January 2018

Meltdown and Spectre are Critical Vulnerabilities for Cloud Infrastructure. Here’s How the Aptible Security Team Responded

Frank Macreery on January 10, 2018

Meltdown and Spectre are critical vulnerabilities for cloud hosting

By now it’s likely that you’ve heard about Meltdown and Spectre1, which were publicly disclosed on January 3rd.

As an Aptible customer, here’s what you need to know:

  • Enclave is architected to mitigate vulnerabilities like Meltdown and Spectre.

  • The Aptible Security Team immediately responded to the disclosure to further remediate the issue.

We provided realtime account of our response efforts on our status page. This blog post will provide additional context on our response. We’ll also share some of the ways our architecture is designed to protect against these sorts of vulnerabilities.

How these vulnerabilities impact cloud infrastructure

Meltdown in particular (more on Spectre later in this post) allows processes to read memory they should normally not have access to. By extension, in a PaaS environment running untrusted customer code, it allows customers to read memory they shouldn’t normally be allowed to read.

The vulnerability isn’t trivial to exploit at scale, but in theory, it allows for:

  • Escalation: one customer reads data (e.g. credentials) belonging to the PaaS provider, and uses that to compromise the PaaS provider itself, and by extension other customers.

  • Lateral compromise: one customer reads data belonging to another customer whose apps are deployed on the same underlying instance.

In other words, Meltdown is a critically important vulnerability for any PaaS provider. However, as an Aptible Enclave customer, you’re protected by the intrinsic architecture of Enclave, as well as an active Security Team. Here’s how.

Aptible Enclave is architected to protect against attacks like Meltdown and Spectre

In fact, this exact type of vulnerability where a customer gets access to memory they shouldn’t normally be able to read is part of our threat model, and Enclave is architected to protect against those.

Here’s how this plays out in terms of the escalation and lateral compromise attacks explained earlier:

  • Escalation: instances running customer containers on Enclave are unprivileged by design. All privileged access to e.g. AWS or Aptible APIs is orchestrated through isolated “coordinator” instances, which do not host customer containers.

  • Lateral compromise: for sensitive data, Enclave requires that customers deploy on dedicated-tenancy stacks, which host a single customer’s containers.

In other words: the container boundary is our first line of defense, but it’s not the only one.

Aptible’s Meltdown remediation efforts

As soon as the Meltdown vulnerability was publicized, we acted immediately to deploy patches across our infrastructure to restore the integrity of the container boundary before public exploits were available. These patches needed to be applied to the Linux Kernel, and are known as the “Kernel Page-Table-Isolation” patch set (or “KPTI”).

Here, our remediation was made more difficult by the fact that the Ubuntu Linux distribution, which we rely on for Enclave, was taken by surprise by the unanticipated early release of the vulnerability on January 3rd, and did not have patched Kernels available yet.

As a result, hours after the vulnerability was announced, we started working on a contingency plan, which consisted of building our own patched Kernels targeting Linux 4.14.112. On January 4th, we understood that Ubuntu was unlikely to be able to provide patched Kernels before January 9th (which turned out to be correct), and made the decision to roll out our own Kernels instead3. Other providers have since announced that they followed a similar approach.

Once we validated our newly-minted Kernel through Enclave’s suite of integration tests, we published our plans on our status page and contacted customers with scheduled maintenance windows. Over the course of a few days, we replaced thousands of instances with minimal disruption. Ultimately, our patching of Meltdown completed early in the morning of January 9th, before public Meltdown PoCs were available and before Ubuntu had released patched Kernels.


Date Actions
January 3, 2018 We posted to our status page indicating that the Security Team was monitoring the expected release of information about an upcoming vulnerability.
January 4, 2018 Once the details of the vulnerability were released, we published our response plan to our status page, and prioritized response around patching Shared Stacks (which are inherently vulnerable to Meltdown) and otherwise vulnerable Dedicated Stacks.

We completed kernel patching for Shared and Dedicated Stacks. We used a bespoke kernel because an official kernel patch was not yet released.

We began to contact each customer to coordinate a scheduled maintenance window during which we could restart databases, as needed.
January 9, 2018 We completed all patching and database restarts needed for all remediation efforts related to Meltdown.

Looking ahead and Spectre remediation

As of now Aptible has fully remediated Meltdown for Enclave Stacks.

