What is Notary and why is it important to CNCF?


As you may have heard, the Notary project has been invited to join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Much like its real world namesake, Notary is a platform for establishing trust over pieces of content.

In life, certain important events such as buying a house are facilitated by a trusted third party called a “notary.” When buying a house, this person is typically employed by the lender to verify your identity and serve as a witness to your signatures on the mortgage agreement. The notary carries a special stamp and will also sign the documents as an affirmation that a notary was present and verified all the required information relating to the borrowers.

In a similar manner, the Notary project, initially sponsored by Docker, is designed to provide high levels of trust  over digital content using strong cryptographic signatures. In addition to ensuring the provenance of the software, it also provides guarantees that the content is not modified without approval of the author anywhere in the supply chain.  This then allows higher level systems like Docker Enterprise Edition (EE)  with Docker Content Trust (which uses Notary) to establish clear policy on the usage of content.  For instance, a policy can be set that only signed content can be used at runtime and deployed by the orchestrators in the Docker platform. Overall Notary is a core piece of plumbing in Docker’s  approach to the secure supply chain whereby security is seamlessly and uniformly embedded into a workflow from development all the way through to operations.

Notary is an implementation of The Update Framework (TUF) written in Go. TUF was developed at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. TUF was submitted to join CNCF in partnership with Notary. The combined nature of these two projects makes for a particularly compelling donation– both the specification and most widely deployed implementation are coming in together under the auspices of the CNCF.

With technologies such as containerd and Kubernetes already members of CNCF, Notary and TUF are the first security-related projects to be added to the CNFC. This year has seen a significant uptick in data security compromises and we believe the CNCF is positioning itself ahead of the curve by inviting Notary and TUF to join. We hope that more security-focused projects are added to the CNCF over time.

Notary is already used in production environments beyond container distribution with Cloudflare integrating it into their PAL tool for container identity bootstrapping and Kolide using it to secure their autoupdater for the osquery tool. If current trends continue, there will be many more users in search of tools to secure their software distribution channels in the near future and Notary, TUF, and the CNCF will be well positioned to meet that need.



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