Kubernetes RBAC 101: Authorization

Kubernetes RBAC 101: Authorization

In our final article on Kubernetes RBAC, we are focusing on RBAC itself. Everything else in the series led towards this key piece. In part one we discussed authentication and authorization on a high level and in part two we focused specifically on authentication.

In our final article on Kubernetes RBAC, we are focusing on RBAC itself. Everything else in the series led towards this key piece. In part one we discussed authentication and authorization on a high level and in part two we focused specifically on authentication. Now let’s dive into authorization.

As usual with Kubernetes being so extensible, there are multiple mechanisms for authorization. You’ve got node authorization, ABAC, RBAC, WebHooks, as well as AlwaysDeny / AlwaysAllow. Since we are focusing on mechanisms that you’ll use in production, we’ll focus on RBAC and WebHooks in particular. But let’s take a quick look at the other options for completeness.

MechanismDecision sourceUsageNodeAPI Server built-inInternal use (kubelets)ABACStatic fileInsecure, deprecatedRBACAPI ObjectsUsers and administratorsWebHookExternal servicesIntegrationAlwaysDeny

AlwaysAllowAPI Server built-inTesting

Three authorization methods that we will NOT look into in detail in this article are: Node, ABAC and AlwaysDeny / AlwaysAllow. Node authorization is mainly used internally by Kubernetes components such as kubelets. Based on a static file, ABAC is considered insecure and deprecated. AlwaysDeny / AlwaysAllow are generally used for testing. So let’s move on to what really matters: production-grade authorization.

WebHook Authorization

WebHook is an external service the Kubernetes API can call when it needs to decide whether a request should be allowed or not. The API for this service is well documented in the Kubernetes documentation. In fact, the Kubernetes API itself provides this API. 

Kubernetes RBAC 101: AuthorizationAuthorization: WebHook

Extension servers and extension implementations use that mechanism when authorizing extension objects in Kubernetes based on CRD, so you may see it quite often, but most probably won’t have to interact with it directly.

Therefore we will mainly focus on the most important user-facing authorization mechanism in Kubernetes – RBAC.

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