Lab K202 - Kubernetes Access Control: Authentication and Authorization

In this lab you are going to,

  • Create users and groups and setup certs based authentication
  • Create service accounts for applications
  • Create Roles and ClusterRoles to define authorizations
  • Map Roles and ClusterRoles to subjects i.e. users, groups and service accounts using RoleBingings and ClusterRoleBindings.

How one can access the Kubernetes API?

The Kubernetes API can be accessed by three ways.

  • Kubectl - A command line utility of Kubernetes
  • Client libraries - Go, Python, etc.,
  • REST requests

Who can access the Kubernetes API?

Kubernetes API can be accessed by,

  • Human Users
  • Service Accounts

Each of these topics will be discussed in detail in the later part of this chapter.

Stages of a Request

When a request tries to contact the API , it goes through various stages as illustrated in the image given below.

request-stages source: official kubernetes site

api groups and resources

apiGroup Resources
apps daemonsets, deployments, deployments/rollback, deployments/scale, replicasets, replicasets/scale, statefulsets, statefulsets/scale
core configmaps, endpoints, persistentvolumeclaims, replicationcontrollers, replicationcontrollers/scale, secrets, serviceaccounts, services,services/proxy
autoscaling horizontalpodautoscalers
batch cronjobs, jobs
policy poddisruptionbudgets networkpolicies localsubjectaccessreviews rolebindings,roles
extensions deprecated (read notes)

In addition to the above apiGroups, you may see extensions being used in some example code snippets. Please note that extensions was initially created as a experiement and is been deprecated, by moving most of the matured apis to one of the groups mentioned above. You could read this comment and the thread to get clarity on this.

Role Based Access Control (RBAC)

Group User Namespaces Resources Access Type (verbs)
ops maya all all get, list, watch, update, patch, create, delete, deletecollection
dev kim instavote deployments, statefulsets, services, pods, configmaps, secrets, replicasets, ingresses, endpoints, cronjobs, jobs, persistentvolumeclaims get, list , watch, update, patch, create
interns yono instavote readonly get, list, watch
Service Accounts Namespace Resources Access Type (verbs)
monitoring all all readonly

Creating Kubernetes Users and Groups

Generate the user's private key

mkdir -p  ~/.kube/users
cd ~/.kube/users

openssl genrsa -out kim.key 2048

[sample Output]

openssl genrsa -out kim.key 2048
Generating RSA private key, 2048 bit long modulus
e is 65537 (0x10001)

Lets now create a Certification Signing Request (CSR) for each of the users. When you generate the csr make sure you also provide

  • CN: This will be set as username
  • O: Org name. This is actually used as a group by kubernetes while authenticating/authorizing users. You could add as many as you need


openssl req -new -key kim.key -out kim.csr -subj "/CN=kim/O=dev/"

In order to be deemed authentic, these CSRs need to be signed by the Certification Authority (CA) which in this case is Kubernetes Master. You need access to the folllwing files on kubernetes master.

  • Certificate : ca.crt (kubeadm) or ca.key (kubespray)
  • Pricate Key : ca.key (kubeadm) or ca-key.pem (kubespray)

You would typically find it the following paths

  • /etc/kubernetes/pki

To verify which one is your cert and which one is key, use the following command,

$ file /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.crt
ca.pem: PEM certificate

$ file /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.key
ca-key.pem: PEM RSA private key

Once signed, .csr files with added signatures become the certificates that could be used to authenticate.

You could either

  • move the crt files to k8s master, sign and download
  • copy over the CA certs and keys to your management node and use it to sign. Make sure to keep your CA related files secure.

In the example here, I have already downloaded ca.pem and ca-key.pem to my management workstation, which are used to sign the CSRs.

