Compliance / Kubernetes / Contributed

Kubernetes Compliance: Governance and Guardrails

24 Jun 2022 6:00am, by

Cloud native technologies are helping organizations of all sizes grow, develop features faster and build a competitive edge. Where cloud native can fall short is in meeting compliance requirements. That’s because in many cases compliance managers, DevOps leaders and platform engineers “don’t know what they don’t know,” particularly with regard to Kubernetes.

What’s needed is a focused framework — a set of governance and guardrails — to help them get and stay in the know.

Kubernetes Governance and Guardrails

Joe Pelletier
Joe is VP of Product Strategy for Fairwinds, where he is responsible for leading teams that build solutions to bridge the gap between developers, security, and operations.

Successful Kubernetes compliance is rooted in strong governance and guardrails. While compliance can be tricky, addressing it with Kubernetes guardrails helps organizations build production-ready environments with safety nets. 

Kubernetes guardrails allow developers to work with Kubernetes securely, in compliance and cost-effectively so their code can reach production. Rooted in Kubernetes service ownership, it’s about enabling developers to configure containers and Kubernetes according to the organization’s policies without slowing them down. So how do you put guardrails in place? 

The first step is to establish guardrails. What policies does the organization need to follow? What compliance mandates — SOC 2, CIS benchmark controls, NSA hardening guidance, or PCI — does it need to adhere to? What internal policies are needed to be followed? These policies need to be considered and translated into Kubernetes guardrails. 

For example, organizations may want to comply with the recently updated National Security Agency hardening guidance from the National Security Agency and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency around pod security. This includes preventing root execution by using non-root containers, running containers with immutable file systems or scanning container images for vulnerabilities.

Another case is providing SOC 2 specific checks and documentation. What is in place that keeps track of SOC 2 checks? What guardrails are needed to maintain compliance around role based access for example? All of these examples should be translated to guardrails, but it isn’t enough to simply write them down, these guardrails need to be codified and enforced throughout the development lifecycle. 

By codifying the guardrails, DevSecOps leaders are able to scan workloads against them to see what pre-production code doesn’t comply. As part of this process, true Kubernetes governance employs software to review all code from development through to production to scan for any breaches in compliance.

Software helps to remove the DevSecOps team’s burden of manually reviewing and documenting all issues (often in a spreadsheet) and attempting to get dev teams to remediate issues. Instead, software can help not only prevent issues from reaching production, but also help the development team understand what doesn’t comply and how to fix it. 

Speed vs. Compliance

One big challenge to regulatory compliance: the need for speed. As mentioned, cloud native is about speed to market. Balancing the speed gains vs. achieving compliance shouldn’t have to be a trade-off. The principles of DevSecOps and Kubernetes service ownership seek to leverage the power of compliance and DevOps to establish a process that works seamlessly for both. This is made possible by uniting best practices, tools and policies under one umbrella so that guardrails can be consistent across security, development and operations teams.

Speed and compliance can, indeed, find balance when silos among security, development and operations teams are broken down. What results is compliance requirements met, security risks reduced, cost-optimized and performance improved.  

The pressure to achieve compliance requires a shift from manual Kubernetes reviews to automated reviews. The benefits of compliance will be far-reaching as teams implement guardrails not only for security and regulatory requirements, but also to save money and improve performance.