Not every organization needs to protect their data from spies that can infiltrate Petagon-level security networks with printable masks but there are more organizations than you think that utilize air gapping to protect their most classified. This blog dives into the concept of air gapping, its benefits, and its drawbacks. Finally, we will highlight how Anchore Enterprise/Federal can be deployed into an air gapped network and provide organization's that require this level of security to benefit from the best of both worlds; the extraordinary security of an air gapped network and the automation of a Cloud-Native software composition analysis tool to protect their software supply chain.

What is an air gap?

An air gap is exactly what it sounds like; a literal gap filled with air between a network and the greater internet. It is a network security practice where a computer (or network) is physically isolated from any external networks. This isolation is achieved by ensuring that the system has no physical or wireless connections to other networks, creating a secure environment that is highly resistant to external cyber threats.

By maintaining this separation, air gapped systems protect sensitive data and critical operations from potential intrusions, malware, and other forms of cyber attacks. This method is commonly used in high-security environments such as government agencies, financial institutions, and critical infrastructure facilities to safeguard highly confidential and mission-critical information.

If you count yourself as part of the defense industrial base (DIB), then you're likely very familiar with IT systems that have an air-gapped component. Typically, highly classified data storage systems require air-gapping as part of their defense-in-depth strategy.

Benefits of air gapping

The primary benefit of utilizing air gapping is that it eliminates an entire class of security threats. This brings a significant reduction in risk to the systems and the data that the system processes. 

Beyond that there are also a number of secondary benefits that come from running an air gapped network. The first is that it gives the DevSecOps team running the system complete control over the security and architecture of the system. Also, any software that is run on an air gapped network inherits both the security and compliance of the network. For 3rd-party software where the security of the software is in question, being able to run it in a fully isolated environment reduces the risk associated with this ambiguity. Similar to how anti-virus software creates sandboxes to safely examine potential malicious files, an air gapped network creates a physical sandbox that both protects the isolated system from remote threats and from internal data from being pushed out to remote systems.

Drawback of air gapping

As with most security solutions, there is always a tradeoff between security and convenience, and air gapping is no different. While air gapping provides a high level of security by isolating systems from external networks, it comes at the cost of significant inconvenience. For instance, accessing and transferring data on air gapped systems requires physical presence and manual procedures, such as using USB drives or other removable media. This can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially in environments where data needs to be frequently updated or accessed by multiple users.

Additionally, the lack of network connectivity means that software updates, patches, and system maintenance tasks cannot be performed remotely or automatically. This increases the complexity of maintaining the system and ensuring it remains up-to-date with the latest security measures.

How Anchore enables air gapping for the DoD and DIB

As the leading Cloud-Native software composition analysis (SCA) platform, Anchore Enterprise/Federal offers an on-prem deployment model that integrates seamlessly with air gapped networks. This is a proven model with countless deployments into IL4 to IL6  (air-gapped and classified) environments. Anchore supports public sector customers like the US Department of Defense (DoD), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), US Air Force, US Navy, US Customs and Border Protection, Australian Government Department of Defence and more. 

Architectural Overview

In order to deploy Anchore Enterprise or Federal in an air gapped environment, a few architectural considerations need to be made. At a very basic level, two deployments of Anchore need to be provisioned. 

The deployment in the isolated environment will be deployed as normal with some slight modifications. When Anchore is deployed normally, the feed service will be reaching out to a dozen or so specified endpoints to compile and normalize vulnerability data and then it will compile that into a single feed dataset and store that in the feeds database either deployed in the cluster or on an external instance or managed database if configured. 

When deploying in an air gapped environment, it’s necessary to set Anchore to run in “apiOnly” mode. This will prevent the feeds service from making unnecessary calls to the internet that will inevitably time out due to being in an isolated environment. 

A second skeleton deployment of Anchore will need to be deployed in a connected environment to sync the feeds. This deployment doesn’t need to spin up any of the services that will scan images or generate policy results and can therefore be done on a smaller instance. This deployment will reach out to the internet and build the feeds database. 

The only major consideration that needs to be taken into consideration with this connected deployment is it needs to be running on the same version of PostgreSQL as the disconnected deployment in order to ensure complete compatibility.


Once the two deployments are provisioned, the general workflow will be the following:

First, allow the feeds to sync on the connected environment. Once the feeds are synced, dump out the entire feeds database and transfer it to the disconnected environment through the method typically used for your environment. 

When the file is available on the high-side, transfer it to the feed database instance Anchore uses. When it’s finished transferring, perform a PostgreSQL restore and the feeds will be available.

Automation Process

To mimic how Anchore syncs feeds in a connected environment, many people choose to automate some of all of the workflow described previously. A cronjob can be set up to run the backup along with a push to an automated cross domain solution like those available in AWS GovCloud. From there, the air gapped deployment can be scheduled to look at that location and perform the feed restore on a regular cadence.


While not every organization counts the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) as an adversary, the practice of air gapping remains a vital strategy for many entities that handle highly sensitive information. By deploying Anchore Enterprise/Federal in an air gapped network, organizations can achieve an optimal balance between the robust security of air gapping and the efficiency of automated software composition analysis. This combination ensures that even the most secure environments can benefit from cutting-edge software supply chain security.

Air gapping is only one of a catalog security practices that are necessary for systems that handle classified government data. If you're interested to learn more about the other requirements, check out our white paper on best practices for container images in DoD-grade environments.