Assuming all the files are in the same directory, sign the CSR as,

openssl x509 -req -CA /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.crt -CAkey /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.key -CAcreateserial -days 730 -in kim.csr -out kim.crt

Setting up User configs with kubectl

In order to configure the users that you created above, following steps need to be performed with kubectl

  • Add credentials in the configurations
  • Set context to login as a user to a cluster
  • Switch context in order to assume the user's identity while working with the cluster

to add credentials,

kubectl config set-credentials kim --client-certificate=/root/.kube/users/kim.crt --client-key=/root/.kube/users/kim.key


  • /root/.kube/users/kim.crt : Absolute path to the users' certificate
  • /root/.kube/users/kim.key: Absolute path to the users' key

And proceed to set/create contexts (user@cluster). If you are not sure whats the cluster name, use the following command to find,

kubectl config get-contexts

[sample output]

CURRENT   NAME                          CLUSTER      AUTHINFO           NAMESPACE
*         kubernetes-admin@kubernetes   kubernetes   kubernetes-admin   instavote

where, kubernetes is the cluster name.

To set context for kubernetes cluster,

kubectl config set-context kim-kubernetes --cluster=kubernetes  --user=kim --namespace=instavote


  • kim-kubernetes : name of the context
  • kubernetes : name of the cluster you set while creating it
  • kim : user you created and configured above to connect to the cluster

You could verify the configs with

kubectl config get-contexts

CURRENT   NAME                          CLUSTER      AUTHINFO           NAMESPACE
          kim-kubernetes                kubernetes   kim                instavote
*         kubernetes-admin@kubernetes   kubernetes   kubernetes-admin   instavote


kubectl config view

apiVersion: v1
- cluster:
    certificate-authority-data: DATA+OMITTED
  name: kubernetes
- context:
    cluster: kubernetes
    namespace: instavote
    user: kim
  name: kim-kubernetes
- context:
    cluster: kubernetes
    namespace: instavote
    user: kubernetes-admin
  name: kubernetes-admin@kubernetes
current-context: kubernetes-admin@kubernetes
kind: Config
preferences: {}
- name: kim
    client-certificate: users/kim.crt
    client-key: users/kim.key
- name: kubernetes-admin
    client-certificate-data: REDACTED
    client-key-data: REDACTED

Where, you should see the configurations for the new user you created have been added.

You could assume the identity of user kim and connect to the kubernetes cluster as,

kubectl config use-context kim-kubernetes

kubectl config get-contexts

CURRENT   NAME                          CLUSTER      AUTHINFO           NAMESPACE
*         kim-kubernetes                kubernetes   kim                instavote
          kubernetes-admin@kubernetes   kubernetes   kubernetes-admin   instavote

This time * appears on the line which lists context kim-kubernetes that you just created.

And then try running any command as,

kubectl get pods

Alternately, if you are a admin user, you could impersonate a user and run a command with that literally using --as option

kubectl config use-context admin-prod
kubectl get pods --as yono

[Sample Output]

No resources found.
Error from server (Forbidden): pods is forbidden: User "yono" cannot list pods in the namespace "instavote"

Either ways, since there are authorization rules set, the user can not make any api calls. Thats when you would create some roles and bind it to the users in the next section.

Define authorisation rules with Roles and ClusterRoles

Whats the difference between Roles and ClusterRoles ??

  • Role is limited to a namespace (Projects/Orgs/Env)
  • ClusterRole is Global

Lets say you want to provide read only access to instavote, a project specific namespace to all users in the

kubectl config use-context kubernetes-admin@kubernetes
cd projects/instavote/dev

file: readonly-role.yaml

kind: Role
  namespace: instavote
  name: readonly
- apiGroups: ["*"]
  resources: ["*"]
  verbs: ["get", "list", "watch"]

In order to map it to all users in, create a RoleBinding as

file: readonly-rolebinding.yml

kind: RoleBinding
  name: readonly
  namespace: instavote
- kind: Group
  name: dev
  kind: Role
  name: readonly
kubectl apply -f readonly-role.yaml
kubectl apply -f readonly-rolebinding.yml

To get information about the objects created above,

kubectl get roles,rolebindings -n instavote

kubectl describe role readonly
kubectl describe rolebinding readonly

To validate the access,

kubectl config get-contexts
kubectl config use-context kim-kubernetes
kubectl get pods

To switch back to admin,

kubectl config use-context kubernetes-admin@kubernetes


Create a Role and Rolebinding for dev group with the authorizations defined in the table above. Once applied, test it