Container Lifecycle Management

Cody Queen - February 9, 2024

What is container lifecycle management?

Container lifecycle management is a critical process of overseeing the creation, deployment, and operation of a container until its eventual decommissioning. Understanding these lifecycle stages — from the initial creation of a container to its retirement — is essential. In addition to maintaining operational efficiency, effective management also ensures that each stage is optimized for security and compliance.

In this post, we’ll consider the role of cybersecurity in each stage of the container lifecycle. Cyber threats are a constant challenge in our world, making security a critical concern in container management. By understanding and implementing security best practices, organizations can safeguard their container environments against potential risks.

Stages of a container lifecycle

The stages of a container lifecycle are:

  1. Creation and build
  2. Deployment
  3. Orchestration
  4. Monitoring
  5. Updates and maintenance
  6. Retirement/decommissioning

1. Creation and Build

The initial stage of creating and building a container is where the groundwork for container security is laid. Security must be integrated at the very beginning of container image creation, and it begins with the use of secure and trusted base images. Base images are the starting templates for building containers. If a base image has a security vulnerability, then any container images built from that base image are vulnerable, too. Select base images from trusted, verified sources. This minimizes the risk of incorporating vulnerabilities right from the start.

As your container is being built, perform container image vulnerability scanning. Container images should be scanned regularly for known vulnerabilities, such as those found in a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database. Vulnerability scanning helps you identify and address potential security issues before a container is deployed.

Ensuring image integrity — through methods like digital signing — is also an important security measure during this stage of the container lifecycle. Digital signing prevents tampering with your container image, as a verified digital signature guarantees that the image has not been altered in any way.

2. Deployment

In the deployment phase, containers move from development to production. Naturally, security in this stage is critical. In particular, you must ensure that you have measures in place to protect container communication across your network. This can involve setting up firewalls and isolating networks to prevent unauthorized access.

Access control is another important aspect. Ensuring that only authorized personnel and systems can interact with your containers mitigates the risk of malicious activity.

Finally, safeguard sensitive data with secure configuration management, including the use of encrypted secrets and environment variables.

3. Orchestration

Orchestration is the stage where the management and coordination of container states — started, paused, and stopped — take place. Here, security centers around ensuring that containers operate safely within their states.

When scaling containers up or down, you should maintain consistent security controls across all instances. To manage these transitions effectively, use automation. This will also help ensure that security policies are uniformly applied.

Protecting data during state transitions is also a key concern. As a container moves between different states or environments, it is essential that sensitive data remains secure. Encryption and access control mechanisms are both important to prevent data leakage or unauthorized access.

4. Monitoring

This stage of the container lifecycle involves setting up systems to continuously monitor container activities to detect any anomalies or security breaches. Continuous monitoring enables threat detection, identifying threats as they emerge rather than after they have caused significant damage.

Effective monitoring strategies require both real-time and historical data analysis. Tools that can analyze network traffic, container behavior, and system logs are invaluable for identifying patterns that could indicate a security breach. Monitoring strategies and tools ought to be scalable to accommodate the dynamic nature of container environments.

What should you do if container monitoring reveals a security incident? This is where having a robust incident response plan is crucial. An incident response plan outlines procedures for addressing security incidents quickly to minimize potential damage. With a plan always ready to go, you can ensure a clear path to containment and resolution if and when an anomaly is detected.

Modern, cloud-native applications are distributed and can potentially comprise hundreds or thousands of containers. Effective monitoring in such an environment requires an all-in-one cybersecurity platform that leverages automation and integrates data from across all these containers.

5. Updates and maintenance

With your containers deployed and monitored, they enter the lifecycle stage of updates and maintenance. Important security measures should be taken at this stage as well. These measures include patch management and maintenance checks.

Routine patch management addresses any vulnerabilities that arise over time (such as through the discovery of new CVEs). To safeguard your containers against known threats, ensure the timely application of security patches.

Regular maintenance checks are also essential. These checks should include:

  • Reviewing and updating security policies and practices to align with evolving threats
  • Regular audits to identify potential security gaps in the container environment

Both of the above practices move your container lifecycle management processes in the direction of proactive improvement. By staying attuned to timely updates and maintenance, container environments can remain secure and resilient against emerging cybersecurity challenges.

6. Retirement/decommissioning

Eventually, you may find that a running container is no longer needed. Perhaps it has fulfilled its purpose, it is being replaced by a more updated version, or more efficient resource management has rendered the container unnecessary. Whatever the reason, the container reaches this last stage in its lifecycle.

Of course, even when retiring or decommissioning a container, certain secure practices still apply. Securely decommissioning a container involves ensuring that all sensitive data is properly scrubbed, with no remnants left behind. This is essential for preventing data leakage or unauthorized access even after the container is no longer in use.

Best practices in container retirement would dictate securely wiping or destroying any persistent data associated with the container. Also, ensure that all network connections are properly terminated. With a comprehensive container decommissioning process in place, your organization can maintain overall security and compliance, preventing retired containers from becoming liabilities.

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Secure your containers throughout the lifecycle with CrowdStrike

In this article, we’ve covered the major stages of the container lifecycle:

  • Creation and build
  • Deployment
  • Orchestration
  • Monitoring
  • Updates and maintenance
  • Retirement/decommissioning

Integrating cybersecurity throughout these stages is a fundamental part of container lifecycle management. Addressing security throughout the lifecycle proactively ensures the integrity, safety, and efficiency of containerized environments.

CrowdStrike Falcon® Cloud Security significantly enhances container security throughout the container lifecycle. It provides comprehensive protection from build to runtime across various cloud environments. Key features include vulnerability scanning and management, automated continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline security, and robust runtime protection.

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When you’re ready to secure your containers at scale and across your environments, start your free trial of the CrowdStrike Falcon® platform or contact our team of experts today. Try Falcon Prevent


Senior Product Marketing Manager, Cloud Security, CrowdStrike