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Kata Containers – The speed of containers, the security of VMs (katacontainers.io)
208 points by bharatkhatri14 10 days ago | hide | past | web | 75 comments | favorite





They don't seem to have written any code yet. [1] So what we have at this point is a marketing website about their ambition and goals?

[1]https://github.com/kata-containers/runtimes


It is comprised by many parts that, already, have seen development as:

Kata Agent: https://github.com/kata-containers/agent

Kata Shim: https://github.com/kata-containers/shim

Kata Proxy: https://github.com/kata-containers/proxy

KSM Throttler: https://github.com/kata-containers/ksm-throttler

And some forks to provide for their necessities, I suppose, as:

Linux Kernel: https://github.com/kata-containers/linux

QEMU: https://github.com/kata-containers/qemu


The code comes from Intel's Clear Containers and hyper. The interesting bit is that the tech is now part of the openstack foundation, under the name Kata Containers. At Kubecon yesterday, they did a demo, showing a fork bomb taking out a container, but not the host. It actually seems nearly ready to use.

Can't you just combat fork bombs with e.g

  docker run --pids-limit=64

Yes, there are several ways to combat fork bombs (ulimits or pid namespaces). This was purely for the sake of the live demo that required a kernel crash example, there are certainly other ways to combat it.

There does seem to be a fair bit left to write (or clean up and open source from Hyper.sh and Intel)

e.g. the entire testing repo is empty

I would suggest we are looking at a conference driven development release


I am a product manager for Intel's Clear Containers and am also working in this community with Kata. We are still under development and merging Intel Clear Containers (CC) and Hyper.sh runV. Our 1.0 release is scheduled for March timeframe, at which point we plan to have a migration path for customers using runv or CC. We launched this week so that we can build our community and continue to merge the code in the open!

Impressive backing by the big name companies.

The idea of treating containers as secure and isolated as VMs is enticing for non-ephemeral services. Are these strictly tuned to exploit intel Hardware features or would they consider supporting the equivalent features in say AMD?

On the other hand, isn't this the realm of mainline distributions like RHEL, Debian and the like? To support such isolation facilities. I always thought clear Linux was a Intel playground for proof-of-concept which will eventually be up streamed to major Linux distributions.Is it not true?

I guess my question is why a separate project like this, instead of RedHat Enterprise Containers or Debian containers?


> On the other hand, isn't this the realm of mainline distributions like RHEL, Debian and the like?

At least Debian doesn't develop isolation solutions on its own; it tends to package software that's already out there. And if it's popular enough, it might be integrated fairly tightly into the distribution.


Interesting that nearly half of the backers are Chinese companies.

Not when you consider that half of all companies are Chinese companies.

For comparison: USA: ~30m China: ~80m


At the Kubecon demo yesterday they cracked a joke about promising to support more architectures. They seem to sincerely want to, which is why they donated the project to OpenStack. Honestly it seems really cool, the spin up time is damn impressive.

> Impressive backing by the big name companies.

From someone who works at big name companies: this should not impress anyone. Big companies love slapping their name on things that give them "innovation" credibility. It's like Pepsi sponsoring the X Games.

> why a separate project like this

This is an OpenStack project, so it's not vendor-specific. It's also supposed to be a new "standard container", which I highly doubt will happen because they're just slapping together two other projects.


> The idea of treating containers as secure and isolated as VMs is enticing for non-ephemeral services

Are you saying that security and isolation is not enticing for ephemeral services? I know that an ephemeral container is reset after a restart but I think that it's a bit naive to think that that is a good enough replacement for true isolation.


> Are you saying that security and isolation is not enticing for ephemeral services?

Didn't mean to imply the reverse logic of my statement. I believe Linux Containers (and hence Docker) depend only on Kernel namespaces to provide isolation. In my admittedly naive eyes, they were not good enough/mature to replace my KVM VMs yet. Too much to trade off for little convenience/performance.

However, if Linux containers matured up and offered the same isolation facilities that something like KVM does, then I can think about switching to them in future, and enjoy the performance boost.

