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Containers & Kubernetes

Kubernetes security audit: What GKE and Anthos users need to know

August 30, 2019
Maya Kaczorowski

Product Manager, Container Security

Kubernetes reached an important milestone recently: the publication of its first-ever security audit! Sponsored by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), this security audit reinforces what has been apparent to us for some time now: Kubernetes is a mature open-source project for organizations to use as their infrastructure foundation.

While every audit will uncover something, this report only found a relatively small number of significant vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. “Despite many important findings, we did not see fundamental architectural design flaws, or critical vulnerabilities that should cause pause when adopting Kubernetes for high-security workloads or critical business functions,” said Aaron Small, Product Manager, Google Cloud and member of the Security Audit Working Group. Further, Kubernetes has an established vulnerability reporting, response, and disclosure process, which is staffed with senior developers who can triage and take action on issues.


Performing this security audit was a big effort on behalf of the CNCF, which has a mandate to improve the security of its projects via its Best Practices Badge Program. To take Kubernetes through this first security audit, the Kubernetes Steering Committee formed a working group, developed an RFP, worked with vendors, reviewed and then finally published the report. You can get your hands on the full report on the Working Group’s GitHub page, or read the highlights in the CNCF blog post.

Kubernetes security for GKE and Anthos users

Clocking in at 241 pages, the final report is very thorough and interesting and we encourage you to read it. But what if you’re just interested in what this report means for Google Cloud’s managed platforms, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Anthos? If you’re not going to read the whole thing, here’s the gist of the report and takeaways for Google Cloud customers.

GKE makes it easy for you to follow recommended configurations
The report lays out a list of recommended actions for cluster administrators, including using RBAC, applying a Network Policy, and limiting access to logs which may contain sensitive information. The report also calls out Kubernetes’ default settings. In GKE, we’ve been actively changing these over time, including turning off ABAC and basic authentication by default, to make sure new clusters you create are more secure. To apply the recommended configurations in GKE, and see which have already been applied for you, check out the GKE hardening guide.

It’s not all up to you 
The threat model assessed the security posture of eight major components, but because of the GKE shared responsibility model, you don’t have to worry about all of them. GKE is responsible for providing updates to vulnerabilities for the eight components listed in the report, while you as the user are responsible for upgrading nodes and configuration related to workloads. You don’t even need to upgrade nodes if you leave node auto-upgrade enabled. 

Kubernetes and GKE security are only going to keep getting better
With more eyes on this shared, open source technology, more well-hidden bugs are likely to be found and remediated. The Kubernetes community dedicated significant time and resources to this audit, emphasizing that security is truly a top priority. With open audits like the one performed by the CNCF, it’s easier for researchers—or your team—to understand the real threats, and spend their time further researching or remediating the most complex issues. 

And when issues do arise, as we’ve seen multiple times with recent vulnerabilities, the upstream Kubernetes Product Security Committee is on top of it, quickly responding and providing fixes to the community. 

Finally, since GKE is an official distribution, we pick up patches as they become available in Kubernetes and make them available automatically for the control plane, master, and node. Masters are automatically upgraded and patched, and if you have node auto-upgrade enabled, your node patches will be automatically applied too. You can track the progress to address the vulnerabilities surfaced by this report in the issue dashboard.

If you want to dig in deeper, check out the full report, available on GitHub. Thanks again to the Kubernetes Security Audit Working Group, the CNCF, Trail of Bits and Atredis Partners for the amazing work they did to complete this in-depth assessment! To learn more about trends in container security here at Google Cloud, be sure to follow our Exploring container security blog series.

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