite the agility and scalability of the container environment, misconfigurations often create loopholes. Let’s look at some essential misconfigurations and security gaps that you need to watch out for:
  • Network misconfigurations: Misconfigurations in the network create unintended communication channels between containers, exposing them to external networks. It creates an opening for the attackers to infiltrate the container environment or move laterally within it.
  • Privilege escalation: Granting excessive privileges to the containers increases the chances of privilege escalation attacks. When a container has excessive privileges, it has more access to the host system's resources. And when compromised, it leads to more significant damage as the attacker gets a higher access level through that container than it would from the other ones.
  • Inadequate resource limits: Resource exhaustion makes containers vulnerable to denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. This happens when the containers don’t have set resource limits. Without them, containers compete for resources and degrade critical applications’ performance. Low performance creates instability, facilitating a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.

4. Exposed Secrets and Configuration Data

A secret is any sensitive information, such as API keys, passwords, encryption keys, authentication tokens, and other confidential data used to access external services or secure communication between components.

On the other hand, configuration data includes all those settings and parameters that control the application’s behaviors, interactions, and connections with other services. There are many causes of exposed secrets and configuration data, like human error, malware, exploits, hardcoded secrets, and privilege escalation. Exposed secrets and configuration data have substantial consequences, such as compromised systems and instability.

5. Runtime Attacks

Runtime is the time during which an application actively runs on a computer. In a runtime attack, the attacker targets all the processes and components involved in running containers. The attackers specifically target certain weaknesses like buffer flows that only appear during the runtime. Buffer overflow happens when a program writes more data to a buffer (a temporary storage area in memory) than it can hold. This causes the excess data to overflow into the neighboring memory locations. These locations provide an opening for attackers to gain unauthorized access.


With continuous technological advancement, cyber threats also progress and become more complex. Staying updated with the latest threats and implementing appropriate security measures is crucial. Robust security measures and regular assessments not only safeguard your container environments but also empower you to confidently navigate the complex landscape of cybersecurity threats.
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