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Authorization Overview

Learn more about Kubernetes authorization, including details about creating policies using the supported authorization modules.

In Kubernetes, you must be authenticated (logged in) before your request can be authorized (granted permission to access). For information about authentication, see Controlling Access to the Kubernetes API.

Kubernetes expects attributes that are common to REST API requests. This means that Kubernetes authorization works with existing organization-wide or cloud-provider-wide access control systems which may handle other APIs besides the Kubernetes API.

Determine Whether a Request is Allowed or Denied

Kubernetes authorizes API requests using the API server. It evaluates all of the request attributes against all policies and allows or denies the request. All parts of an API request must be allowed by some policy in order to proceed. This means that permissions are denied by default.

(Although Kubernetes uses the API server, access controls and policies that depend on specific fields of specific kinds of objects are handled by Admission Controllers.)

When multiple authorization modules are configured, each is checked in sequence. If any authorizer approves or denies a request, that decision is immediately returned and no other authorizer is consulted. If all modules have no opinion on the request, then the request is denied. A deny returns an HTTP status code 403.

Review Your Request Attributes

Kubernetes reviews only the following API request attributes:

  • user - The user string provided during authentication.
  • group - The list of group names to which the authenticated user belongs.
  • extra - A map of arbitrary string keys to string values, provided by the authentication layer.
  • API - Indicates whether the request is for an API resource.
  • Request path - Path to miscellaneous non-resource endpoints like /api or /healthz.
  • API request verb - API verbs like get, list, create, update, patch, watch, delete, and deletecollection are used for resource requests. To determine the request verb for a resource API endpoint, see Determine the request verb.
  • HTTP request verb - Lowercased HTTP methods like get, post, put, and delete are used for non-resource requests.
  • Resource - The ID or name of the resource that is being accessed (for resource requests only) -- For resource requests using get, update, patch, and delete verbs, you must provide the resource name.
  • Subresource - The subresource that is being accessed (for resource requests only).
  • Namespace - The namespace of the object that is being accessed (for namespaced resource requests only).
  • API group - The API Group being accessed (for resource requests only). An empty string designates the core API group.

Determine the Request Verb

Non-resource requests Requests to endpoints other than /api/v1/... or /apis/<group>/<version>/... are considered "non-resource requests", and use the lower-cased HTTP method of the request as the verb. For example, a GET request to endpoints like /api or /healthz would use get as the verb.

Resource requests To determine the request verb for a resource API endpoint, review the HTTP verb used and whether or not the request acts on an individual resource or a collection of resources:

HTTP verb request verb
POST create
GET, HEAD get (for individual resources), list (for collections, including full object content), watch (for watching an individual resource or collection of resources)
PUT update
PATCH patch
DELETE delete (for individual resources), deletecollection (for collections)

Kubernetes sometimes checks authorization for additional permissions using specialized verbs. For example:

  • PodSecurityPolicy
    • use verb on podsecuritypolicies resources in the policy API group.
  • RBAC
    • bind and escalate verbs on roles and clusterroles resources in the API group.
  • Authentication
    • impersonate verb on users, groups, and serviceaccounts in the core API group, and the userextras in the API group.

Authorization Modes

The Kubernetes API server may authorize a request using one of several authorization modes:

  • Node - A special-purpose authorization mode that grants permissions to kubelets based on the pods they are scheduled to run. To learn more about using the Node authorization mode, see Node Authorization.
  • ABAC - Attribute-based access control (ABAC) defines an access control paradigm whereby access rights are granted to users through the use of policies which combine attributes together. The policies can use any type of attributes (user attributes, resource attributes, object, environment attributes, etc). To learn more about using the ABAC mode, see ABAC Mode.
  • RBAC - Role-based access control (RBAC) is a method of regulating access to computer or network resources based on the roles of individual users within an enterprise. In this context, access is the ability of an individual user to perform a specific task, such as view, create, or modify a file. To learn more about using the RBAC mode, see RBAC Mode
    • When specified RBAC (Role-Based Access Control) uses the API group to drive authorization decisions, allowing admins to dynamically configure permission policies through the Kubernetes API.
    • To enable RBAC, start the apiserver with --authorization-mode=RBAC.
  • Webhook - A WebHook is an HTTP callback: an HTTP POST that occurs when something happens; a simple event-notification via HTTP POST. A web application implementing WebHooks will POST a message to a URL when certain things happen. To learn more about using the Webhook mode, see Webhook Mode.

