IBM attempts to graft virtual machine security onto container flexibility

Nabla Containers promises reduced attack surface through fewer system calls


IBM researchers have developed a new flavor of software container in an effort to create code that's more secure than Docker and similar shared kernel container systems.

Docker and its ilk are considered less secure than VMs because the compromise of a shared kernel puts all associated containers at risk. With VMs, the kernel is separate from the host kernel, which reduces the risk of collateral damage.

Large businesses, appreciating the benefits of containerization, have shown interest in adopting the technology but many balk at trading security for development and deployment speed.

Thus tech companies interested in serving the enterprise market have been looking at ways to address the security shortcomings of containers.

Toward that end, the OpenStack Foundation recently released the 1.0 version of the Intel-backed Kata Containers, an attempt to combine the security of VMs with the speed of containers. And Google has discussed its approach, gVisor.

Now it's IBM's turn with software dubbed Nabla Containers.

Nabla Containers and Kata Containers both aim to reduce potential avenues of attack. The Kata Container approach does so by giving each container or pod its own lightweight VM and mini-kernel.

Cat sleeps on laptop

Azure Dev Spaces has hit public preview, so El Reg took it for a spin

READ MORE

The Nabla Containers approach differs: It makes fewer Linux system calls by relying on unikernel (library operating systems) techniques in conjunction with the Solo 5 middleware.

"Nabla Containers only use 9 system calls, all others are blocked via a Linux seccomp policy," the project website explains.

The net effect is less communication with the kernel and less surface area to attack.

Google claims gVisor also attempts to overcome the shortcomings of containers by rewriting the Linux system call interface in Go.

But James Bottomley, a distinguished engineer at IBM Research and a Linux kernel contributor contends Google's engineers failed to account for the profligacy of system calls in the Go runtime, making it comparable to Docker or worse in terms of number of system calls.

In a series of recent blog posts, Bottomley describes Nabla Containers as an attempt to reduce horizontal threats, by which a containment failure allows an attacker to access the underlying container host or other tenant virtual machines on that host.

In tests he describes, "Nabla is far and away the best containment technology for secure workloads given that it sacrifices the least performance over docker to achieve the containment and, on the published results, is 2x more secure even than using hypervisor based containment."

Your mileage may vary, unless you happen to be using gVisor. According Bottomley, "gVisor sucks because ptrace is a really inefficient way of connecting the syscalls to the sandbox." ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022