Published on December 8, 2016 by TheLinuxFoundation
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Securing Filesystem Images for Unprivileged Containers – James Bottomley, IBM

User Namespaces are an essential tool of container security because they allow apparently privileged (root) execution within a container, while the executing entity is really unprivileged as the host (linux kernel) sees it. Unfortunately, the current cost of using user namespaces is that filesystem writes have to be at the identity seen by the kernel (the unprivileged uid/gid) rather than by the identity the container thinks it has. This is all fine and dandy until we want to share images and archives (even simple tar archives) amongst containers. Having the filesystem identity be the same as the container identity is essential for this sharing and is currently broken. There are at least three mechanisms currently proposed for fixing this: shiftfs (by the author), userns portable roots and filesystem mappings. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each of these approaches.

About James Bottomley

James Bottomley is a Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research where he works on Cloud and Container technology. He is also Linux Kernel maintainer of the SCSI subsystem. He has been a Director on the Board of the Linux Foundation and Chair of its Technical Advisory Board. He went to university at Cambridge for both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees after which he joined AT&T Bell labs to work on Distributed Lock Manager technology for clustering. In 2000 he helped found SteelEye Technology.

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