Securing Container Engine for Kubernetes

This topic provides security recommendations for using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure's Container Engine for Kubernetes (also known as OKE).

Multi-Tenant Clusters

At this time, it is not recommended to run mutually distrusted workloads in the same cluster. For example, you should not run the following workloads in the same cluster:

  • Development workloads and production workloads
  • Control plane and data plane
  • Workloads that run arbitrary customer code

Additionally, you should consider having separate clusters if you have multiple tenants, teams, or users accessing the same cluster with differing levels of trust. As mentioned in subsequent sections, Kubernetes and OKE offer methods to isolate workloads. However, these methods are not currently sufficient for hard multi-tenancy.

Encrypt Secrets at Rest in Etcd

Please review Encrypting Kubernetes Secrets at Rest in Etcd for information on configuring secret encryption.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Kubernetes ships an integrated Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) component that matches an incoming user or group to a set of permissions which are bundled into roles. These permissions combine verbs (get, create, delete) with resources (pods, services, nodes) and can be scoped to a namespace or cluster. A set of preconfigured roles are provided which offer reasonable default separation of responsibility, depending on what actions a client might want to perform.

It is important to understand how updates on one object may cause actions in other places. For example, a user may not be able to create pods directly, but allowing them to create a deployment, which creates pods on their behalf, will let them create those pods indirectly. Likewise, deleting a node from the API will result in the pods scheduled to that node being terminated and recreated on other nodes. The preconfigured roles represent a balance between flexibility and the common use cases, but more limited roles should be carefully reviewed to prevent accidental privilege escalation. You can make roles specific to your use case if the preconfigured roles don’t meet your needs.

You should always follow the principle of least privilege to ensure users and Kubernetes Service Accounts have the minimal set of privileges required. By default, any user with USE CLUSTER access in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure IAM or any Kubernetes Service Account will have no access to the Kubernetes API, except to the discovery roles. See About Access Control and Container Engine for Kubernetes to learn how IAM integrates with OKE.

Note that you cannot currently use IAM Groups in RBAC policies. You must use the OCID of the Principal when creating RBAC bindings (for example, user OCID, instance OCID, and service name).

Cluster Security

You can control the operations that pods are allowed to perform on a cluster you've created with Container Engine for Kubernetes by setting up pod security policies for the cluster. Pod security policies are a way to ensure that pods meet security-related conditions before they can be accepted by a cluster. For example, you can use pod security polices to:

  • limit the storage choices available to pods
  • restrict the host networking and ports that pods can access
  • prevent pods from running as the root user
  • prevent pods from running in privileged mode

Having defined a pod security policy for a cluster, you have to authorize the requesting user or pod to use the policy by creating roles and bindings. You can then specify whether a cluster enforces the pod security policies defined for it by enabling the cluster's PodSecurityPolicy admission controller.

For more information, see Using Pod Security Polices with Container Engine for Kubernetes.

Node Pool Security

Node Pool Compartments

Node pools in a cluster can span compartments. However, while using multiple compartments provides a convenient way to group and manage worker nodes, it does not provide any isolation between the worker nodes in the cluster. Any workload can be scheduled across any node pool regardless of the compartment. A valid use case for using more than one compartment for a node pool would be to easily create dynamic groups and IAM policies for worker nodes. An invalid use case for multiple compartments would be putting each node pool running a customer workload in a separate compartment under the assumption that the compartments are providing some type of security boundary or isolation.

Node Pool Subnets

We recommend only using private subnets for node pools. A service gateway  should be configured to provide access to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure services. A service gateway cannot be used if the subnets are public with an internet gateway . If your private subnets require access to the internet, use a NAT gateway .

Controlling Which Nodes Pods May Access

By default, a pod may be scheduled on any node in the cluster. Kubernetes offers a rich set of policies for controlling placement of pods onto nodes and the taint based pod placement and eviction that are available to end users. For many clusters, the use of these policies to separate workloads can be a convention that authors adopt or enforce via tooling. These placement controls are not adequate in a multi-tenant environment when users with deployment capabilities are untrusted. If you have untrusted users deploying code then you should consider a cluster per untrusted group.

Limit Access Given to Instance Principals

By default, all pods on a node are able to access the instance principal certificates using the instance metadata endpoint. In order to avoid privilege escalation via instance principals, you should isolate workloads across node pools with different dynamic groups so that pods in a given node pool have the minimal set of privileges required to function.

For example, assume you have the following two workloads, which both require different access:

  • LogArchiver - requires access to manage buckets and objects in Object Storage
  • HostMonitor - requires access to the Compute API to manage Instances

The simplest approach would be to schedule them in the same node pool and provide the instance principal with all the required access. However, this increases the impact in the event one of the workloads becomes compromised. A better approach would be to schedule the workloads on separate node pools with the limited set of access the instance principals require for the applicable workload.