Going forward, we are continuing to assess the impact of the Spectre vulnerabilities and the development of mitigations in the Linux Kernel to protect against it. Once these mitigations evolve, we’ll likely follow a similar approach (albeit with less urgency) to deploy mitigations for Spectre.

The stakes continue to get higher, as the threat environment continues to elevate just as the consequences for data breach grows. The Aptible Security Team will continue to be aggressive about protecting our customers’ environments from these and all critical vulnerabilities.


  1. The site provides useful information, recommendations and links to security advisories that describe Meltdown for a context broader than this blog post. You may find useful information there related to how to appropriately respond to Meltdown in your own cloud or personal data environments.
  2. Some additional fixes to the KPTI patch series were included in the subsequent Linux 4.14.12 release. 4.14.12 hadn’t been released yet when we started rolling out our Linux 4.14.11-based Kernel, but we did backport the relevant patches onto our 4.14.11 tree ahead of time.
  3. It’s worth noting that the reason we were able to move faster than Ubuntu was because we had fewer constraints. Indeed, Ubuntu guarantees a stable Kernel version for a given Ubuntu release, which means they had to backport the KPTI patches onto older Kernels. That’s a lot of work, which they had to complete on short notice. In comparison, we had the flexibility to choose to upgrade to a newer Kernel instead, which we did.
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December 2017


October 2017

Recap: Aptible October 2017 Quarterly Product Update Webinar

Henry Hund on October 26, 2017

Every quarter, we host a webinar to share everything that’s new with Enclave and Gridiron.

In case you missed it, you can watch a recording of our October webinar below. You can also grab the transcript and the slide deck in our resources section. And, we provide a full recap of the event in this post.

Register now for our next update webinar on January 25, 2018.

October 2017 Quarterly Product Update Webinar

Webinar Recap

Achieving ISO 27001 Certification

In September, we earned our ISO 27001 certification, covering both Enclave and Gridiron.

ISO 27001 is a cross-industry, international standard of security. It prescribes security controls for use across an organization, not just technical safeguards. Becoming ISO 27001 helps communicate your commitment to security to customers and auditors.

Aptible’s ISO 27001 certification is great news for our customers. You can use our certificate to show that your cloud infrastructure meets international standards of security.

Grab our ISO 27001 certificate, and learn more about ISO 27001 in our resources section.

As an aside: we used Gridiron to help us achieve our ISO 27001 certification. Don’t hesitate to let us know if you’d like to discuss attaining your own cert. We built Gridiron to make the process of meeting organization-wide security and compliance requirements straightforward.

Enclave: Easier to Audit (and Easier to Use)

This past quarter we released an array of features to make Enclave easier to audit. Of course, we also launched features that make it easier to use Enclave.

Sneak Preview: Managed HIDS

Managed HIDS: Coming Soon

In the coming weeks, you’ll hear more about Enclave Managed Host-level Intrusion Detection System (Managed HIDS). This is an exciting upgrade to the security of your hosts.

With Managed HIDS, the Aptible Security Team collects, monitors, investigates, and responds to security events–such as sudo logins, file integrity changes, rootkit detection–within your infrastructure. Aptible manages the entire process on your behalf, and notifies you of the results.

Managed HIDS provides an additional level of security for your infrastructure, automatically enabled for all Stacks.

Aptible will also offer a weekly digest of Managed HIDS activity. The Enclave Intrusion Detection Report will be available for an additional subscription. It’ll be prepared automatically, so you can provide customers and auditors evidence that your Stack is monitored for host-level intrusions.

Other Audit-Ready Enclave Features

We added SSH Session Logging so you can capture SSH session activity. This is important: auditors and customers will want to ensure access to your prod data is audited. In particular, this is often a requirement for HITRUST.

Activity Reports enables you to review every operation within your Stack, attributed to individual users. Your auditors will want confirmation that you are monitoring for suspicious activity.

Learn more about SSH Session Logging or Activity Reports in our Changelog.

Making Enclave Easier to Use

Part of making Enclave the best place to deploy regulated and sensitive projects is ensuring that it we are making it as easy as possible to use and deploy to Enclave.

This quarter, we released the following improvements:

Gridiron: Enhancing your Information Security Management System

Gridiron is the easiest and fastest way to create and manage your information security management system (ISMS).

