Kubernetes certificate based authentication strategy for accessing k8s cluster .


As we know that using kubeconfig for day to day use is a bad practice, instead each user should be given access based on their account and his/her request should be protected using self signed SSL. This way admin can enforce RBAC on the account and also revoke account if needed.

Here is how you can create user account on k8s and authenticate them using certificates.

This process is supposed to be done by the administrator to provide access to other users to the cluster.


  • Administrator access to the production do cluster, meaning must have admin kubeconfig with you initially.
  • OpenSSL installed

Guidelines for providing access to the cluster.

Creating Certificate Signing Requests for New Users

We will be using a certificate-based authorization mechanism for the cluster. So, for this, you are required to generate an X509 certificate. This is to secure local authentication using TLS/SSL certificates.

Steps to follow

  • Generate RSA key using the following command
export GROUP=developers
mkdir -p ~/certs
openssl genrsa -out ~/certs/$USER.key 4096
  • Run the following command to create a CSR configuration file from the following template.
cat <<EOF > $USER.csr.cnf
[ req ]
default_bits = 2048
prompt = no
default_md = sha256
distinguished_name = dn
[ dn ]
[ v3_ext ]
  • Create a CSR (certificate signing request)
openssl req -config ~/certs/$USER.csr.cnf -new -key ~/certs/$USER.key -nodes -out ~/certs/$USER.csr
  • Check and verify user and group in the certificate signing request using the following command.
openssl req -in ~/certs/$USER.csr -noout -text

Managing Certificate Signing Requests with the Kubernetes API

TLS certificates issued to k8s API can be approved or denied using kubectl command. This gives the ability to ensure that the requested access is appropriate for the given user. Check for the group, as that group will play a major role.

  • Get base64 encoding of the CSR
export BASE64_CSR=$(cat ~/certs/$USER.csr | base64 | tr -d '\n')
  • Send CSR to DOKS cluster
cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f -
apiVersion: certificates.k8s.io/v1
kind: CertificateSigningRequest
name: $USER
- system:authenticated
request: $BASE64_CSR
signerName: kubernetes.io/kube-apiserver-client
- client auth
  • Outout:
certificatesigningrequest.certificates.k8s.io/prabesh-thapa-authentication created
  • Check for the CSR
kubectl get csrNAME                        AGE   SIGNERNAME                            REQUESTOR               CONDITION
prabesh-thapa-authentication 5s kubernetes.io/kube-apiserver-client prabesh.thapa@99devops.com Pending
  • Now, you need to approve the CSR request.
kubectl certificate approve prabesh-thapa-authentication
  • Check for CSR status again, if it approved and a certificate has been issued it will show something like this
kubectl get csr                       NAME         AGE   SIGNERNAME                            REQUESTOR               CONDITION
pradip-silwal 25s kubernetes.io/kube-apiserver-client prabesh.thapa@99devops.com Approved,Issued
  • If it approved and certificate issuing has failed it will show something like this
kubectl get csr                                      
prabesh-thapa-authentication 3m54s kubernetes.io/kube-apiserver-client prabesh.thapa@99devops.com Approved,Failed
  • Once CSR is approved, download the certificate using following command
kubectl get csr $USER -o jsonpath='{.status.certificate}' | base64 --decode > ~/certs/$USER.crt

Preparing kubeconfig for the user

  • Create a copy of your kubeconfig file and remove everything except the top 17 lines and add users data. Create a kubeconfig file for user and send it to them along with the key and crt file.

NOTE: make sure the certificate and key file location are properly defined.


cat <<EOF > config-$USER
apiVersion: v1
- cluster:
server: https://46230e4-1386-dsfklj-dfkj-4ed.k8s.ondigitalocean.com
name: doks
- context:
cluster: doks
user: $USER
name: doks
current-context: doks
kind: Config
preferences: {}
- name: $USER
client-certificate: /Users/prabeshthapa/certs/$USER.crt
client-key: /Users/prabeshthapa/certs/$USER.key

Test the access

kubectl --kubeconfig=/Users/prabeshthapa/certs/config-prabesh-thapa cluster-infoKubernetes master is running at https://2csdf8424-a23b2-445eb-128d-sdfkj.k8s.ondigitalocean.com
CoreDNS is running at https://fdf-gh-gh-gh-jh.k8s.ondigitalocean.com/api/v1/names




DevOps / SRE Engineer. Blog: 99devops.com System admin turned SRE. I love Linux.

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Prabesh Thapa

Prabesh Thapa

DevOps / SRE Engineer. Blog: 99devops.com System admin turned SRE. I love Linux.

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