Block Container Access to Instance Metadata

The preferred way to block access is using a network policy plugin with a default policy of "deny all". Then you would explicitly grant access to pods and networks using NetworkPolicy resources in Kubernetes via label selectors. If you don't have a network policy plugin installed, you can use a IPTables rule to restrict access from all pods on the host. We recommend that you do not use this approach to block a subset of pods on a host.

Important: NetworkPolicys and the following IPTable rule only apply to containers in the pod overlay network. Containers and services running in the host network are not impacted by either option:

iptables --insert FORWARD 1 --in-interface veth+ --destination --jump DROP

Network Security

Pods running in your OKE Cluster often need to communicate with other pods in the cluster or with services outside the cluster. Container Engine for Kubernetes offers multiple options to secure communication to and from the workloads in your cluster. For the best network security posture, you should evaluate using a combination of network policies (to secure pod-level network communication) and security lists (to secure host-level network communication).

Network Policies

Network policies in Kubernetes allow administrators to define how groups of pods are able to communicate with other pods in the cluster. Additionally, network policies allow you to define how groups of pods are able to communicate with services outside the cluster (for example, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure services).

To restrict access using network policies, you need to install a network plugin. Network plugins configure and enforce the network policies defined in Kubernetes. There are numerous network plugin options. You can follow our instructions here to install and configure Calico in your cluster. Network policy plugins work by restricting access on the host. For information on installing Calico into OKE, see Example: Installing Calico and Setting Up Network Policies.

Node Pool Security Lists

Network administrators can define security list rules on node pool subnets to restrict access to and from worker nodes. Defining security list rules allows administrators to enforce network restrictions that cannot be overridden on the hosts in your cluster.

Because all pod-to-pod communication occurs in a VXLAN overlay network on the worker nodes, you are cannot use security list rules to restrict pod-to-pod communication. However, you can use security lists to restrict access to and from your worker nodes.

Important: There is a minimum set of security list rules that must exist on node pool subnets to ensure that the cluster can function. See Example Network Resource Configurations for information on the minimum set of security list rules before making any changes to your security list rules.

Workload Security Best Practices

Use Image Digests Instead of Tags

We recommend that you only pull images using the image digests, and not pull images using tags (because image tags are mutable). Image digests are the sha256 digest of your image, which allows docker to verify the image it downloaded is what you expected.

Example image digest id:


Pull the image as shown in the following example:

docker pull acme@sha256:77af4d6b9913e693e8d0b4b294fa62ade6054e6b2f1ffb617ac955dd63fb0182

You can use the following command to show all the digests for your local images:

docker images --digests

Limit Resource Utilization

Resource quota limits the number or capacity of resources granted to a namespace. This is most often used to limit the amount of CPU, memory, or persistent disk a namespace can allocate, but can also control how many pods, services, or volumes exist in each namespace.

Limit ranges restrict the maximum or minimum size of some of the resources above, to prevent users from requesting unreasonably high or low values for commonly reserved resources like memory, or to provide default limits when none are specified.

Access to resource quotas can be restricted via RBAC policies in Kubernetes. This can help an administrator ensure that users of a cluster are not able to use resources that they should not have access to. See Limiting resource usage in the on a cluster in the Kubernetes documentation for more information.

Disabling the Tiller Add-on

OKE offers an optional Tiller add-on. This provides an easy way to install and use Helm+Tiller, allowing you to quickly provision and run Kubernetes. It is not recommended to use this add-on for production clusters because of the security risks associated with Tiller. Clusters provisioned with Tiller do not have authentication or authorization for API calls made to Tiller, which means they cannot provide attribution for requests. Therefore, any operator or service that can reach Tiller can invoke its APIs with Tiller access.

To solve the security problems associated with Tiller, Helm V3 was developed. The Helm V3 release completely removed Tiller from Helm. We recommend that you consider using Helm V3 if you'd like to utilize the functionality offered by Helm+Tiller.


To disable the Tiller add-on on an existing cluster, contact Oracle Support.

Disabling the Kubernetes Dashboard Add-on

OKE offers an optional Kubernetes Dashboard add-on, providing an easy way to install the Kubernetes Dashboard. The Kubernetes Dashboard is installed by OKE with the minimal set of privileges required to run. You will not be able to use the dashboard without providing additional credentials. See Starting the Kubernetes Dashboard for more information.

The dashboard is particularly useful for new Kubernetes users. We do not recommend installing this add-on on production clusters due to the lack of extensible authentication support. If you do install the Kubernetes Dashboard, we recommend that you restrict access within your cluster, instead of exposing it externally via either a load balancer or an ingress controller. The Kubernetes Dashboard is a common attack vector used to gain access to a Kubernetes Cluster.


To disable the Kubernetes Dashboard add-on on an existing cluster, contact Oracle Support.