K3s – lightweight kubernetes made ready for production – Part 2

This is part 2 in a three part blog series on deploying k3s, a certified Kubernetes distribution from SUSE Rancher, in a secure and available fashion. In the previous blog we secured the network, host operating system and deployed k3s.  Note, a fullying working Ansible project, https://github.com/digitalis-io/k3s-on-prem-production, has been made available to deploy and secure k3s for you.

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So we have a running K3s cluster, are we done yet (see part 1)? Not at all!

We have secured the underlying machines and we have secured the network using strong segregation, but how about the cluster itself? There is still alot to think about and handle, so let’s take a look at some dangerous patterns.

Pod escaping

Let’s suppose we want to give someone the edit cluster role permission so that they can deploy pods, but obviously not an administrator account. We expect the account to be just able to stay in its own namespace and not harm the rest of the cluster, right?

Well yes, but actually no

Let’s create the user:

~ $ kubectl create namespace unprivileged-user
~ $ kubectl create serviceaccount -n unprivileged-user fake-user
~ $ kubectl create rolebinding -n unprivileged-user fake-editor --clusterrole=edit \ 

Obviously the user cannot do much outside of his own namespace

~ $ kubectl-user get pods -A
Error from server (Forbidden): pods is forbidden: User "system:serviceaccount:unprivileged-user:fake-user" cannot list resource "pods" in API group "" at the cluster scope

But let’s say we want to deploy a privileged POD? Are we allowed to? Let’s deploy this

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
    app: privileged-deploy
  name: privileged-deploy
  replicas: 1
      app: privileged-deploy
        app: privileged-deploy
        - image: alpine
          name: alpine
          stdin: true
          tty: true
            privileged: true
      hostPID: true
      hostNetwork: true

This will work flawlessly, and the POD has hostPID, hostNetwork and runs as root.

~ $ kubectl-user get pods -n unprivileged-user
NAME                                READY   STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
privileged-deploy-8878b565b-8466r   1/1     Running   0          24m

What can we do now? We can do some nasty things!

Let’s analyse the situation. If we enter the POD, we can see that we have access to all the Host’s processes (thanks to hostPID) and the main network (thanks to hostNetwork).

~ $ kubectl-user exec -ti -n unprivileged-user privileged-deploy-8878b565b-8466r -- sh

/ # ps aux  | head -n 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
PID   USER     TIME  COMMAND                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
    1 root      0:05 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 16                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  574 root      0:01 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-journald                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  605 root      0:00 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-udevd                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  631 root      0:02 /sbin/auditd  

/ # ip addr | head -n 10
1: eth0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc fq state UP qlen 1000
    link/ether 56:2f:49:03:90:d0 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    inet brd scope global eth0
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

Having root access, we can use the command nsenter to run programs in different namespaces. Which namespace you ask? Well we can use the namespace of PID 1!

/ # nsenter --mount=/proc/1/ns/mnt --net=/proc/1/ns/net --ipc=/proc/1/ns/ipc \
                --uts=/proc/1/ns/uts --cgroup=/proc/1/ns/cgroup -- sh -c /bin/bash
[root@worker01 /]# 

So now we are root on the host node.  We escaped the pod and are now able to do whatever we want on the node.

This obviously is a huge hole in the cluster security, and we cannot put the cluster in the hands of anyone and just rely on their good will! Let’s try to set up the cluster better using the CIS Security Benchmark for Kubernetes.

Securing the Kubernetes Cluster

A notable mention to K3s is that it already has a number of security mitigations applied and turned on by default and will pass a number of the Kubernetes CIS controls without modification. Which is a huge plus for us!

We will follow the cluster hardening task in the accompanying Github project roles/k3s-deploy/tasks/cluster_hardening.yml

File Permissions

File permissions are already well set with K3s, but a simple task to ensure files and folders are respectively 0600 and 0700 ensures following the CIS Benchmark rules from 1.1.1 to 1.1.21 (File Permissions)

# CIS 1.1.1 to 1.1.21
- name: Cluster Hardening - Ensure folder permission are strict
  command: |
    find {{ item }} -not -path "*containerd*" -exec chmod -c go= {} \;
  register: chmod_result
  changed_when: "chmod_result.stdout != \"\""
    - /etc/rancher
    - /var/lib/rancher

Systemd Hardening

Digging deeper we will first harden our Systemd Service using the isolation capabilities it provides:

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service and /etc/systemd/system/k3s-agent.service

### Full configuration not displayed for brevity
# Sandboxing features
{%if 'libselinux' in ansible_facts.packages %}
{% endif %}
ReadWriteDirectories=/var/lib/ /var/run /run /var/log/ /lib/modules /etc/rancher/

This will prevent the spawned process from having write access outside of the designated directories, protects the rest of the system from unwanted reads, protects the Kernel Tunables and Logs and sets up a private Home and TMP directory for the process.

