~jpetazzo/Securing Docker in the wild

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By default, the Docker API is exposed over a local UNIX socket. If you want to control Docker from a remote host, you can configure Docker to expose its API over a TCP socket instead. However, Docker itself doesn’t implement authentication. We will see here how we can use SSL certificate authentication to encrypt and authenticate the Docker API.

The plan

This is a very simple recipe, using socat in front of the Docker API. socat will accept HTTPS connections, make sure that the client shows an appropriate certificate, and relay the connection to the UNIX socket. The client should either use socat as well to wrap a normal connection into a SSL connection; or use OpenSSL (or a similar crypto library) to do the wrapping directly.

A few words about certificates

I won’t do a full intro do public key crypto; but the basic idea is the following:

In other words: the client will know for sure that it’s talking to the server, and the server will know for sure that it’s talking to an authorized client.

In this example, we will cut corners. The client, server, and certificate authority will actually be the same entity. They will use the same key and certificate.

Get prepared

We need to install socat on both the client and server; and we need openssl somewhere (doesn’t matter where exactly: it’s purely for generation of the key material).

apt-get install socat openssl

socat is a very common tool, so it should be available for your distro, even if it’s an exotic one.

Generate key and certificate

Here is my quick-and-dirty recipe to generate a RSA key (stored in key.pem) and a self-signed certificate (stored in cert.pem), valid for 100 years:

openssl genrsa -out key.pem 2048
openssl req -new -key key.pem -x509 -out cert.pem -days 36525 -subj /CN=WoopWoop/

Run that anywhere, then copy both key.pem and cert.pem on client and server.

On server (running Docker)

Docker should run as usual. Then start socat like this:

socat \
  OPENSSL-LISTEN:4321,fork,reuseaddr,cert=cert.pem,cafile=cert.pem,key=key.pem \

fork means that socat will fork a new child process for each incoming connection (instead of handling only one connection and exiting right away).

reuseaddr is a useful socket option, so that if you exit and restart socat, it won’t tell you that the address is already taken.

By default, OPENSSL connections made with socat require the other end to show a valid certificate; unless you add verify=0. In that case, we want to encrypt connections and check certificates (to deny unauthorized clients), so the defaults are good.

On client (running e.g. Docker CLI)

The symmetrical invocation of socat looks like this:

socat \
  UNIX-LISTEN:/tmp/docker.sock,fork \

Now you can point your Docker CLI to the server through the tunnel, like this:

docker -H unix:///tmp/docker.sock run -t -i busybox sh

On client (using an HTTP client API)

If you want to connect to the Docker daemon with a regular HTTP client (which maybe cannot connect to a UNIX socket to do HTTP requests), try this version:

socat \
  TCP-LISTEN:4321,bind=,fork \

The Docker API is then available on


What’s next?

It would obviously be much better to use a separate certificate authority, and generate different keys and certificates for the server and for each client. “This is left as an exercise for the reader,” as we say! :-)

This work by Jérôme Petazzoni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.