DevSecOps Best Practices: Essential Kubernetes Security Checklist

Roman Glushach
9 min readSep 21, 2023
DevSecOps Kubernetes Security Checklist

DevSecOps is the integration of security practices into the DevOps process, aiming to deliver secure and reliable software faster. Kubernetes is a popular platform for running containerized applications, but it also introduces new security challenges and risks.

Implementing DevSecOps is not a trivial task. It requires a shift in mindset, culture, and processes. It also requires a set of tools and practices that can support security throughout the development pipeline.

Kubernetes also introduces new security challenges and risks that need to be addressed. Kubernetes clusters consist of multiple components, such as nodes, pods, containers, services, and secrets, that require different security measures and controls. Moreover, Kubernetes clusters are often deployed in dynamic and heterogeneous environments, such as cloud, hybrid, or edge, that pose additional security complexities.

The step forward to secure the system is to plan and to define requirements, features, and goals of the software project. Security should be considered as a first-class citizen, not an afterthought:

  • Perform threat modeling to identify and prioritize the potential threats and risks to the software system and its users
  • Define security requirements and acceptance criteria that align with the business objectives and regulatory standards
  • Incorporate security into the user stories and epics, and assign them to the relevant teams and roles
  • Establish security metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that can measure the effectiveness of the security activities and outcomes

Cluster Configuration Security

Access Control and Permissions

Enable Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and assign appropriate roles and permissions to users and service accounts. RBAC allows you to control who can access what resources and perform what actions in your cluster.

API Server Security

Restrict access to the Kubernetes API server, which is the main entry point for managing your cluster. Use strong authentication mechanisms, such as client certificates or token-based authentication, and enable encryption for API server communication.

Cluster Configuration and Auditing

Regularly review and update your cluster configurations to align with security best practices and standards. You can use tools like kube-bench or kube-hunter to audit your cluster configurations and identify potential vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.

Pod Security Policies

Use Kubernetes Pod Security Policies (PSP) to enforce security policies on pods creation and modification. PSPs allow you to define rules for pod attributes, such as privileges, capabilities, volumes, host network access, etc.

Network Policies

Use Kubernetes Network Policies to control traffic between pods and namespaces. Network policies allow you to define rules for ingress and egress traffic, such as allowed ports, protocols, sources, and destinations.

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

Ensure that the Kubernetes cluster meets relevant compliance and regulatory requirements, such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, or NIST SP 800–53.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Use Secure Authentication Methods

Ensure that all users and systems accessing the Kubernetes cluster use secure authentication methods such as OAuth, OpenID Connect, or Kerberos.

Implement Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Use Kubernetes RBAC to restrict access to resources based on roles and permissions. Limit the number of users with administrative privileges.

Use Resource Requests and Limits

Enforce resource requests and limits to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive resources.

Monitor and Audit User Activity

Regularly monitor and audit user activity logs to detect suspicious behavior and identify potential security incidents.

Implement Identity Federation

Use Kubernetes identity federation to enable single sign-on (SSO) across multiple clusters and organizations.

Secure Kubernetes Dashboard Access

Restrict access to the Kubernetes dashboard using secure authentication methods and RBAC policies.

Protect Service Account Credentials

Rotate service account credentials regularly, limit exposure to sensitive data, and avoid hardcoding credentials in configuration files.

Implement Network Segmentation

Isolate Kubernetes nodes and pods from public networks and enforce network segmentation policies to reduce attack surfaces.

Use Secure etcd Storage

Store Kubernetes secrets and configmaps in secure etcd stores, such as Hashicorp Vault or Google Cloud Secret Manager.

Monitor for Anomalies

Continuously monitor for anomalies in Kubernetes resource utilization, network traffic patterns, and system logs to detect potential security breaches.

Network Security

Network Segmentation and Isolation

Isolate your Kubernetes cluster from other networks and enforce network segmentation. This can help prevent unauthorized access and limit the impact of a potential breach. You can use tools like Calico or Cilium to implement network segmentation for your cluster.