This ensures a minimum layer of isolation between the process and the host. A number of modifications on the host system will be needed to ensure correct operation, in particular setting up sysctl flags that would have been modified by the process instead.


File: /etc/sysctl.conf

After this we will be sure that the K3s process will not modify the underlying system. Which is a huge win by itself

CIS Hardening Flags

We are now on the application level, and here K3s comes to meet us being already set up with sane defaults for file permissions and service setups.

1 – Restrict TLS Ciphers to the strongest one and FIPS-140 approved ciphers

SSL, in an appropriate environment should comply with the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) Publication 140-2

--kube-apiserver-arg=tls-min-version=VersionTLS12 \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service


File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service and /etc/systemd/system/k3s-agent.service

2 – Enable cluster secret encryption at rest

Where etcd encryption is used, it is important to ensure that the appropriate set of encryption providers is used.

--kube-apiserver-arg='encryption-provider-config=/etc/k3s-encryption.yaml' \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service

apiVersion: apiserver.config.K8s.io/v1
kind: EncryptionConfiguration
  - resources:
      - secrets
      - aescbc:
            - name: key1
              secret: {{ k3s_encryption_secret }}
      - identity: {}

File: /etc/k3s-encryption.yaml

To generate an encryption secret just run

~ $ head -c 32 /dev/urandom | base64

3 – Enable Admission Plugins for Pod Security Policies and Network Policies

The runtime requirements to comply with the CIS Benchmark are centered around pod security (PSPs) and network policies. By default, K3s runs with the “NodeRestriction” admission controller. With the following we will enable all the Admission Plugins requested by the CIS Benchmark compliance:

--kube-apiserver-arg='enable-admission-plugins=AlwaysPullImages,DefaultStorageClass,DefaultTolerationSeconds,LimitRanger,MutatingAdmissionWebhook,NamespaceLifecycle,NodeRestriction,PersistentVolumeClaimResize,PodSecurityPolicy,Priority,ResourceQuota,ServiceAccount,TaintNodesByCondition,ValidatingAdmissionWebhook' \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service

4 – Enable APIs auditing

Auditing the Kubernetes API Server provides a security-relevant chronological set of records documenting the sequence of activities that have affected system by individual users, administrators or other components of the system

--kube-apiserver-arg=audit-log-maxage=30 \
--kube-apiserver-arg=audit-log-maxbackup=30 \
--kube-apiserver-arg=audit-log-maxsize=30 \
--kube-apiserver-arg=audit-log-path=/var/lib/rancher/audit/audit.log \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service

5 – Harden APIs

If –service-account-lookup is not enabled, the apiserver only verifies that the authentication token is valid, and does not validate that the service account token mentioned in the request is actually present in etcd. This allows using a service account token even after the corresponding service account is deleted. This is an example of time of check to time of use security issue.

Also APIs should never allow anonymous querying on either the apiserver or kubelet side.

--node-taint CriticalAddonsOnly=true:NoExecute \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service

6 – Do not schedule Pods on Masters

By default K3s does not distinguish between control-plane and nodes like full kubernetes does, and does schedule PODs even on master nodes.

This is not recommended on a production multi-node and multi-master environment so we will prevent this adding the following flag

--kube-apiserver-arg='service-account-lookup=true' \
--kube-apiserver-arg=anonymous-auth=false \
--kubelet-arg='anonymous-auth=false' \
--kube-controller-manager-arg='use-service-account-credentials=true' \
--kube-apiserver-arg='request-timeout=300s' \
--kubelet-arg='streaming-connection-idle-timeout=5m' \
--kube-controller-manager-arg='terminated-pod-gc-threshold=10' \

File: /etc/systemd/system/k3s-server.service

Where are we now?