>I know that an ephemeral container is reset after a restart but I think that it's a bit naive to think that that is a good enough replacement for true isolation.

If I'm looking to run an application for which I care about solid isolation of resources, I'd spend my time running it as VM. But, if I'm running a one-time script that chews some data and I don't care much about it bothering other workloads in the system or other workloads bothering it, then I'd fall back on the isolation facilities offered by namespaces by using Containers. Nothing wrong with that.

Security view on these is another argument. If I can't afford the application escalating it's view and looking into other workloads in that system, I just wouldn't run them in Containers today.


Sounds like you are looking for something closer to LXD or perhaps Rkt.

But, AFAIK, LXD and RKt are similar to Docker as a container runtime though. They all share the host kernel, and if one container is hosed/tainted, your host kernel becomes the attack vector. If I read correctly, hypercontainer/kata containers lets you bring your own kernel for your containers and isolates it from the host using intel hardware features(same ones that KVM leverages). That's where it gets interesting to me.

Kata Containers uses KVM; QEMU, which is the userspace KVM client, is configured so that it looks like you are running on a container.

However, what you get is indeed a virtual machine. It is simply impossible for "real" containers to provide the same isolation as virtual machine, simply because the attack surface is that of the shared kernel; a hypervisor presents a much more constrained interface to a VM than the full kernel, even if you add QEMU to the mix.


Separate projects like this is how a lot of these "RHEL Enterprise $FOO" are actually made.

RedHat / Suse / Ubuntu / $Vendor take the upstream project, tidy it a bit, package it, get it integrated in their ecosystem, and add an easy installer.

Having it in a vendor neutral foundation means that all the vendors can colaborate, and not have one group with a massive advantage or complete control over a roadmap.


There are hundreds of engineers working on RHEL (disclaimer, that includes me), so it's not as simple as you put it...

No, it is not - I over simplified the process a lot. (/me used to work in a vendor, and in a different large Linux distro :) )

I didn't mean to undermine the work that goes into turning a project like this, OpenStack, Kubernetes, Cloud Foundry etc into a real product that users can download and install on random hardware in random configurations, and get a working system - it is a ton of work, and is massively important for getting actual users to install what are very complex distributed systems.


One thing that isn't mentioned on front page at least is the management aspect.

Docker became popular because it was pretty easy to use, and to publish and reuse existing containers. Whatever competes with it only stands a chance if it can either reuse the existing container ecosystem, or offer something roughly as good.


Sat through the talk at kubecon yesterday - an important goal of theirs is to not compete with the docker. They said it was compatible with docker, containerd, and cri-o. I believe with docker, it sits at the runc level, so to the end user, you're using docker in the standard fashion, but the underlying isolation mechanism is different. They also said it can be chosen per container so different containers on the same host can use different isolation mechanisms

That makes a lot of sense, and probably the road that makes adoption easiest. Thanks!

It doesn’t have to replace Docker – just becoming a better container engine as backend for Kubernetes will be very useful.

If it's using Hyper runV, my guess is that their intent is to be compatible with OCI and Docker.

The British Indian Ocean territory really is becoming a tech hub.

So there is no country called "Input/Output", what a bummer.


>I'm not sure I get the connection.

.io is the TLD for the British Indian Ocean Territory, technically speaking.



How is this better than using rkt with an lkvm stage1[1], which also uses the work done by the Clear Containers team? It looks like Kata packages QEMU as well, which seems a bit overkill.

[1]https://coreos.com/rkt/docs/latest/running-kvm-stage1.html


> a bit overkill

They also said the same about Xen, that a special purpose microkernel was a better choice than Linux as a hypervisor...


Right, in many cases, small is beautiful! I think that's what contributed so heavily to the massive success of the Xen platform. Is that what you mean?

Then why does Kata Containers use KVM?

Xen was successful because it was innovative, and because it worked around the fact that x86 was not virtualizable at the time. But after ten years of healthy competition, the only reason to prefer Xen to KVM would be things like QubesOS.