This quarter, we focused on:

  • Helping you to achieve certifications (such as ISO 27001, SOC 2) and pass customer audits with new reporting

  • Managing and auditing internal compliance obligations, including your agreements with customers and vendors

  • Updating the Gridiron Risk Model

Gridiron Risk Model: Security Controls

Improved Audit and Certification Prep with Gridiron Reports

We launched a collection of reports designed to meet audit requirements. By using Gridiron, these reports will be automatically prepared so you can share with your auditors (and use for internal audits), shortcutting the audit process.

Training History shows all security and compliance training activity. Asset Inventory contains all details about assets covered in your ISMS. Business Continuity allows you to implement and execute on business continuity plans faster. And, the Audit Log Report shows details about all audit logs captured for each part of your ISMS.

Other Gridiron Enhancements
  • Customer and Vendor Management - meet audit (such as ISO 27001) requirements by creating an index of all legal and regulatory requirements you’re bound to by agreements with customers and vendors.

  • ISMS Asset Management - track all information security assets, such as networks, devices, and third-party systems.

  • Gridiron Risk Model - perform deep risk analysis across all aspects of your internal ISMS

There’s much more about all the changes to Enclave and Gridiron in the webinar recording.

Register for January 2018 Aptible Product Update Webinar

We’ll host our next product update webinar January 25, 2018 at 11 a.m. PT (2 p.m. ET).

Register now.

All registrants will receive a webinar recap and recording shortly after the conclusion of the webinar.

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September 2017

Announcing ISO 27001 Certification for Aptible Enclave and Gridiron

Chas Ballew on September 5, 2017

I am happy to announce that Aptible has earned ISO 27001 certification for our Enclave and Gridiron products! This is the result of a lot of hard work by the Aptible team, and is good news for you if you’re an Aptible customer: You can use Aptible’s ISO 27001 certification to show your customers that your cloud computing stack meets an international standard for security.

Learn more about ISO 27001 and download the Aptible certification.

What is ISO 27001?

ISO is an organization. In English, the name of the organization is the “International Organization for Standardization,” but usually people just call it ISO, like International Business Machines Corporation is just IBM.

ISO produces “standards:” documents that outline requirements, specifications, and guidelines.

Requirements, specifications, and guidelines for what? Lots of things. There are over 20,000 standards, and they can be very specific.

You can play around and search the ISO site. This can be strangely fascinating: pick a random noun and search for it.

“Avocado?” Boom: ISO 2295 is a guide for the storage and transport of avocados. ISO 3659 has instructions on how to ripen avocados after cold storage. And so on.

ISO standards also cover more abstract concepts. One of the best-known standards is ISO 9001, which sets out criteria for a quality management “system”, or set of principles and business processes.

ISO 27001 is also a “system” standard. It defines requirements for information security management systems. The main body of the standard outlines a governance structure that you have to adopt: requirements for determining what counts as in-scope or out-of-scope for your “system,” assigning security roles and responsibilities, security planning activities, risk management activities, monitoring/metrics, and improving the system itself.

ISO 27001 also has an annex of reference controls relating to areas like cryptography, operations security, asset management, incident management, and more. The reference controls are normative, in the sense that if you don’t implement a given control, you need to be able to convince your auditor that your decision was reasonable, or otherwise explain yourself.

What does ISO 27001 mean for software development teams?

Think of ISO 27001 as a baseline for good security management processes. “We take security seriously” is a cliche. Many developer teams know they would benefit from an organized approach to security, but don’t know where to start. Hiring someone full-time for security is a stretch for small teams, and managing security just gets more complex as you scale.

Teams seeking ISO 27001 certification need to be organized. Like most of the major information security protocols (SOC 2, HIPAA, PCI, etc.), ISO 27001 requires:

  • Proactive risk management, instead of just reacting to bad things as they happen

  • Planning ahead for security and setting appropriate security improvement goals

  • Writing down the rules for how security is supposed to work for your system (in policies and procedures)

  • Training your workforce on those rules, with advanced training for those with more security responsibilities

  • Training for and responding to security and availability incidents, including breaches

Most teams will end up investing in secure software development practices, such as test coverage, continuous integration/continuous deployment, code review, vulnerability scanning, penetration testing. On a practical level, you’ll probably get serious about MFA, require everyone to use a password manager, start using mobile device management to secure laptops and phones, do criminal background screenings, stuff like that.

What does ISO 27001 “certification” mean?

ISO standards are voluntary. Unlike the Department of Health and Human Services with HIPAA enforcement or the PCI Security Standards Council, the ISO organization itself doesn’t have any ability to enforce the standards. In fact, anyone can claim they “comply” or are “consistent” with any of the ISO standards.

