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Containers & Kubernetes

Exploring container security: Announcing the CIS Google Kubernetes Engine Benchmark

January 15, 2020
Maya Kaczorowski

Product Manager, Container Security

Mark Wolters

Software Engineer, GKE security

If you’re serious about the security of your Kubernetes operating environment, you need to build on a strong foundation. The Center for Internet Security’s (CIS) Kubernetes Benchmark give you just that: a set of Kubernetes security best practices that will help you build an operating environment that meets the approval of both regulators and customers. 

The CIS Kubernetes Benchmark v1.5.0 was recently released, covering environments up to Kubernetes v1.15. Written as a series of recommendations rather than as a must-do checklist, the Benchmarks follows the upstream version of Kubernetes. But for users running managed distributions such as our own Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), not all of its recommendations are applicable. To help, we’ve released in conjunction with CIS, a new CIS Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) Benchmark, available under the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark, which takes the guesswork out of figuring out which CIS Benchmark recommendations you need to implement, and which ones Google Cloud handles as part of the GKE shared responsibility model.

Read on to find out what’s new in the v1.5.0 CIS Kubernetes Benchmark, how to use the CIS GKE Benchmark, and how you can test if you’re following recommended best practices.

Exploring the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark v1.5.0

The CIS Kubernetes Benchmark v1.5.0 was published in mid October, and has a significantly different structure than the previous version. Whereas the previous version split up master and worker node configurations at a high level, the new version separates controls by the components to which they apply: control plane components, etcd, control plane configuration, worker nodes, and policies. This should help make it easier for you to apply the guidance to a particular distribution, as you may not be able to control some components, nor is it your responsibility.

In terms of specific controls, you’ll see additional recommendations for: 

  • Secret management. New recommendations include Minimize access to secrets (5.1.2), Prefer using secrets as files over secrets as environment variables (5.4.1), and Consider external secret storage (5.4.2).

  • Audit logging. In addition to an existing recommendation on how to ensure audit logging is configured properly with the control plane’s audit log flags, there are new recommendations to Ensure that a minimal audit policy is created (3.2.1), and Ensure that the audit policy covers key security concerns (3.2.2).

  • Preventing unnecessary access, by locking down permissions in Kubernetes following the principle of least privilege. Specifically, you should Minimize wildcard use in Roles and ClusterRoles (5.1.3).

Introducing the new CIS GKE Benchmark

What does this mean if you’re using a managed distribution like GKE? As we mentioned earlier, the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark is written for the open-source Kubernetes distribution. And while it’s intended to be as universally applicable as possible, it doesn’t fully apply to hosted distributions like GKE.

The new CIS GKE Benchmark is a child of the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark specifically designed for the GKE distribution. This is the first distribution-specific CIS Benchmark to draw from the existing benchmark, but removing items that can’t be configured or managed by the user. The CIS GKE Benchmark also includes additional controls that are Google Cloud-specific, and that we recommend you apply to your clusters, for example, as defined in the GKE hardening guide. Altogether, it means that you have a single set of controls for security best practice on GKE.

There are two kinds of recommendations in the GKE CIS Benchmark. Level 1 recommendations are meant to be widely applicable—you should really be following these, for example enabling Stackdriver Kubernetes Logging and Monitoring. Level 2 recommendations, meanwhile, result in a more stringent security environment, but are not necessarily applicable to all cases. These recommendations should be implemented with more care to avoid potential conflicts in more complicated environments. For example, Level 2 recommendations may be more relevant to multi-tenant workloads than single-tenant, like using GKE Sandbox to run untrusted workloads. 

The CIS GKE Benchmark recommendations are listed as “Scored” when they can be easily tested using an automated method (like an API call or the gcloud CLI), and the setting has a value that can be definitively evaluated, for example, ensuring node auto-upgrade is enabled. Recommendations are listed as “Not Scored” when a setting cannot be easily assessed using automation or the exact implementation is specific to your workload—for example, using firewall rules to restrict ingress and egress traffic to your nodes—or they use a beta feature that you might not want to use in production.

If you want to suggest a new recommendation or a change to an existing one, please contribute directly to the CIS Benchmark in the CIS Workbench community.

Applying and testing the CIS Benchmarks

There are actually several CIS Benchmarks that are relevant to GKE, and there are tools available to help you test whether you’re following their recommendations. For the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark, you can use a tool like kube-bench to test your existing configuration; for the CIS GKE Benchmark, there’s Security Health Analytics, a security product that integrates into Security Command Center and that has built-in checks for several CIS GCP and GKE Benchmark items. By enabling Security Health Analytics, you’ll be able to discover, review, and remediate any cluster configurations you have that aren’t up to par with best practices from the CIS Benchmarks in the Security Command Center vulnerabilities dashboard.

Security Health Analytics scan results for CIS Benchmarks

Documenting GKE control plane configurations

The new CIS GKE Benchmark should help make it easier for you to implement and adhere to Kubernetes security best practices. And for components that they don’t cover, we’ve documented where the GKE control plane implements the new Kubernetes CIS Benchmark, where we are working to improve our posture, and the existing mitigating controls we have in place. We hope this helps you make an informed decision on what controls to put in place yourself, and better understand your existing threat model.

Check out the new CIS GKE Benchmark, the updated CIS Kubernetes Benchmark, and understand how GKE performs according to the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark. If you’re already using the GKE hardening guide, we’ve added references to the corresponding CIS Benchmark recommendations so you can easily demonstrate that your hardened clusters meets your requirements.

The CIS GKE Benchmark were developed in concert with Control Plane and the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Kubernetes community.

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