It's kind of interesting that it's only in the Linux world that containers cannot be thought of as isolated or secure. Seeing it from a jails and zones perspective, rather sad, actually :)

FreeBSD jails are known to not be silver bullets. I've heard many instances of breaking out of a FreeBSD jail.

Generally, treating any OS-level technology as a silver bullet is a huge mistake. Any serious developer would make multiple levels of security that _should_ be sound.


That's quite true. Any serious FreeBSD will readily acknowledge such(eg https://www.freebsd.org/doc/handbook/jails.html), but the project does try to default to sensible security defaults for it's containers eg no raw sockets.

While not applicable to FreeBSD alone, this polemic thread:

https://marc.info/?l=openbsd-misc&m=119318909016582

is a pretty accurate description of container level security and not much has changed. Stuff built on a foundation is always subject to the foundation's qualities.


This is the most blatant and clearly incorrect... FUD?..lie?... I have ever heard to date about jails.

Jails are secure. As are SmartOS zones. Whoever you heard that there are “many instances of breaking out of a jail” from is full of sh47. And you would be wise to never listen to them ever again. No really, EVER.

And no, breaking the ps4 was not a jail exploit. The attacker already had elevated privileges. So you would be sunk no matter what.


Sheesh, no need to get so emotional about it. I said instances of breaking out, not instances of jail exploits. I don't know of any jail-specific exploits.

But when we say "elevated privileges" are we talking root inside of a jail? Because if that breaks jails, then a large class of Docker exploits also wouldn't classify as 'exploits' under that criteria. One of the biggest problems with Linux namespaces is the band-aid put over root, via capabilities.

As far as I know, though, the PS4 exploit was more Sony's fault. IIRC, they broke out of the jail by exploiting custom syscalls not in stock FreeBSD. Bugs in syscalls in FreeBSD aren't unheard of though, even if less commonly found than Linux.

My entire point is that good security implies not treating any solution as a panacea, lest you find yourself in a digital Titanic scenario. Multiple layers of solid security beats one layer of solid security.


> Bugs in syscalls in FreeBSD aren't unheard of though, even if less commonly found than Linux.

Dangerous assumption.

More likely, there are fewer people looking for vulnerabilities in BSD than in Linux.


i believe there was an exploit by another team which used badiret. which is pretty hilarious because badiret has been patched ages ago but FreeBSD never told anyone they fixed it.


yeah there are probably not many 'jail' exploits specifically targeted for getting out of jail/exploiting jail primitives. but people just use normal kernel exploits to get out of jail/zones. i would say jails/zones are about as secure as linux containers. ie: about as secure as the linux kernel is.

And you would be wrong.

The person you are replying to has discovered multiple exploitable bugs in Illumos via DTrace from inside zones:

Here are the first two that pop up if you google his name. http://www.zerodayinitiative.com/advisories/ZDI-16-168/ http://www.zerodayinitiative.com/advisories/ZDI-16-274/

He gave a talk at DTrace conf 2016 about all the security vulnerabilities he personally found in DTrace in SmartOS. Here are the slides: http://slides.com/benmurphy/deck


Does Windows have anything like this?

Yes – HyperV containers (which Kata is actually inspired by) are much more secure than Linux’ namespaces.

> Kata Containers combines technology from Intel® Clear Containers and Hyper runV

but I can't find a mention of Hyper-V anywhere (which doesn't mean there was no inspiration). Maybe you confused Hyper runv and Hyper-V here (the naming certainly doesn't help)?


I might have just been confused due to the naming, but, as far as I can see, they’re using the exact same underlying technology, based on AMD’s and Intel’s virtualization extensions, to replace the sandboxing that is currently handled by kernel namespaces, jails, or HyperV containers (and, in some of these implementations, already uses this technology)

runV is a oci compatible drop in replacement for runC that can execute containers on a number of backend virtualisation environments, including Hyper-V and KVM

That's coincidence, though. runV wasn't inspired by Hyper-V.

