Security Scanning Infra for Your Docker Images and Code Dependencies

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Published September 21, 2020

Early this year, our team was asked to augment our existing security tools and software dev+test practices for PCI-DSS and SOC-2 compliance. One of the key areas we had to augment was vulnerability scanning for our K8s-based microservices and a couple of monolithic services. As a result, our DevOps team had to pick between a few commercial tools and open source solutions to implement vulnerability scanning for our software. All of these tools do very similar things: they scan dependencies (either project libraries or OS packages) and compare them with vulnerability databases (like NIST’s NVD and others).

Build vs. Buy?

There are a few open source tools that can be used to build your own vulnerability scanning solution, or you can use a commercial product that adds additional features over basic scanning that can make your life easier. Examples include: 

  • Nice dashboards for quick overview of vulnerabilities in your projects 
  • Notifications (email, Slack, etc.) 
  • Integration with Git repositories (GitHub, GitLab) 
  • Integration with other services (Docker registry, Kubernetes) 
  • Integration with project management (e.g. Jira) 
  • Automatic merge request creation to fix vulnerable dependencies 
  • Support for teams, projects and RBAC

Most commercial solutions augment public vulnerability databased with their own vulnerability database to eliminate false positives/negatives and give you more relevant results. That said, all of these commercial tools become really expensive as the number of developers increase. So you need to consider whether it’s “better” for you to buy or to build your own solution using existing open source tooling.

Initially, we decided that commercial tool would best suit our need given the time constraint we had. However, after spending 3-months deploying and testing an industry leading commercial product, we faced a many challenges — limited support for golang, it would pick incorrect dependencies and not exit gracefully, problems with containers built from scratch vs those build with some base image, etc. As a result, we decided to give up on it and switch to building our own tool using available open source technologies.

In this post, I am going to provide you a solid base to start with if you choose to go open source. In addition, at the end of the post is the link to our open source repo to get you going!

What to scan?

There are basically two things you want to scan for vulnerabilities: 

  1. Your project’s code dependencies (yarn.lock, Gopkg.lock, etc.)
  2. OS dependencies (Debian packages, Alpine packages, etc.) in a Docker image

In the future, it’s possible to add more capabilities like license checking or static code analysis, but that is out of scope for this post.

When to scan?

First of all, you want to ensure that no new vulnerability is introduced by your code or Docker image change, so it’s a good idea to scan every merge request before it’s merged.

But you also need to scan periodically, as new vulnerabilities can appear over time. Also, severities might change — a low severity that you initially ignored may become critical over time as a new attack vector or exploit is found. While commercial tools remember the last scan and will notify you if a new vulnerability is found, in our open source solution, we simply repeat the scan on top of the project’s master branch.

Choosing tools

There are a lot of open source tools available but our pick was Trivy because it’s simple to use, under active development, and can scan multiple projects and OS types.

Trivy is a simple and comprehensive vulnerability scanner for containers and other artifacts. A software vulnerability is a glitch, flaw, or weakness present in the software or in an operating system. Trivy detects vulnerabilities of OS packages (Alpine, RHEL, CentOS, etc.) and application dependencies (Bundler, Composer, npm, yarn, etc.). Trivy is easy to use — just install the binary and you’re ready to scan! All you need to do for scanning is to specify a target such as an image name of the container.

It can be easily installed and executed locally against the built Docker image or project’s root. It also supports multiple outputs, including JSON and table output:


Unfortunately there are projects which Trivy cannot scan (e.g. Golang), so we had to rely on OWASP Dependency-Check as a lot of our code is in golang.

Dependency-Check is a Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tool that attempts to detect publicly disclosed vulnerabilities contained within a project’s dependencies. It does this by determining if there is a Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) identifier for a given dependency. If found, it will generate a report linking to the associated CVE entries.

It can generate html pages with report, JUnit and JSON output (and some others).

Reports and dashboards

Now we are getting closer to more interesting stuff 😊

As we are already use Elasticsearch + Kibana + Fluentd in our DevOps and SRE teams, it was a natural fit to use existing infrastructure to analyze JSON output of our security scans.

We only needed to find a way to send data from untrusted infrastructure (CI runners) to our secure Elasticsearch. For this purpose, we decided to have a message queue in the middle. Fluentd has in_sqs plugin to read messages from Amazon SQS and it’s also simple to use so final architecture looks like this:

Security scanning architecture

Once data reaches Elasticsearch, it is simple to create a few dashboards with Kibana or use Discover to query vulnerabilities with all details as needed.

Overview of vulnerabilities
Searching for critical vulnerabilities

Addressing vulnerabilities

So now we have scans and some nice dashboard, what next? We cannot expect that developers will watch these dashboards on regular basis. Instead we decided to fail CI when an issue of high severity or above is found and has a fix available, that way responsibility is moved to developers and project owners.

Naturally, we needed to have an option to whitelist some CVEs or to override this default behavior on a per-project basis. So we created a repository with security scanning profiles which are consumed by our scanning tool which wraps Trivy execution and handles its behavior and output.

Now any developer can submit a merge request against this repository and ask for an exception. Example profile for kibana project:


Future improvements

This implementation of security scanning is a solid base that can be extended beyond our initial use-cases. For example: 

  • Add Slack notifications, utilize security profiles to specify per-project channel and options 
  • Add integration with Gitlab Issues, Jira or any other ticketing system
  • Create simple service or sidecar to execute scan of images deployed on Kubernetes cluster

Fork it and use it

You can find Dockerfile and tooling in our public Gitlab repository:

Thanks to Jakub Pavlík.