Network Policies

Implement network policies to control traffic between pods and namespaces. Network policies allow you to define rules for ingress and egress traffic, such as allowed ports, protocols, sources, and destinations.

Network Security Tools

Utilize network security tools like network firewalls, VPNs, or network policies offered by cloud providers. These tools can help protect your cluster from external threats and attacks.

Data Encryption

Enable encryption for data in transit using TLS/SSL certificates. Encryption can help prevent data leakage and tampering. You can use tools like cert-manager or kube-lego to automate the management of certificates for your cluster.

Secure Communication Channels

Use secure communication channels for inter-node communication. You can use tools like etcd or Consul to encrypt and authenticate the communication between nodes.

Enable Encryption at Rest and in Transit

Encrypt data both at rest and in transit using tools like SSL/TLS certificates, Kubernetes secret management, and encrypted volumes.

Hide Kubernetes Metadata

Obscure Kubernetes metadata, such as node names and IP addresses, to reduce attack surfaces.

Disable Unnecessary Services

Disable any unnecessary services or features in Kubernetes components, such as Docker debugging interfaces.

Use Secure Image Pull Secrets

Use secure image pull secrets to authenticate with container registries and prevent unauthorized access to images.

Monitor Network Traffic

Collect and analyze network traffic logs to detect unusual patterns and potential security breaches.

Implement Incident Response Procedures

Establish incident response procedures to handle security incidents promptly and effectively.

Node Security

Host Operating System Security

Regularly patch and update your host operating system. This can help prevent exploits based on known vulnerabilities or bugs.

Network Security

Isolate your nodes in a separate network or subnet. This can help reduce the attack surface and prevent lateral movement within your cluster.

Node Security

Apply security hardening measures to your nodes, such as disabling unnecessary services, limiting access, enabling firewall rules, etc. You can use tools like Ansible or Chef to automate the hardening process for your nodes.

Container Runtime Security

Implement container runtime security mechanisms like AppArmor or SELinux. These mechanisms can help enforce security policies on containers at the kernel level.

Container Image Security

Scan container images for vulnerabilities before deploying them. You can use tools like Clair or Anchore to scan your images for known vulnerabilities.

Pod Security

Kubernetes Security

Utilize Kubernetes Pod Security Policies (PSP) to enforce security policies on pods creation and modification. PSPs allow you to define rules for pod attributes, such as privileges, capabilities, volumes, host network access, etc.

Use Secure Containers

Ensure that containers used in Kubernetes pods are built with security in mind, following best practices such as minimizing privilege escalation and reducing exposed attack surfaces.

Implement Least Privilege Principles

Apply least privilege principles when creating pods, limiting the privileges of the pod and its contents to the minimum required to perform their functions.

Use Secure Volume Mounts

Mount volumes securely, using tools like Kubernetes secrets and configmaps, to store sensitive data.

Avoid hostPath Mounts

Minimize the use of hostPath mounts, which can expose sensitive data stored on the host machine.

Implement Pod-Level Security Controls

Implement security controls at the pod level, such as SELinux or AppArmor profiles, to further restrict what a pod can do.

Use Secure Environment Variables

Use secure environment variables to store sensitive data, such as database credentials or API keys, and never hardcode them in configuration files.

Monitor Pod Activity

Monitor pod activity logs to detect unusual behavior and respond quickly to potential security incidents.

Implement Pod Disruption Budgets

Define disruption budgets for critical pods to ensure business continuity during unexpected events.

Use Secure Rolling Updates

Perform secure rolling updates to minimize downtime and ensure that all components are running with the latest security patches.

Implement Immutable Infrastructure

Use immutable infrastructure techniques to create reproducible, tamper-proof environments that simplify security auditing and compliance.

