Avoid exploit chaining threats with Chainguard Images

Jordi Mon Companys, Senior Product Marketing Manager
April 23, 2024

For software developers and security engineers, CVEs are a fact of life. This fact is especially aggravating because so many CVEs are deemed to be low or medium severity. So, why should companies find and fix these “low-risk” risk vulnerabilities?

To answer this question, let's pose another — what happens when several of these “low-risk” vulnerabilities are combined in a clever attack sequence? This is the danger of exploit chaining.

What is exploit chaining?

An exploit chain is an attack method that combines multiple vulnerabilities to achieve a greater level of compromise than any single vulnerability would allow. Think of it as building a ladder, where each exploit adds a new rung that takes the attacker closer to their goal. This could involve exploiting a low-severity vulnerability in a web application to gain initial access and then leveraging another vulnerability to move deeper into the system and deploy malware or steal sensitive data.

Real-world examples highlight the danger

Exploit chaining is a very real threat, as demonstrated by events like the recent Pwn2Own contest. Hackers revealed 63 zero-day vulnerabilities in popular devices, successfully chaining exploits for complete control of printers, routers, and network storage systems. These types of devices form the backbone of many organizations' tech stacks, highlighting the potential for far-reaching consequences from seemingly isolated weaknesses.

To further underscore these dangers, let's consider the Chrome renderer RCE exploit analysis conducted by GitHub Security Lab. While the specifics may seem complex, their research highlights broader lessons about modern software risks:

  • Unintended consequences of complex systems: Software frequently involves intricate interactions between components. The Chrome vulnerability arose from how memory management, multi-threading, and audio processing intertwined. Attackers skillfully exploit these unforeseen consequences to gain entry into a system.
  • Sandboxes are not silver bullets: Sandboxing, like Chrome's renderer process isolation, is a valuable defense. However, determined attackers can sometimes find ways to escape these restrictions, as seen in this exploit. A layered security approach, going beyond just sandboxing, is crucial.

These dangers extend far beyond Chrome or web browsers. Any software with complex interactions and memory management practices can harbor similar vulnerabilities. Developers must prioritize security-conscious coding, and everyone needs to diligently apply security patches to mitigate these risks.

The risk in regulated industries

Highly regulated industries like healthcare, finance, or critical infrastructure handle extremely sensitive data. Strict compliance mandates are in place to protect consumers, with significant consequences for data breaches or system compromises. Exploit chaining poses a major threat to these industries because it demonstrates how attackers can bypass seemingly strong security measures by targeting a series of seemingly minor vulnerabilities.

The dangers of complacency

According to Chainguard Labs' report, The True Cost of CVE Management in Containers, many organizations spend significant time and resources on vulnerability management. Often, much of this effort is focused on high-severity vulnerabilities with scary-sounding names. However, falling into the trap of downplaying "minor" CVEs can have consequences down the line. Any unpatched vulnerability, even with a low severity score, is a potential building block in an exploit chain.

Chainguard Images: Your defense against exploit chaining

This overwhelming need for constant vigilance and patching of CVEs is precisely where Chainguard Images offer a unique and powerful solution. Chainguard's approach emphasizes secure-by-default CVE elimination and attack surface reduction within container images used across the software development lifecycle. Here's how it works:

Low-to-zero CVEs: 

Chainguard Images are rigorously maintained, and vulnerabilities are patched with rapid speed, ensuring there are far fewer opportunities for attackers to exploit a vulnerability. This rapid response draws on the update cycle of Wolfi, a Linux distribution optimized for container images.

Wolfi incorporates upstream package updates swiftly, often within hours of a fix being released. This minimizes the window during which known vulnerabilities exist in your container images. By building on Chainguard Images, you benefit from this security-focused approach, making your software supply chain more resilient against exploit chaining.

Minimalism advantages: 

Chainguard Images embrace the principle of minimalism, minimizing the attack surface and reducing potential avenues for exploit chains. Here's how:

  • Distroless options: Chainguard offers distroless images that exclude unnecessary packages and tools. This streamlined approach removes potential components attackers might exploit, such as unneeded package managers, shells, or interpreters.
  • Reduced complexity: Minimal images naturally have fewer moving parts. This means fewer potential interactions that could lead to unexpected security vulnerabilities, making your system inherently more secure.
  • Secure by default: By starting with a minimal base, you require a conscious decision about every single component added to your image. This promotes a security-first mindset throughout your development and deployment process.

Remember, minimalism doesn't mean sacrificing functionality. Chainguard Images provide the essential components for your applications while maintaining a security-focused posture.

Take control: Secure your software supply chain

The consequences of a successful exploit chain attack can be devastating. With vulnerabilities evolving and attackers becoming more sophisticated, a reactive approach to software security is a recipe for risk. Highly regulated industries face an even greater burden, as the consequences of a successful exploit chain attack can be disastrous.

Chainguard Images offer a secure-by-default solution, minimizing the attack surface and eliminating the vast majority of CVEs before they can be weaponized. By prioritizing minimal, hardened images with low-to-zero CVEs, Chainguard empowers organizations to build and run secure software with confidence, ensuring compliance and minimizing the risk of compromises or security breaches. 

  • Build, ship, and run secure software with minimal, hardened container images that receive rapid updates.
  • Let us fix and eliminate CVEs in your container images on the daily.

To learn more about how Chainguard Images can help protect your organization from threats to your software supply chain, visit our website here or request a demo today.

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