Kubernetes Security 101: A Comprehensive Guide

To secure a basic Kubernetes installation, you don't need a lot of tools. The tools shipped with Kubernetes are a good starting point.


Welcome to your Kubernetes Security 101 guide, where we delve into securing your Kubernetes environment. Kubernetes has rapidly become a standard for deploying cloud-native applications at scale, making security a paramount concern. As the backbone of modern application deployment, Kubernetes brings unprecedented flexibility and scalability. This guide delves into Kubernetes security fundamentals, best practices, and essential strategies to help you safeguard your clusters effectively.

What is Kubernetes Security?

Kubernetes security isn't just an option; it's a necessity. As you embark on your journey into Kubernetes, it's crucial to understand the security landscape. It includes awareness of potential threats and challenges that Kubernetes clusters can face. At its core, Kubernetes security involves protecting your cluster's infrastructure, workloads, and services. Given its complexity and dynamic nature, Kubernetes environments require robust security strategies to prevent breaches and attacks.

Kubernetes Security Best Practices Essentials

To safeguard your Kubernetes deployments, it is crucial to follow Kubernetes security best practices. This section outlines essential practices every organization should implement.

1. Cluster Configuration and Management

Proper cluster configuration sets the foundation for a secure Kubernetes environment. Ensure that you configure Kubernetes according to security benchmarks established by the Center for Internet Security (CIS).

Securing container images is non-negotiable. Learn why using trusted, signed images is essential and how image scanning tools can help you identify vulnerabilities before deployment.

2. Network Policies and Controls

Implementing strong network policies is critical in controlling the traffic allowed into and out of your Kubernetes pods. Use network policies to define rules that limit connections between pods, thus reducing the attack surface.

3. Authentication and Authorization

Robust authentication and authorization mechanisms are essential. Configure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) to enforce the principle of least privilege and ensure that users have access only to the resources necessary for their roles.

Authentication Mechanisms

Exploring authentication mechanisms such as client certificates and service accounts is vital. These mechanisms establish trust and ensure only authorized entities interact with your cluster.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC allows you to define fine-grained access policies. Learn how to assign roles and permissions to users and services, mitigating the risk of unauthorized actions.

4. Regular Updates and Patch Management

Keeping Kubernetes and its components updated is vital for security. Regularly apply patches and updates to the Kubernetes engine and applications running on it to protect against vulnerabilities.

Best Practices for Kubernetes Security

Secure Cluster Setup

A solid security foundation begins with a secure cluster setup. We'll guide you through setting up the Kubernetes control plane securely to prevent initial vulnerabilities. Making the control pane private is a crucial first step. Kubernetes APIs and etcd should never be publicly exposed to the internet. Ideally, they are in a private network only accessible using a VPN.

Node Security

Your worker nodes are the heart of your cluster. Ensure regular updates to minimize attack surfaces and leverage tools like kube-bench. The nodes should not be directly exposed to the internet; each application is made available through a load balancer to hide the IP addresses of the nodes. All traffic is encrypted using TLS/HTTPS.

Use minimal operating systems even better if the file system is read-only as much as possible to reduce potential malware installed. Implement Node hardening and further reduce any attack surface. It is essential when you manage and operate your kubernetes worker nodes. Regularly update the operation systems and rotate out old nodes.

Pod Security

Each pod has its security context. Use security policies to ensure containers run with the correct permissions and restrictions.

Avoid running as a root user or any other highly privileged user. Ensure any secrets used by the pods are limited in scope and impact. Avoid hardcoding sensitive information like passwords and API tokens directly in your pod configurations. Instead, use Kubernetes Secrets to store and manage such information securely.

Configure your pods to use read-only filesystems whenever possible. It prevents potential attackers from modifying container files, which can help mitigate certain security breaches. Resource limits and requests can prevent resource exhaustion and abuse. Define appropriate resource limits for your containers to avoid consuming excessive CPU, memory, or other resources.

Network policies control communication between pods and are instrumental in segmenting your application. By allowing only necessary communication and denying the rest, you reduce the attack surface and limit the lateral movement of threats. Configure your pods to use read-only filesystems whenever possible. This prevents potential attackers from modifying container files, which can help mitigate certain security breaches.

Secure Communication

Encrypted communication is crucial outside and within your cluster. Using TLS for communication between your services, nodes, and external partners is as important as ensuring secure communication from the outside in. Most Cloud Service Providers offer a certificate service that you can use with kubernetes. Another free option is using Let's Encrypt with Certmanager.

Not only your workloads and users should be using secure communication. Your interactions with your cluster control pane must be secured at any time. Try to aim for 100% encryption in transit.

Monitoring and Auditing

Monitoring can be its own pandora's box. Choose a system that works for you, can store data longer than 30 days, and can generate alerts based on logs. Define some key metrics that are the baseline. Then, define alerts that are outside of regular operations. For security monitoring, we are interested in error rate abnormalities. Part of your monitoring should include logging. Building metrics based on top of logs gives you correlation superpowers.

Audit logging must be enabled for any Kubernetes System, and most Cloud Providers have it tied up with their in-house built logging solution. It is sometimes an extra to your current logging stack and can be an issue. Your applications should also have audit logs documenting who is doing what and where. These audit logs must be stored securely and tamperproof, separated from the rest of the systems.

Kubernetes Security Tools

Arming yourself with the right tools can make all the difference. Here is a not exhaustive list of tools we use to help our customers succeed on their journey to a secure Kubernetes.

  • Kube-bench Kube-bench is a popular open-source tool that checks Kubernetes clusters against best practices defined in the CIS Kubernetes Benchmark. It assesses the security of various aspects of your cluster configuration and provides recommendations for improvements.
  • Falco It is an open-source runtime security tool that uses behavioral rules to detect and alert unusual activities in your Kubernetes environment. It's handy for real-time threat detection and response.
  • OPA/Gatekeeper It is a policy enforcement tool for Kubernetes. It allows you to define and enforce custom policies to ensure pods and resources meet specific security requirements.
  • Cilium It is a powerful networking and security project that provides network-level security for Kubernetes. It uses eBPF (Extended Berkeley Packet Filter) technology to enforce security policies at the kernel level.
  • Trivy It is an open-source vulnerability scanner for container images. It scans images for known vulnerabilities in operating system packages and application dependencies.
  • Kyverno Kyverno is a policy management tool that allows you to enforce policies for Kubernetes resources using custom rules. It integrates directly with Kubernetes and helps implement desired security policies.


Kubernetes is not secure by default. As an operator, you must ensure your networking is secure and protect unwanted access to control pane, nodes, and applications. Within the cluster, security is as important as on the outside. Ensuring networking and RBAC is configured properly is high up on your to-do list. Your workloads and images must be hardened, secured, and regularly scanned for vulnerabilities. Consult the official Kubernetes documentation for more technical help.

Secure All Software

Join our weekly newsletter to get articles like this straight into your inbox