Access Control

Use the principle of least privilege to assign appropriate access permissions to pods and containers. This can help limit the damage in case of a compromise or a malicious insider.

Container Runtime Security

Enable container runtime security features, such as resource isolation, namespace restrictions, read-only file systems, etc. These features can help prevent unauthorized access and resource abuse by containers.

Monitoring and Auditing

Regularly monitor and audit the behavior of pods and containers. You can use tools like Falco or Sysdig to detect and alert on anomalous or malicious activities by pods and containers.

Image Security

Container Registries

Utilize container registries with built-in security features. You can use tools like Azure Container Registry or Amazon ECR to store and manage your images securely.

Image Scanning

Scan container images for vulnerabilities and malware. You can use tools like Clair or Anchore to scan your images for known vulnerabilities and malware.

Base Images

Use trusted base images from official repositories. This can help avoid malicious or compromised images that may contain backdoors or malware.

Image Updates and Patching

Regularly update and patch your container images to include the latest security fixes. You can use tools like Keel or Flux to automate the image update process for your cluster.

Secrets Management

Avoiding Exposure of Secrets

Avoid hardcoding secrets in configuration files or Dockerfiles. This can expose your secrets to unauthorized parties or leak them to public repositories.

Storing Secrets

Store secrets in Kubernetes Secrets and restrict access to them. Kubernetes Secrets allow you to store and manage secrets as Kubernetes objects. You can use RBAC to control who can access your secrets and encrypt them at rest using encryption keys.

Encrypting Secrets

Encrypt and secure secrets in transit. You can use tools like Sealed Secrets or Helm Secrets to encrypt your secrets before sending them to your cluster.

Managing Secrets

Regularly rotate secrets and revoke access when necessary. This can help prevent secrets from being compromised or misused.

Logging and Monitoring

Logging

  • Enable and configure logging for your Kubernetes cluster. Logging can help you troubleshoot issues, identify performance bottlenecks, and investigate security incidents. You can use tools like Fluentd or Logstash to collect and forward logs from your cluster.
  • Implement centralized log management and analysis. Centralized log management can help you store, search, and analyze logs from multiple sources in one place. You can use tools like Elasticsearch or Splunk to manage and analyze your logs.

Auditing

Use an audit solution, such as Falco or CloudTrail, to record and audit the actions taken by users or components in your cluster. Audit solutions can help you detect unauthorized or suspicious activity in your cluster.

Monitoring

Monitor for suspicious activities, unauthorized access attempts, or security incidents. Monitoring can help you detect and respond to security threats in real time. You can use tools like Prometheus or Datadog to monitor your cluster metrics and performance.

Alerts

Set up alerts and notifications for security-related events. Alerts and notifications can help you stay informed and take action when something goes wrong in your cluster. You can use tools like Alertmanager or PagerDuty to set up alerts and notifications for your cluster.

Tracing

Use a tracing solution, such as Jaeger or Zipkin, to collect and visualize traces from your applications. Traces can help you troubleshoot performance issues or errors in your applications.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Data Backup

Implement regular backups of critical data and configurations. Backups can help you recover from data loss, corruption, or deletion. You can use tools like Velero or Stash to backup your cluster data and configurations.

Restoration Process

Test the restoration process periodically. Testing the restoration process can help you verify the integrity and usability of your backups, as well as identify any issues or gaps in your backup strategy.

Disaster Recovery Plan

Have a disaster recovery plan in place. A disaster recovery plan can help you prepare for and respond to a major disruption or outage in your cluster. It should include steps for restoring your cluster, communicating with stakeholders, minimizing downtime, etc.

Training and Awareness

Trainings

Provide regular training and awareness programs for developers, administrators, and security teams to maintain up-to-date knowledge of Kubernetes security best practices.

Collaborative Security

Foster collaboration between development, operations, and security teams to promote a culture of shared responsibility for security.

Checklist

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Roman Glushach

Senior Software Architect & Engineer Manager at Freelance