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Kubernetes / Security

Introducing Open Source Zero Trust to Kubernetes

A look at the requirements of Zero Trust, challenges in applying it to Kubernetes and an open source solution that can help alleviate these challenges.
Aug 25th, 2022 8:34am by
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More organizations are using cloud native and open source technologies to modernize quickly.

Kyle Hunter
Kyle is head of product marketing at Rafay Systems. He has a demonstrated record in messaging and positioning, competitive differentiation, go-to-market strategy and thought leadership.

In the first quarter of 2022, worldwide spending on cloud infrastructure was double that spent in the first quarter of 2019 (per Statista: $55.9 billion and $27.5 billion, respectively). In the midst of these shifts, security becomes a critical consideration as more users, data and applications multiply the risks. Organizations must take a critical look at who is responsible for security and whether they’re truly prepared for the challenge.

One approach organizations are taking to better address security is zero trust. Instead of automatically treating part of the network as trusted and requiring authentication for other activity, zero trust assumes that all network traffic is hostile. Zero trust acts as if a breach is already in progress, making everyone authenticate throughout the network for every action or request. It’s quickly become a network security best practice.

Let’s examine the requirements of zero trust, the challenges with applying zero trust to Kubernetes and an open source solution that can help alleviate these challenges to keep application modernization on track.

Requisites for Zero Trust

Reaching and compromising just one endpoint could be enough to reach sensitive data — the ultimate goal and high-value target for many attackers. Zero trust prevents attackers from lateral movement after breaking in by eliminating transitive trust and continually identifying and authenticating before granting access across the network.

Trusted networks are used every day to initiate attacks and escalate privileges, which means models that assume trust are persistently vulnerable to intruders. An increasing number of applications means there are more opportunities for security breaches than ever. And with more internal people accessing the network — developers, architects, contractors, etc. — many users could have access to more data and network resources than they should. Zero trust limits network users to the access needed for their roles.

Challenges with Zero Trust for Kubernetes

Although many organizations recognize the value of zero trust, they often don’t know how or where to start. Implementing zero trust principles across already established security practices may leave gaps unaccounted for, so changing to a zero trust model requires stakeholder buy-in and preparedness for the shift.

Kubernetes has a lot of moving parts like pods, replica sets and stateful sets, to name a few. Many of these are ephemeral as they are created and destroyed frequently. The inherent complexity of Kubernetes makes it challenging to apply zero trust principles in a standardized way.

By default, kubectl doesn’t provide role-based access control (RBAC), and executed commands are not logged by the user account. It can also be difficult to access resources through firewalls, and overseeing more than a few clusters becomes complex and error-prone.

Ideally, access control should be centralized across all clusters. This reduces the complexity that’s otherwise associated with moving forward into zero trust and Kubernetes.

If done well, zero trust allows teams to be secure in a transformative, simple, low-cost and burdenless way. In order to tap into these benefits and mitigate the challenges, organizations can turn to open source platforms for support.

Open Source Zero Trust Solution

One example of an open source solution is Paralus. Paralus is designed for multicluster environments ranging from one single cluster to thousands of clusters and provides teams with a secure means of managing resource access as well as threat identification and response.

It originated from Rafay’s Zero Trust Access Service, which includes features such as custom roles, identity provider (IdP) support and allowing admins to create custom rules with different permissions. Through one tool, platform teams can manage access for all clusters, users located anywhere and clusters hosted on premises or in the cloud.

Paralus Access Management

Using the Kube API Proxy capabilities of Paralus, the kubectl tool can access and manage Kubernetes clusters without losing functionality. Paralus validates authenticated users against predefined access policies and accordingly grants them access to resources within your Kubernetes clusters.

In essence, Paralus is easy to use and helps organizations of any size address security challenges in Kubernetes. As an open source application, Paralus is free to deploy and use. Teams can customize Paralus and contribute to the zero trust framework and practices for continuous improvement.

Organizations on the app-modernization journey are going through a complex and challenging time. In order to modernize, Kubernetes must be part of the picture, but as the number of applications proliferate, keeping all sensitive data secure is a tall task. Organizations should implement zero trust frameworks and best practices to keep data protected, which requires assuming that everyone accessing your network is a potential threat actor. Adopting open source tools like Paralus can help streamline the implementation of zero trust and knock one less challenge off the list.

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