The gold standard is a certification performed by an “accredited” certification body, or auditor. Being “accredited” means the auditors have themselves been audited against an ISO standard for how they conduct audits and certifications.

Aptible has been certified by Coalfire ISO, an ISO/IEC 27001 Certification Body accredited by the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB).

How does Aptible’s ISO 27001 certification benefit you?

Getting organized about security helps us protect your data. ISO 27001 lays out clear best practices for security management. With developer teams, huge problems can come from seemingly little things like not sanitizing inputs, not patching vulns, accidentally pushing sensitive data to the wrong system. ISO 27001 certification means we’ve spent time thinking systematically about risk, and have strong controls in place to manage it.

In turn, you can use Aptible’s ISO 27001 certification to show your customers that your cloud computing stack meets an international standard for security.

How can you get your own ISO 27001 certification?

The traditional way is prepare is to use consultants or full-time hires. This usually involves a lot of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, takes a long time, is extremely expensive, and makes you feel slightly let down, like you just spent all that time and money and not much really changed. You may have this nagging feeling that you’re not actually that much more secure, but at least you have antivirus on everyone’s laptops.

I think there’s a better way. At Aptible, we make Gridiron, a set of tools for managing security, designed specifically for software development teams. Let us know if you want to get ready for ISO 27001, HIPAA, SOC 2, PCI, NIST 800-53, 21 CFR Part 11, or any other security framework.

Learn more about ISO 27001 and download the Aptible certification.

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July 2017

Recap: Aptible July 2017 Quarterly Product Update Webinar

Henry Hund on July 26, 2017

Once each quarter, the Aptible product team hosts a brief update webinar to share what’s new with Enclave and Gridiron. Yesterday, we hosted our July update webinar, highlighting all the new features released for Enclave this quarter and demoing how to setup your security management program with Gridiron.

In case you missed it, you can watch a recording of our July webinar below. You can grab the transcript and the slide deck in our resources section. And, we provide a full recap of the event in this blog post.

Register now for next quarter’s webinar, which we will host in October.

July 2017 Quarterly Product Update Webinar

New Open Source Project: Supercronic - Cron for containers

We opened the webinar with a quick overview of Supercronic. Supercronic is our new open source job runner that fixes the problems that occur when using traditional Cron implementations in containerized environments.

Supercronic example cron/job runner code.

We’re excited about Supercronic because, while it’s a drop-in replacement for traditional cron, it leaves environment variables alone, passes job output to stderr, and logs job failures and timeouts, which makes it a perfect fit for containers. You can read more about Supercronic or check it out on Github.

New for Enclave

Enclave is a container orchestration platform for developers working in regulated industries. We are working towards making Enclave the best place to deploy regulated and otherwise sensitive projects. To that end, over the last quarter we implemented a number of important new features that make it easier to deploy and manage apps and databases on Enclave.

(As a sidenote, you can always follow along with new feature development by checking out the Aptible Changelog.)

Container Recovery

Arguably, the implementation of Container Recovery represents the most significant change to Enclave this quarter. We’ve previously covered Container Recovery extensively in our Changelog as well as in our docs, but given the magnitude of the change it bears a quick review here.

In sum: Container Recovery automatically restarts your application and database containers when they exit. When an app or database container exits, we’ll restart it in a pristine state. The best part? You don’t need to do anything to take advantage of Container Recovery. It’s enabled for all your apps and databases automatically.

Database Self-Service Scaling

In our April webinar, we indicated that self-service scaling of databases was coming soon. It’s now here.

With some exceptions, you can now resize databases at any time, with minimal downtime. This allows you the flexibility to scale your disk and RAM footprint as your workload and requirements change.

You can scale your databases via the CLI, or toggle the size from within the Enclave dashboard:

Database Scaling Self-service.

You can read more about Self-Service Database scaling in our Changelog.

App Deployment

This quarter, we also launched three features to make it easier to deploy apps on Enclave.

You can now deploy directly from Docker images, no git required. This will allow you to reuse existing Docker images and take full control over your build process. Read more about Direct Docker Image Deploy in our Changelog.

Direct Docker Image Deploy.

Along with this change, Procfiles are now optional. This enables you to reuse the same codebase across Enclave and other container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm.

