Kubernetes, often abbreviated as “K8s”, orchestrates containerized applications to run on a cluster of hosts. The K8s system automates the deployment and management of cloud native applications using on-premises infrastructure or public cloud platforms. It distributes application workloads across a Kubernetes cluster and automates dynamic container networking needs. Kubernetes also allocates storage and persistent volumes to running containers, provides automatic scaling, and works continuously to maintain the desired state of applications, providing resiliency.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is a portable, extensible, open source platform for managing containerized workloads and services, that facilitates both declarative configuration and automation. It has a large, rapidly growing ecosystem. Kubernetes services, support, and tools are widely available.

Kubernetes Components

A Kubernetes cluster consists of the components that represent the control plane and a set of machines called nodes.

The Kubernetes API

The Kubernetes API lets you query and manipulate the state of objects in Kubernetes. The core of Kubernetes’ control plane is the API server and the HTTP API that it exposes. Users, the different parts of your cluster, and external components all communicate with one another through the API server.

Working with Kubernetes Objects

Kubernetes objects are persistent entities in the Kubernetes system. Kubernetes uses these entities to represent the state of your cluster. Learn about the Kubernetes object model and how to work with these objects.

Understanding Kubernetes objects

Kubernetes objects are persistent entities in the Kubernetes system. Kubernetes uses these entities to represent the state of your cluster. Specifically, they can describe:

  • What containerized applications are running (and on which nodes)
  • The resources available to those applications
  • The policies around how those applications behave, such as restart policies, upgrades, and fault-tolerance

A Kubernetes object is a “record of intent”–once you create the object, the Kubernetes system will constantly work to ensure that object exists. By creating an object, you’re effectively telling the Kubernetes system what you want your cluster’s workload to look like; this is your cluster’s desired state.

To work with Kubernetes objects–whether to create, modify, or delete them–you’ll need to use the Kubernetes API. When you use the kubectl command-line interface, for example, the CLI makes the necessary Kubernetes API calls for you. You can also use the Kubernetes API directly in your own programs using one of the Client Libraries.

Object Spec and Status

Almost every Kubernetes object includes two nested object fields that govern the object’s configuration: the object spec and the object status. For objects that have a spec, you have to set this when you create the object, providing a description of the characteristics you want the resource to have: its desired state.

The status describes the current state of the object, supplied and updated by the Kubernetes system and its components. The Kubernetes control plane continually and actively manages every object’s actual state to match the desired state you supplied.

For example: in Kubernetes, a Deployment is an object that can represent an application running on your cluster. When you create the Deployment, you might set the Deployment spec to specify that you want three replicas of the application to be running. The Kubernetes system reads the Deployment spec and starts three instances of your desired application–updating the status to match your spec. If any of those instances should fail (a status change), the Kubernetes system responds to the difference between spec and status by making a correction–in this case, starting a replacement instance.

For more information on the object spec, status, and metadata, see the Kubernetes API Conventions.

Describing a Kubernetes object

When you create an object in Kubernetes, you must provide the object spec that describes its desired state, as well as some basic information about the object (such as a name). When you use the Kubernetes API to create the object (either directly or via kubectl), that API request must include that information as JSON in the request body. Most often, you provide the information to kubectl in a .yaml file. kubectl converts the information to JSON when making the API request.

Here’s an example .yaml file that shows the required fields and object spec for a Kubernetes Deployment:

Role Based Access Control Good Practices
Kubernetes RBAC is a key security control to ensure that cluster users and workloads have only the access to resources required to execute their roles. It is important to ensure that, when designing permissions for cluster users, the cluster administrator understands the areas where privilge escalation could occur, to reduce the risk of excessive access leading to security incidents.

The good practices laid out here should be read in conjunction with the general RBAC documentation.

General good practice
Least privilege
Ideally minimal RBAC rights should be assigned to users and service accounts. Only permissions explicitly required for their operation should be used. Whilst each cluster will be different, some general rules that can be applied are :

Assign permissions at the namespace level where possible. Use RoleBindings as opposed to ClusterRoleBindings to give users rights only within a specific namespace.
Avoid providing wildcard permissions when possible, especially to all resources. As Kubernetes is an extensible system, providing wildcard access gives rights not just to all object types presently in the cluster, but also to all future object types which are created in the future.
Administrators should not use cluster-admin accounts except where specifically needed. Providing a low privileged account with impersonation rights can avoid accidental modification of cluster resources.
Avoid adding users to the system:masters group. Any user who is a member of this group bypasses all RBAC rights checks and will always have unrestricted superuser access, which cannot be revoked by removing RoleBindings or ClusterRoleBindings. As an aside, if a cluster is using an authorization webhook, membership of this group also bypasses that webhook (requests from users who are members of that group are never sent to the webhook).
Minimize distribution of privileged tokens
Ideally, pods shouldn't be assigned service accounts that have been granted powerful permissions (for example, any of the rights listed under privilege escalation risks). In cases where a workload requires powerful permissions, consider the following practices:

Limit the number of nodes running powerful pods. Ensure that any DaemonSets you run are necessary and are run with least privilege to limit the blast radius of container escapes.
 Avoid running powerful pods alongside untrusted or publicly-exposed ones. Consider using Taints and Toleration, NodeAffinity, or PodAntiAffinity to ensure pods don't run alongside untrusted or less-trusted Pods. Pay especial attention to situations where less-trustworthy Pods are not meeting the Restricted Pod Security Standard.
Kubernetes defaults to providing access which may not be required in every cluster. Reviewing the RBAC rights provided by default can provide opportunities for security hardening. In general, changes should not be made to rights provided to system: accounts some options to harden cluster rights exist:

Review bindings for the system:unauthenticated group and remove where possible, as this gives access to anyone who can contact the API server at a network level.
Avoid the default auto-mounting of service account tokens by setting automountServiceAccountToken: false. For more details, see using default service account token. Setting this value for a Pod will overwrite the service account setting, workloads which require service account tokens can still mount them.
Periodic review
It is vital to periodically review the Kubernetes RBAC settings for redundant entries and possible privilege escalations. If an attacker is able to create a user account with the same name as a deleted user, they can automatically inherit all the rights of the deleted user, especially the rights assigned to that user.

