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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 Accessing Control Overview.

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:

Determine the Request Verb

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)
PUT update
PATCH patch
DELETE delete (for individual resources), deletecollection (for collections)

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

Authorization Modules

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
kubectl auth can-i create deployments --namespace prod

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

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

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

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:

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 pod creation

Users who have the ability to create pods in a namespace can potentially escalate their privileges within that namespace. They can create pods that access their privileges within that namespace. They can create pods that access secrets the user cannot themselves read, or that run under a service account with different/greater permissions.

Caution: System administrators, use care when granting access to pod creation. A user granted permission to create pods (or controllers that create pods) in the namespace can: read all secrets in the namespace; read all config maps in the namespace; and impersonate any service account in the namespace and take any action the account could take. This applies regardless of authorization mode.

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