Finally, you can now synchronize deploys with config changes. This allows you to deploy at the same time you update your config, so there will be no intermediate step where you’re running the old code with the new config or vice versa.

Synchronize deploys and config changes.

Other Enclave Changes

There are a number of additional improvements we made to Enclave this quarter. Check out the webinar recording above for more, including:

  • New and upcoming Endpoint configurations for both apps and databases

  • Updates to the scriptability of our CLI

  • Launch of an .exe for our Windows CLI

Gridiron Implementation - Setting up your security and compliance management process

Gridiron is easiest way for developers to build and run world-class data security programs. It turns information security requirements into repeatable processes while managing all the documentation required to demonstrate that you’re complying with stringent compliance protocols such as HIPAA, ISO 27001, and SOC 2.

After completing the review of this quarter’s updates to Enclave, we showed how a company could get started with Gridiron quickly. At a high level, Gridiron implementation can be broken down into four steps:

  1. Aptible-guided implementation process with hands-on support and training

  2. Determine your baseline controls

  3. Generate reporting and documentation

  4. Continuous updates

During your hands-on guided implementation with the Aptible team, we’ll train you on how to setup and manage a security program.

By the end of the implementation, you’ll use Gridiron to determine a set of baseline security controls and prepare your first set of security documentation (such as your Risk Assessment, Policies and Procedures and Workforce Training).

Gridiron Risk Assessment Demo During Webinar.

Your deliverables, such as your risk assessment report, your policies, and your training materials, will automatically change along with your organization. Gridiron updates your docs as your organization evolves.

In the webinar demo, we go into much more detail on using Gridiron to track and measure risks and vulnerabilities, train your team on security and compliance, and respond to incidents as they arise.

Register for October 2017 Aptible Product Update Webinar

Our next product update webinar will be hosted on October 25, 2017 at 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern.

Registration is now open.

All registrants will receive a webinar recap and the recording shortly after the conclusion of the webinar.

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Introducing Supercronic - Cron for containers

Thomas Orozco on July 20, 2017

We’re proud to announce our latest open-source project: Supercronic. Supercronic is a cron implementation designed with containers in mind.

Why a new cron for containers?

We’ve helped hundreds of Enclave customers roll out scheduled tasks in containerized environments. Along the way, we identified a number of recurring issues using traditional cron implementations such as Vixie cron or dcron in containers:

  • They purge the environment before running jobs. As a result, jobs fail, because all their configuration was provided in environment variables.

  • They redirect all output to log files, email or /dev/null. As a result, job logs are lost, because the user expected those logs to be routed to stdout / stderr.

  • They don’t log anything when jobs fail (or start). As a result, missing jobs and failures go completely unnoticed.

To be fair, there are very good architectural and security reasons traditional cron implementations behave the way they do. The only problem is: they’re not applicable to containerized environments.

Now, all these problems can be worked around, and historically, that is what we’ve suggested:

  • You can persist environment variables to a file before starting cron, and read them back when running jobs.

  • You can run tail in the background to capture logs from files and route them to stdout.

  • You can wrap jobs with some form of logging to capture exit codes.

But wouldn’t it better if workarounds simply weren’t necessary? We certainly think so!

Enter Supercronic

Supercronic is a cron implementation designed for the container age.

Unlike traditional cron implementations, it leaves your environment variables alone, and logs everything to stdout / stderr. It’ll also warn you when your jobs fail or take too long to run.

Perhaps just as importantly, Supercronic is designed with compatibility in mind. If you’re currently using “cron + workarounds” in a container, Supercronic should be a drop-in replacement:

$ cat ./my-crontab
*/5 * * * * * * echo "hello from Supercronic"

$ ./supercronic ./my-crontab
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:44+02:00] read crontab: ./my-crontab
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:50+02:00] starting                                      iteration=0 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:50+02:00] hello from Supercronic                        channel=stdout iteration=0 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:50+02:00] job succeeded                                 iteration=0 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:55+02:00] starting                                      iteration=1 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:55+02:00] hello from Supercronic                        channel=stdout iteration=1 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"
INFO[2017-07-10T19:40:55+02:00] job succeeded                                 iteration=1 job.command="echo "hello from Supercronic"" job.position=0 job.schedule="*/5 * * * * * *"

What’s next?

If you’re an Enclave customer, we’ve updated our cron jobs tutorial with instructions to use Supercronic. If you’re not using Enclave, then head on over to Supercronic’s GitHub page for installation and usage instructions.

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