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“Kubernetes” is a word that businesses are hearing more and more, but most outside of the IT and security world probably don’t have a clear understanding of what it means. The word itself is Greek for “pilot” or “pilot,” which actually gives a good idea of what Kubernetes is all about.
Essentially, Kubernetes is an open source system used to automate software deployment – a system that is very good at managing and scaling containerized applications. It steers the ship, so to speak, for software developers operating at the scale required by today’s technology landscape.
That may sound technical, and it is. But as Kubernetes adoption grows, business leaders will need a more complete understanding of how it is used within their organization. Those outside the development team may not even know that Kubernetes is being used at all, 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 portion of their environment unprotected.
Why Kubernetes is on the Rise
Kubernetes has become the de-facto standard for automating the scaling, deployment, and management of containerized applications. There are a number of factors driving its adoption, but the main thing is to empower developers. The simplest explanation for how Kubernetes works is that instead of developers deploying code directly to a server, they can instead bundle code into a container, which can then be deployed just about anywhere.
Kubernetes is like a chef making sure everyone in the kitchen is in the right place and doing what they need to do. This removes typical developer concerns such as disk space or how many copies of an application they need. Instead, they just need to consider whether their Kubernetes cluster has enough resources to operate.
In the past, developers typically built a monolithic application with a huge code base and deployed it directly to massive servers. This works for a while, but as the business grows, the demands on that server will increase – and ultimately it’s only possible to throw so much CPU and memory at a problem.
After all, servers have limits. This makes it easy to see why Kubernetes has become popular: it enables businesses to scale horizontally. Instead of scaling vertically (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, especially for startups.
It’s also worth noting that Kubernetes introduces a layer of abstraction between developers writing code and that code being deployed and executed. This means developers can focus on writing code and Kubernetes can take care of the scalability and maintenance. In the past, this required a dedicated team of employees to monitor these applications, watch for outages, and add more memory, servers, or CPU if necessary. Kubernetes eases that pain – which is another reason why it has become so popular.
Build Kubernetes awareness
While Kubernetes is great for developers, there are also challenges, especially when it comes to security. Since Kubernetes is still (relatively) new, it can be difficult to find security professionals with Kubernetes expertise.
These experts are understandably in high demand right now, which means it can be challenging for small businesses and startups to bring them in. That said, as Kubernetes becomes more widespread, that knowledge base will grow – and there are partners and service companies to turn to if they can’t bring in the necessary expertise themselves.
It is important for organizations to view Kubernetes as an extension of their existing infrastructure. It requires the same levels of control, monitoring, and response that a traditional development environment would. As with all cybersecurity, protecting Kubernetes is more of a journey than a destination, but it’s important to start implementing controls as early 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 necessary steps to get there. This can be intimidating – some companies spend years building their security infrastructure, and this can feel like starting from scratch – but it doesn’t have to be.
Taking the first steps towards Kubernetes security
First, and perhaps most importantly, one of the biggest mistakes organizations make when it comes to Kubernetes security is assuming they can just buy a product that solves the problem for them. This is almost never the case when it comes to security. All security tools require an understanding of how they will be deployed, how they will be used and maintained, and what expected results they will produce. As nice as it would be, there is no single product that simply “fixes the security” for all Kubernetes environments.
Instead, the best first step is to talk to the engineers and DevOps teams who actually use Kubernetes. No one is better positioned to explain not only their goals, but the potential risks associated with them. It is critical to bring the development and security teams together to discuss where existing vulnerabilities may lie – and how to account for them without compromising productivity. These insights can help identify which 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 difficult but necessary task
Securing Kubernetes can be a daunting task, but it’s one that organizations today must tackle sooner rather than later. As a growing number of developers turn to Kubernetes to enable simpler, scalable software development, protecting Kubernetes environments will only become more important.
Business leaders can get off to a flying start by talking to developers and engineers, learning the fundamentals behind Kubernetes, and building a more complete picture of the potential risks and challenges. Simply put, it’s 2023 – Kubernetes will only become more ubiquitous and it’s important to know that your environments are secure.
Dan Whalen is senior manager R&D at Expel.
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