We now have a quite well set up cluster both node-wise and service-wise, but are we done yet?
Not really, we have auditing and we have enabled a bunch of admission controllers, but the previous deployment still works because we are still missing an important piece of the puzzle.


Chapter 5 of the CIS Benchmarks deals with Kubernetes Policies – PSP. Those are the objects that define a set of conditions that a pod must run with in order to be accepted into the system, as well as defaults for the related fields, and are important to let us define what an unprivileged user can or cannot do with his PODs.

1 – Privileged Policies

First we will create a system-unrestricted PSP, this will be used by the administrator account and the kube-system namespace, for the legitimate privileged workloads that can be useful for the cluster.

Let’s define it in roles/k3s-deploy/files/policy/system-psp.yaml

apiVersion: policy/v1beta1
kind: PodSecurityPolicy
  name: system-unrestricted-psp
  privileged: true
  allowPrivilegeEscalation: true
    - '*'
    - '*'
  hostNetwork: true
    - min: 0
      max: 65535
  hostIPC: true
  hostPID: true
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'

So we are allowing PODs with this PSP to be run as root and can have hostIPC, hostPID and hostNetwork.

This will be valid only for cluster-nodes and for kube-system namespace, we will define the corresponding CusterRole and ClusterRoleBinding for these entities in the playbook.

2 – Unprivileged Policies

For the rest of the users and namespaces we want to limit the PODs capabilities as much as possible. We will provide the following PSP in roles/k3s-deploy/files/policy/restricted-psp.yaml

apiVersion: policy/v1beta1
kind: PodSecurityPolicy
  name: global-restricted-psp
    seccomp.security.alpha.kubernetes.io/allowedProfileNames: 'docker/default,runtime/default'  # CIS - 5.7.2
    seccomp.security.alpha.kubernetes.io/defaultProfileName: 'runtime/default'                  # CIS - 5.7.2
  privileged: false                # CIS - 5.2.1
  allowPrivilegeEscalation: false  # CIS - 5.2.5
  requiredDropCapabilities:        # CIS - 5.2.7/8/9
    - ALL
    - 'configMap'
    - 'emptyDir'
    - 'projected'
    - 'secret'
    - 'downwardAPI'
    - 'persistentVolumeClaim'
    - '*'
  hostPID: false                   # CIS - 5.2.2
  hostIPC: false                   # CIS - 5.2.3
  hostNetwork: false               # CIS - 5.2.4
    rule: 'MustRunAsNonRoot'       # CIS - 5.2.6
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'MustRunAs'
      - min: 1
        max: 65535
    rule: 'MustRunAs'
      - min: 1
        max: 65535
  readOnlyRootFilesystem: false

We are now disallowing privileged containers, hostPID, hostIPD and hostNetwork, we are forcing the container to run with a non-root user and applying the default seccomp profile for docker containers, whitelisting only a restricted and well-known amount of syscalls in them.

We will create the corresponding ClusterRole and ClusterRoleBindings in the playbook, enforcing this PSP to any system:serviceaccounts, system:authenticated and system:unauthenticated.

3 – Disable default service accounts by default

We also want to disable automountServiceAccountToken for all namespaces. By default kubernetes enables it and any POD will mount the default service account token inside it in /var/run/secrets/kubernetes.io/serviceaccount/token. This is also dangerous as reading this will automatically give the attacker the possibility to query the kubernetes APIs being authenticated.

To remediate we simply run

    - name: Fetch namespace names
      shell: |
        set -o pipefail
        {{ kubectl_cmd }} get namespaces -A | tail -n +2 | awk '{print $1}'
      changed_when: no
      register: namespaces

    # CIS - 5.1.5 - 5.1.6
    - name: Security - Ensure that default service accounts are not actively used
      command: |
        {{ kubectl_cmd }} patch serviceaccount default -n {{ item }} -p \
                                          'automountServiceAccountToken: false'
      register: kubectl
      changed_when: "'no change' not in kubectl.stdout"
      failed_when: "'no change' not in kubectl.stderr and kubectl.rc != 0"
      run_once: yes
      with_items: "{{ namespaces.stdout_lines }}"