Checking API Access

kubectl provides the auth can-i subcommand for quickly querying the API authorization layer. The command uses the SelfSubjectAccessReview API to determine if the current user can perform a given action, and works regardless of the authorization mode used.

kubectl auth can-i create deployments --namespace dev

The output is similar to this:

kubectl auth can-i create deployments --namespace prod

The output is similar to this:


Administrators can combine this with user impersonation to determine what action other users can perform.

kubectl auth can-i list secrets --namespace dev --as dave

The output is similar to this:


Similarly, to check whether a ServiceAccount named dev-sa in Namespace dev can list Pods in the Namespace target:

kubectl auth can-i list pods \
	--namespace target \
	--as system:serviceaccount:dev:dev-sa

The output is similar to this:


SelfSubjectAccessReview is part of the API group, which exposes the API server authorization to external services. Other resources in this group include:

  • SubjectAccessReview - Access review for any user, not only the current one. Useful for delegating authorization decisions to the API server. For example, the kubelet and extension API servers use this to determine user access to their own APIs.
  • LocalSubjectAccessReview - Like SubjectAccessReview but restricted to a specific namespace.
  • SelfSubjectRulesReview - A review which returns the set of actions a user can perform within a namespace. Useful for users to quickly summarize their own access, or for UIs to hide/show actions.

These APIs can be queried by creating normal Kubernetes resources, where the response "status" field of the returned object is the result of the query.

kubectl create -f - -o yaml << EOF
kind: SelfSubjectAccessReview
    group: apps
    resource: deployments
    verb: create
    namespace: dev

The generated SelfSubjectAccessReview is:

kind: SelfSubjectAccessReview
  creationTimestamp: null
    group: apps
    resource: deployments
    namespace: dev
    verb: create
  allowed: true
  denied: false

Using Flags for Your Authorization Module

You must include a flag in your policy to indicate which authorization module your policies include:

The following flags can be used:

  • --authorization-mode=ABAC Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) mode allows you to configure policies using local files.
  • --authorization-mode=RBAC Role-based access control (RBAC) mode allows you to create and store policies using the Kubernetes API.
  • --authorization-mode=Webhook WebHook is an HTTP callback mode that allows you to manage authorization using a remote REST endpoint.
  • --authorization-mode=Node Node authorization is a special-purpose authorization mode that specifically authorizes API requests made by kubelets.
  • --authorization-mode=AlwaysDeny This flag blocks all requests. Use this flag only for testing.
  • --authorization-mode=AlwaysAllow This flag allows all requests. Use this flag only if you do not require authorization for your API requests.

You can choose more than one authorization module. Modules are checked in order so an earlier module has higher priority to allow or deny a request.

Privilege escalation via workload creation or edits

Users who can create/edit pods in a namespace, either directly or through a controller such as an operator, could escalate their privileges in that namespace.

Escalation paths

  • Mounting arbitrary secrets in that namespace
    • Can be used to access secrets meant for other workloads
    • Can be used to obtain a more privileged service account's service account token
  • Using arbitrary Service Accounts in that namespace
    • Can perform Kubernetes API actions as another workload (impersonation)
    • Can perform any privileged actions that Service Account has
  • Mounting configmaps meant for other workloads in that namespace
    • Can be used to obtain information meant for other workloads, such as DB host names.
  • Mounting volumes meant for other workloads in that namespace
    • Can be used to obtain information meant for other workloads, and change it.

What's next

Last modified July 08, 2022 at 11:13 AM PST: Clarify that list, get and watch can return data (2f0d4a5d88)