Kubernetes RBAC - privilege escalation risks
Within Kubernetes RBAC there are a number of privileges which, if granted, can allow a user or a service account to escalate their privileges in the cluster or affect systems outside the cluster.

This section is intended to provide visibility of the areas where cluster operators should take care, to ensure that they do not inadvertently allow for more access to clusters than intended.

Listing secrets
It is generally clear that allowing get access on Secrets will allow a user to read their contents. It is also important to note that list and watch access also effectively allow for users to reveal the Secret contents. For example, when a List response is returned (for example, via kubectl get secrets -A -o yaml), the response includes the contents of all Secrets.

Workload creation
Users who are able to create workloads (either Pods, or workload resources that manage Pods) will be able to gain access to the underlying node unless restrictions based on the Kubernetes Pod Security Standards are in place.

Users who can run privileged Pods can use that access to gain node access and potentially to further elevate their privileges. Where you do not fully trust a user or other principal with the ability to create suitably secure and isolated Pods, you should enforce either the Baseline or Restricted Pod Security Standard. You can use Pod Security admission or other (third party) mechanisms to implement that enforcement.
 You can also use the deprecated PodSecurityPolicy mechanism to restrict users' abilities to create privileged Pods (N.B. PodSecurityPolicy is scheduled for removal in version 1.25).

Creating a workload in a namespace also grants indirect access to Secrets in that namespace. Creating a pod in kube-system or a similarly privileged namespace can grant a user access to Secrets they would not have through RBAC directly.

Persistent volume creation
As noted in the PodSecurityPolicy documentation, access to create PersistentVolumes can allow for escalation of access to the underlying host. Where access to persistent storage is required trusted administrators should create PersistentVolumes, and constrained users should use PersistentVolumeClaims to access that storage.

Access to proxy subresource of Nodes
Users with access to the proxy sub-resource of node objects have rights to the Kubelet API, which allows for command execution on every pod on the node(s) which they have rights to. This access bypasses audit logging and admission control, so care should be taken before granting rights to this resource.

Escalate verb
Generally the RBAC system prevents users from creating clusterroles with more rights than they possess. The exception to this is the escalate verb. As noted in the RBAC documentation, users with this right can effectively escalate their privileges.

Bind verb
Similar to the escalate verb, granting users this right allows for bypass of Kubernetes in-built protections against privilege escalation, allowing users to create bindings to roles with rights they do not already have.

Impersonate verb
This verb allows users to impersonate and gain the rights of other users in the cluster. Care should be taken when granting it, to ensure that excessive permissions cannot be gained via one of the impersonated accounts.

CSRs and certificate issuing
The CSR API allows for users with create rights to CSRs and update rights on certificatesigningrequests/approval where the signer is kubernetes.io/kube-apiserver-client to create new client certificates which allow users to authenticate to the cluster. Those client certificates can have arbitrary names including duplicates of Kubernetes system components. This will effectively allow for privilege escalation.

Token request
Users with create rights on serviceaccounts/token can create TokenRequests to issue tokens for existing service accounts.

Control admission webhooks
Users with control over validatingwebhookconfigurations or mutatingwebhookconfigurations can control webhooks that can read any object admitted to the cluster, and in the case of mutating webhooks, also mutate admitted objects.

Kubernetes RBAC - denial of service risks
Object creation denial-of-service
, Users who have rights to create objects in a cluster may be able to create sufficient large objects to create a denial of service condition either based on the size or number of objects, as discussed in etcd used by Kubernetes is vulnerable to OOM attack. This may be specifically relevant in multi-tenant clusters if semi-trusted or untrusted users are allowed limited access to a system.
 One option for mitigation of this issue would be to use resource quotas to limit the quantity of objects which can be created.

Security For Windows Nodes
This page describes security considerations and best practices specific to the Windows operating system.

Protection for Secret data on nodes
On Windows, data from Secrets are written out in clear text onto the node's local storage (as compared to using tmpfs / in-memory filesystems on Linux). As a cluster operator, you should take both of the following additional measures:

Use file ACLs to secure the Secrets' file location.
Apply volume-level encryption using BitLocker.
Container users
RunAsUsername can be specified for Windows Pods or containers to execute the container processes as specific user. This is roughly equivalent to RunAsUser.

Windows containers offer two default user accounts, ContainerUser and ContainerAdministrator. The differences between these two user accounts are covered in When to use ContainerAdmin and ContainerUser user accounts within Microsoft's Secure Windows containers documentation.

Local users can be added to container images during the container build process.

Nano Server based images run as ContainerUser by default
Server Core based images run as ContainerAdministrator by default
Windows containers can also run as Active Directory identities by utilizing Group Managed Service Accounts

Pod-level security isolation
Linux-specific pod security context mechanisms (such as SELinux, AppArmor, Seccomp, or custom POSIX capabilities) are not supported on Windows nodes.

Privileged containers are not supported on Windows. Instead HostProcess containers can be used on Windows to perform many of the tasks performed by privileged containers on Linux.
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