If you have ever managed a Kubernetes cluster, chances are you have encountered pods that just doesn’t want to behave the way they are supposed to.

You checked the logs and traced it back to the source code. Logic checks out ✅

You started narrowing down the causes. Networking issue? Configuration issue?

You entered the container and decided to use ping to identify network connectivity issues.

/ $ ping google.com
PING google.com ( 56 data bytes
ping: permission denied (are you root?)

Or maybe you wanted to install another tool like tcpdump to observe network traffic.

$ apt install tcpdump
E: Could not open lock file /var/lib/dpkg/lock-frontend - open (13: Permission denied)
E: Unable to acquire the dpkg frontend lock (/var/lib/dpkg/lock-frontend), are you root?

Well, you can modify the Dockerfile to install additional tools.

OR if you have root access to the host machine that is running those containers…

Introducing nsenter.

Firstly, containers aren’t really a thing. They are actually constructed using 2 Linux kernel features: namespaces and cgroups. When we run a container, it really is just running a process.

namespaces controls what is visible or accessible (i.e isolate processes from each other) and cgroups controls how much resources (CPU & memory) are allocated to a particular process.

nsenter is a tool that allows us to enter the namespaces of one or more other processes and then executes a specified program.

To do so, we first have to retrieve the PID of the container process.

docker ps | grep <container name>

CONTAINER_PID=$(docker inspect <container name> --format='{{ .State.Pid }}')

sudo nsenter -t $CONTAINER_PID -m -u -n -i -p sh #`-m -u -n -i -p` are referring to the various namespaces that you want to access (e.g mount, UTS, IPC, net, pid).

Now you are inside the “container” as a root user capable of running the ping and apt install commands above!

Do note that this is not considered a vulnerability as root privileges are required to run nsenter in the first place.

While researching on this, I chanced upon a docker command that seems to be doing the same thing:

docker exec -it --user root <container name> sh

As expected, I am able to enter container as a root user. However when I tried to execute ping command, I get an error:

/ # whoami
/ # ping google.com
PING google.com ( 56 data bytes
ping: permission denied (are you root?)

Why is this happening? Perhaps I will cover this in another post.