Funny, I never thought about it that way. Namespaced processes being a linux kernel feature in the first place. That's where the whole container thing CAME from in the first place. It's only because the Windows and OSX kernels _don't_ support namespacing, that we have to run docker et al inside a virtual machine on those environments. It is not the container implementation, but the virtual machine, which makes containers "secure" on those platforms.

So put more finely: containers are not secure, anywhere. Virtual machines are. So you should run your containers inside virtual machines if security is important to you. Environments that can't run containers natively are forced into the more secure configuration.

If you're interested in the ongoing work to make containers more secure, Jessie Frazelle has very clear posts on the subject [1][2]. The Bubblewrap project also has a great summary of various approaches being used to "jail" container processes properly. [3]

[1] https://blog.jessfraz.com/post/containers-zones-jails-vms/ [2] https://blog.jessfraz.com/post/getting-towards-real-sandbox-... [3] https://github.com/projectatomic/bubblewrap


"containers are not secure, anywhere" Zones are very secure although you might or might not consider them "containers".

Zones have the same problem that linux containers have which is a massive attack surface in the form of a kernel. And if you think zones are secure: Which OS do you think had more kernel exploits that could be used to escape container/zone in the last 2 years? I think the answer is much closer than you might think.

I am not tracking closely to be honest since I have not being working with Illumos based distros for 5 years +/- when we were using omniOS I do not remember things being too bad. Not sure what % of vuln. are Oracle Solaris specific given that majority of orig. SUN eng. left long time ago Illumos might be in much better shape vs Solaris.


> containers are not secure, anywhere. Virtual machines are.

Can you (or someone else) ELI5 what makes containers insecure? Not a low level Linux or security expert.


I'm sure there's more, but the most obvious is that they share one running kernel. So, one kernel exploit in one container means you now have all the running containers.

So containers are as vulnerable as the operating system? It seems like if your kernel has been pwned you’re already SOL? Or couldn’t someone in that position just as easily pwn a VM, or run the same exploit on multiple vms? I’m not sure if I’m missing something

Let's say you break out of a web app on a VM, then as the local user you exploit the kernel. It's the VM host kernel. You have root on the VM. The VM is running on a full virtualization platform, though, so you'd need to break out of the VM to hit other guests or the hypervisor.

Linux containers run a new environment on top of the host's kernel. It's the same kernel in one container as another and the same as in the host. If you manage to break out of the namespace or otherwise exploit the kernel, you're already in some other container's business. Worse, there's a good chance you've exploited the kernel in a way that you can get all the other containers and the host all at once with one exploit.


Assuming the attacker already knew the IP of every VM, and they were all running the same kernel with the same exploit, and they were all exposed to the internet, it would be similar...although you would have to repeat the steps 'N' times. Or, assuming you could somehow escalate your VM kernel exploit to a higher level hypervisor exploit and get to the top.

That's not usually the case, though.

With containers, you get the kernel exploit, and you're in, for the most part.


Another alternative is using hyper container

This is a combined work of the people behind Intel Clear containers and Hyper containers.

> It is designed to be architecture agnostic, run on multiple hypervisors and be compatible with the OCI specification for Docker containers

In what sense is this "OCI compatible"? Do they implement the runtime, image format spec, or both? My understanding of containerization and OCI runtimes is that they're fundamentally different from hardware-level virtualization.


Both. The hardware virtualization related settings are configured out side of OCI spec but the runtime accept OCI spec and plays with it accordingly. As for image format, Kata runs unchanged docker images.

Whats the difference between unikernels and kata containers?

Different approaches to isolation. A kata container is using Clear Linux to load a feature-complete Linux kernel into tiny VMs (disclaimer: I do not know exactly how it's different from any other VM,) a unikernel is a small bare-metal "library" that gives you minimal OS-like functions to put in a hypervisor to run your application. Unikernels are still more minimal, I'd guess.

Here's a recent paper about the unikernel approach

http://cnp.neclab.eu/projects/lightvm/lightvm.pdf




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