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5 best practices for securing your applications

Sep 13, 20185 mins
Application SecurityContainersTechnology Industry

As you begin to look for ways to secure both your legacy and new applications, consider a container platform to ensure your organization is aligned with best ways to keep your business-critical applications out of harm’s way.

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Your applications face threats from both outside and within. Assaults from the cyber realm continue to rise and to add to your security woes, the threat model has changed dramatically since many of your legacy applications were initially written way back when. Using vulnerable components in development has become a top concern. For example, do you use data from European citizens? Attacks on web applications are a primary approach to data breaches and with GDPR in effect, you could pay up to 4-percent of global annual revenues in fines when European data are involved.

Pile on zero-day attacks, new DDoS attacks orchestrated by AI, Ransomware’s unending reign of terror and the potential for brand damage and it’s clear that protecting your applications from day one is a necessity for marketplace survival.

Everyone knows layered security is critical – no one thing can defend you against the many exploits on the dark web. However, by following best practices, your organization can put in place a sound strategy for securing your business-critical applications.

1. Package your application in a container

The best first way to secure your application is to shelter it inside a container. A container’s native security features and default configurations give it a stronger security posture; your application instantly inherits that posture when it lives in a container.

You can think of a container as a protective wrapper, isolating your application from other containers and the host computer system; this isolation mitigates infections and malicious use of your software. Containers default to configurations using seccomp security profiles in conjunction with security policies to isolate application processes from host and operating system. Default container controls secure the environment where your application runs.

Containers are also gatekeepers to your application. Containers use granular role-based access controls and read-only environments to prevent unauthorized access by people or other resources. Containers implement the principle of least privilege, which is a critical part of the zero-trust security model that drives cybersecurity. Life inside a container dramatically reduces your application’s attack surface area.

2. Start with the developer

Your application begins with the developer, so it is logical that application security should start with your developer too. Container platforms offer seamless security in the background, so security is present — just not in your developer’s way. A container platform like Docker Enterprise includes a container engine and the integrated security capabilities needed will sign and certify container images that house your applications as your developers check code in to source code management. Cryptographic digital signatures confirm container provenance and authenticity to validate that no one has altered or infected the application.

The container platform has security functions that intimately intertwine your developers’ efforts without changing their workflow. This makes the development process and your application more secure without sacrificing speed or efficiency.

3.  Check for vulnerabilities

The best way to know your applications are safe is to have an automated process to check the application every step of the way. Docker’s container platform scans your container for vulnerabilities, comparing the versions of your programming resources with information in vulnerability databases. The vulnerability scans provide you an additional depth of visibility and insight into the security status of your applications from development through production. Additionally, once images are scanned and clean, you can quickly and automatically promote valid containers to the next stage of development and eventually into production.

This automated process ensures that you catch vulnerabilities early in the process and continuously patch as new vulnerabilities arise. Container platforms enable fast, secure patching mechanisms that enable you to thwart security breaches and satisfy regulations without impeding the development process.

4. Stay abreast of new standards

Standards bodies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) help organizations address their security challenges and industry regulations with standard guidelines that maintain sound security practices. These standards help you understand how to detect gaps between these standards and the security status of your applications.

A containerization strategy will help you close those gaps, so you can pass security audits and avoid the dangers of fines and penalties. You can apply standards more efficiently because you have a standard container format that uses all your controls on your applications. You can reduce costs for compliance enforcement by keeping your application in a container that meets a breadth of recognized security standards such as NIST 800-53 and NIST’s newly proposed Open Security Controls Assessment Language (OSCAL) standard.

5.  Subscribe to a multi-layer approach

Many great partners in the container ecosystem offer third-party plugins and integrations to enable additional security layers, features and capabilities for containers. These ecosystem integrations can become part of your existing security strategy by allowing you to extend various security policies to applications since the integrations help you to comply with those policies. For example, you can use an integration specifically to enforce runtime security policies to prevent anomalous container behavior, provide container firewalling to mitigate container to container attacks, or confirm container image validity to ensure compliance with company best practices. Each security vendor in the Docker ecosystem can provide a strategic layer of defense to prevent the next malicious attack.

Container platforms advance the 5 security best practices

Container platforms enable you to secure applications, develop them securely, and check and confirm their integrity from the start and throughout the application lifecycle with an auditable chain of custody. By tapping into the potential of a container platform with integrated security, you can accelerate time to market by finding and patching vulnerabilities on the fly without slowing the pace of the dev to ops lifecycle.

And, you can meet security standards and industry and government regulations as container development progresses in sync with your compliance needs. As you begin to look for ways to secure both your legacy and new applications, consider a container platform to ensure your organization is aligned with best ways to keep your business-critical applications out of harm’s way.


Banjot Chanana is VP of product at Docker, delivering solutions for enterprises and developers to build, ship and run any application on any infrastructure using the Docker container platform.

Prior to Docker, Banjot ran product management teams at VMware for vSphere and vCloud product lines, developed security products at VeriSign, and had experience managing servers as a sysadmin at John Snow, Inc.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Banjot Chanana and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.