Final Result

In the end the cluster will adhere to the following CIS ruling

  • CIS – 1.1.1 to 1.1.21 — File Permissions
  • CIS – 1.2.1 to 1.2.35 — API Server setup
  • CIS – 1.3.1 to 1.3.7 — Controller Manager setup
  • CIS – 1.4.1, 1.4.2 — Scheduler Setup
  • CIS – 3.2.1 — Control Plane Setup
  • CIS – 4.1.1 to 4.1.10 — Worker Node Setup
  • CIS – 4.2.1 to 4.2.13 — Kubelet Setup
  • CIS – 5.1.1 to 5.2.9 — RBAC and Pod Security Policies
  • CIS – 5.7.1 to 5.7.4 — General Policies

So now we have a cluster that is also fully compliant with the CIS Benchmark for Kubernetes. Did this have any effect?

Let’s try our POD escaping again

~ $ kubectl-user apply -f demo/privileged-deploy.yaml 
deployment.apps/privileged-deploy created

~ $ kubectl-user get pods
No resources found in unprivileged-user namespace.
So it seems like the deployment was successful, but no PODs are created? Let’s investigate deeper, and let’s see what the ReplicaSet says about this
~ $ kubectl-user get rs
NAME                          DESIRED   CURRENT   READY   AGE
privileged-deploy-8878b565b   1         0         0       108s

~ $ kubectl-user describe rs privileged-deploy-8878b565b | tail -n8
  Type             Status  Reason
  ----             ------  ------
  ReplicaFailure   True    FailedCreate
  Type     Reason        Age                   From                   Message
  ----     ------        ----                  ----                   -------
  Warning  FailedCreate  54s (x15 over 2m16s)  replicaset-controller  Error creating: pods "privileged-deploy-8878b565b-" is forbidden: PodSecurityPolicy: unable to admit pod: [spec.securityContext.hostNetwork: Invalid value: true: Host network is not allowed to be used spec.securityContext.hostPID: Invalid value: true: Host PID is not allowed to be used spec.containers[0].securityContext.privileged: Invalid value: true: Privileged containers are not allowed]

So the POD is not allowed, PSPs are working!

We can even try this command that will not create a Replica Set but directly a POD and attach to it.

~ $ kubectl-user run hostname-sudo --restart=Never -it  --image overriden --overrides '
  "spec": {
    "hostPID": true,
    "hostNetwork": true,
    "containers": [
        "name": "busybox",
        "image": "alpine:3.7",
         "command": ["nsenter", "--mount=/proc/1/ns/mnt", "--", "sh", "-c", "exec /bin/bash"],
        "stdin": true,
        "tty": true,
        "resources": {"requests": {"cpu": "10m"}},
        "securityContext": {
          "privileged": true
}' --rm --attach

Result will be

Error from server (Forbidden): pods "hostname-sudo" is forbidden: PodSecurityPolicy: unable to admit pod: [spec.securityContext.hostNetwork: Invalid value: true: Host network is not allowed to be used spec.securityContext.hostPID: Invalid value: true: Host PID is not allowed to be used spec.containers[0].securityContext.privileged: Invalid value: true: Privileged containers are not allowed]

So we are now able to restrict unprivileged users from doing nasty stuff on our cluster.

What about the admin role? Does that command still work?

~ $ kubectl run hostname-sudo --restart=Never -it --image overriden --overrides '
  "spec": {
    "hostPID": true,
    "hostNetwork": true,
    "containers": [
        "name": "busybox",
        "image": "alpine:3.7",
         "command": ["nsenter", "--mount=/proc/1/ns/mnt", "--", "sh", "-c", "exec /bin/bash"],
        "stdin": true,
        "tty": true,
        "resources": {"requests": {"cpu": "10m"}},
        "securityContext": {
          "privileged": true
}' --rm --attach
If you don't see a command prompt, try pressing enter.
[root@worker01 /]# 
Ouch! If anyone steals our admin token we will be in trouble!


So we now have a hardened cluster from base OS to the application level, but as shown above some edge cases still make it insecure.

What we will analyse in the last and final part of this blog series is how to use Sysdig’s Falco security suite to cover even admin roles and RCEs inside PODs.

All the playbooks are available in the Github repo on https://github.com/digitalis-io/k3s-on-prem-production

Kubernetes Management For Dummies



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