gVisor: Secure Container Sandbox with Yoshi Tamura

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The Linux operating system includes user space and kernel space. In user space, the user can create and interact with a variety of applications directly. In kernel space, the Linux kernel provides a stable environment in which device drivers interact with hardware and manage low level resources.

A Linux container is a virtualized environment that runs within user space.  To perform an operation, a process in a container in user space makes a syscall (system call) into kernel space. This allows the container to have access to resources like memory and disk.

Kernel space must be kept secure to ensure operating system integrity–but Linux includes hundreds of syscalls. Each syscall represents an interface between the user space and kernel space. Security vulnerabilities can emerge from this wide attack surface of different syscalls, and most applications only need a small number of syscalls to perform their required functionality.

gVisor is a project to restrict the number of syscalls that the kernel and user space need to communicate. gVisor is a runtime layer between the user space container and the kernel space. gVisor reduces the number of syscalls that can be made into kernel space.

The security properties of gVisor make it an exciting project today–but it is the portability features of gVisor that hint at a huge future opportunity. By inserting an interpreter interface between containers and the Linux kernel, gVisor presents the container world with the opportunity to run on operating systems other than Linux.

There are many reasons why it might be appealing to run containers on an operating system other than Linux.

Linux was built many years ago, before the explosion of small devices, smart phones, IoT hubs, voice assistants and smart cars. To be more speculative, Google is working on a secretive new operating system called Fuscia. gVisor could be a layer that allows workloads to be ported from Linux servers to Fuscia servers.

Yoshi Tamura is a product manager at Google with a background in containers and virtualization. He joins the show to talk about gVisor and the different kinds of virtualization.

Transcript

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