The story of the most vulnerable Chainguard Image

Jason Hall, Serious Principal Software Engineer
April 1, 2024

At Chainguard we take pride in producing hundreds of minimal, up-to-date, secure container images every day, with many fewer known vulnerabilities than upstream equivalents.

Customers often ask us how we do it. I can tell you it's not easy. Anything beyond that is a highly guarded trade secret of course. Or it was … until today.

When we started building secure container images, we were faced with a conundrum. Vulnerabilities are everywhere, they can't just be swept under the rug. But then a clever engineer (who shall remain nameless, but it was me) had an idea: what if we just … did sweep them under a rug?

What if we secured our images by simply moving all those vulnerabilities into one unspeakably insecure image, where it couldn't do any harm? 🤔

For this Chainguard Image, we took inspiration from Mr. Burns (see below).

Software only an attacker could love

So that's what we did. And today, I'm excited to release that image onto an unsuspecting public. That's you!

You can scan this image yourself — if you dare! You can use Grype, or any other scanner that supports Chainguard Images:

-- CODE language-bash -- $ grype 1> /dev/null ├── ✔ Packages [48,215 packages] └── ✔ Executables [0 executables] ✔ Scanned for vulnerabilities [290565 vulnerability matches] ├── by severity: 5968 critical, 50545 high, 38097 medium, 1390 low, 0 negligible (194565 unknown) └── by status: 282221 fixed, 8344 not-fixed, 0 ignored

This sacrificial insecure image contains almost 300,000 vulnerabilities according to Grype. It contains all the known vulnerabilities we've managed to keep out of our real Chainguard Images.

Bar graph showing CVEs by severity.
Zero negligible vulnerabilities, nice!

Bar graph showing installed packages.
Real minimal base image for scale

Before you attempt to reproduce these results, be warned that scanning the image with Grype takes about eight minutes.

We didn't even have to sacrifice our commitment to producing minimal images to accomplish this. There is no reason those hundreds of thousands of vulnerabilities have to balloon your image to gargantuan size. This image is a svelte 339 KB, making it the smallest image we produce.

That’s about one vulnerability detected for every 1.19 bytes of image data. In fact, there are so many vulnerabilities that by the time you read this — there's more. And it's only growing every day!

Even the most vulnerable upstream image couldn't dream of such efficiency — though some may try!

But beware: Whatever you do, don't use this image in production! Don't let it anywhere close to your clusters. Anything that happens as a result is on you.

But seriously …

We don't produce hardened, minimal container images free of known vulnerabilities by cramming them all into one image that's so vulnerability-dense that it warps space-time. We do it the old-fashioned way: with hard work and automation.

And none of it is a highly guarded trade secret. Every bit of automation and tooling we use to build our packages and images is completely open source (here and here and here and here and plenty of other places).

This hyper-vulnerable image is just a fun demonstration of how container image scanners work. It is a similar (but opposite) demonstration of one of the techniques used in Malicious Compliance: Reflections on Trusting Container Scanners.

Where that talk demonstrated ways to hide real vulnerabilities from scanners, our image claims to contain every known vulnerability, when in fact it contains almost nothing at all — it only contains the clues that scanners look for to find vulnerabilities, and none of the actual vulnerable artifacts. As a result, the number of vulnerabilities in the image actually counts how many vulnerabilities Chainguard has remediated to date.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can see how we built the image at — like all Chainguard Images, automation will keep it updated, so come back and see how much worse it can get.

If you're dealing with hundreds of thousands of real vulnerabilities, please, let us help you with that. You can get started by finding a suitable hardened image in our Chainguard Images Directory, or by reaching out to our team to learn more about your specific use case for secure, minimal container images.

And if you can’t already tell, we also take pride in celebrating our beloved April Fools’ Day holiday, and that’s just what we did with this post!

Lastly — before you go — we’re giving our readers an exclusive sneak peek at our new product offering here.

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