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Exploring container security: How DroneDeploy achieved ISO-27001 certification on GKE

Editor’s note: Aerial data mapping company DroneDeploy wanted to migrate its on-premises Kubernetes environment to Google Kubernetes Engine—but only if it would pass muster with auditors. Read on to learn how the firm leveraged GKE’s native security capabilities to smooth the path to ISO-27001 certification.

At DroneDeploy, we put a lot of effort into securing our customers’ data. We’ve always been proud of our internal security efforts, and receiving compliance certifications validates these efforts, helping us formalize our information security program, and keeping us accountable to a high standard. Recently, we achieved ISO-27001 certification— all from taking advantage of the existing security practices in Google Cloud and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). Here’s how we did it.

As a fast-paced, quickly growing B2B SaaS startup in San Francisco, our mission is to make aerial data accessible and productive for everyone. We do so by providing our users with image processing, automated mapping, 3D modeling, data sharing, and flight controls through iOS and Android applications. Our Enterprise Platform provides an admin console for role-based access and monitoring of flights, mapped routes, image capture, and sharing. We serve more than 4,000 customers across 180 countries in the construction, energy, insurance, and mining industries, and ingest more than 50 terabytes of image data from over 30,000 individual flights every month.

Many of our customers and prospects are large enterprises that have strict security expectations of their third-party service providers. In an era of increased regulation (such as Europe’s GDPR law) and data security concerns, the scrutiny on information security management has never been higher.. Compliance initiatives are one piece of the overall security strategy that help us communicate our commitment to securing customer data. At DroneDeploy, we chose to start our compliance story with ISO-27001, an international information security standard that is for recognized across a variety of industries.

DroneDeploy’s Architecture: Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)

DroneDeploy was an early adopter of Kubernetes, and we have long since migrated all our workloads from virtual machines to containers orchestrated by Kubernetes. We currently run more than 150,000 Kubernetes jobs each month with run times ranging from a few minutes to a few days. Our tooling for managing clusters evolved over time, starting with hand-crafted bash and Ansible scripts, to the now ubiquitous (and fantastic) kops. About 18 months ago, we decided to re-evaluate our hosting strategy given the decreased costs of compute in the cloud. We knew that managing our own Kubernetes clusters was not a competitive advantage for our business and that we would rather spend our energy elsewhere if we could.

We investigated the managed Kubernetes offerings of the top cloud providers and did some technical due diligence before making our selection—comparing not only what was available at the time but also future roadmaps. We found that GKE had several key features that were missing in other providers such as robust Kubernetes-native autoscaling, a mature control plane, multi-availability zone masters, and extensive documentation. GKE’s ability to run on pre-emptible node pools for ephemeral workloads was also a huge plus.

Proving our commitment to security hardening

But if we were going to make the move, we needed to document our information security management policies and process and prove that we were following best practices for security hardening.

Specifically, when it comes to ISO-27001 certification, we needed to follow the general process:

  1. Document the processes you perform to achieve compliance
  2. Prove that the processes convincingly address the compliance objectives
  3. Provide evidence that you are following the process
  4. Document any deviations or exceptions

While Google Cloud offers hardening guidance for GKE and several GCP blogs to guide our approach, we still needed to prove that we had security best practices in place for our critical systems. With newer technologies, though, it can be difficult to provide clear evidence to an auditor that those best practices are in place; they often live in the form of blog posts by core contributors and community leaders versus official, documented best practices. Fortunately, standards have begun to emerge for Kubernetes. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) recently published an updated compliance benchmark for Kubernetes 1.11 that is quite comprehensive. You can even run automated checks against the CIS benchmark using the excellent open source project kube-bench. Ultimately though, it was the fact that Google manages the underlying GKE infrastructure that really helped speed up the certification process.  

Compliance with less pain thanks to GKE

As mentioned, one of the main reasons we switched from running Kubernetes in-house to GKE was to reduce our investment in manually maintaining and upgrading our Kubernetes clusters— including our compliance initiatives. GKE reduces the overall footprint that our team has to manage since Google itself manages and documents much of the underlying infrastructure. We’re now able to focus on improving and documenting the parts of our security procedures that are unique to our company and industry, rather than having to meticulously document the foundational technologies of our infrastructure.

For Kubernetes, here’s a snippet of how we documented our infrastructure using the four steps described above:

  1. We implemented security best practices within our Kubernetes clusters by ensuring all of them are benchmarked using the Kubernetes CIS guide. We use kube-bench for this process, which we run on our clusters once every quarter.
  2. A well respected third-party authority publishes this benchmark, which confirms that our process addresses best practices for using Kubernetes securely.
  3. We provided documentation that we assessed our Kubernetes clusters against the benchmark, including the tickets to track the tasks.
  4. We provided the results of our assessment and documented any policy exceptions and proof that we evaluated those exceptions against our risk management methodology.

Similarly to the physical security sections of the ISO-27001 standard, the CIS benchmark has large sections dedicated to security settings for Kubernetes masters and nodes. Because we run on GKE, Google handled 95 of the 104 line items in the benchmark applicable to our infrastructure. For those items that could not be assessed against the benchmark (because GKE does not expose the masters), we provided links to Google’s security documentation on those features (see Cluster Trust and Control Plane Security). Some examples include:

Beyond GKE, we were also able to take advantage of many other Google Cloud services that made it easier for us to secure our cloud footprint (although the shared responsibility model for security means we can’t rely on Google Cloud alone):

  • For OS level security best practices, we we able to document strong security best practices for our OS security because we use Google’s Container-Optimized OS (COS), which provides many security best practices by default by using things such as a read-only file system. All that was left for us to do was was follow best practices to help secure our workloads.
  • We use node auto-upgrade on our GKE nodes to handle patch management at the OS layer for our nodes. For the level of effort, we found that node auto-upgrade provides a good middle ground patching and stability. To date, we have not had any issues with our software as a result of node auto-upgrade.
  • We use Container Analysis (which is built into Google Container Registry) to scan for known vulnerabilities in our Docker images.
  • ISO-27001 requires that you demonstrate the physical security of your network infrastructure. Because we run our entire infrastructure in the cloud, we were able to directly rely on Google Cloud’s physical and network security for portions of the certification (Google Cloud is ISO-27001 certified amongst other certifications).

DroneDeploy is dedicated to giving our customers access to aerial imaging and mapping technologies quickly and easily. We handles vast amounts of sensitive information on behalf of our customers, and we want them to know that we are following best security practices even when the underlying technology gets complicated, like in the case of Kubernetes. For DroneDeploy, switching to GKE and Google Cloud has helped us reduce our operational overhead and increased the velocity with which we achieve key compliance certifications. To learn more about DroneDeploy, and our experience using Google Cloud and GKE, feel free to reach out to us.

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