days to Istio 1.5

App Identity and Access Adapter

Using Istio to secure multi-cloud Kubernetes applications with zero code changes

If you are running your containerized applications on Kubernetes, you can benefit from using the App Identity and Access Adapter for an abstracted level of security with zero code changes or redeploys.

Whether your computing environment is based on a single cloud provider, a combination of multiple cloud providers, or following a hybrid cloud approach, having a centralized identity management can help you to preserve existing infrastructure and avoid vendor lock-in.

With the App Identity and Access Adapter, you can use any OAuth2/OIDC provider: IBM Cloud App ID, Auth0, Okta, Ping Identity, AWS Cognito, Azure AD B2C and more. Authentication and authorization policies can be applied in a streamlined way in all environments — including frontend and backend applications — all without code changes or redeploys.

Understanding Istio and the adapter

Istio is an open source service mesh that transparently layers onto distributed applications and seamlessly integrates with Kubernetes. To reduce the complexity of deployments Istio provides behavioral insights and operational control over the service mesh as a whole. See the Istio Architecture for more details.

Istio uses Envoy proxy sidecars to mediate inbound and outbound traffic for all pods in the service mesh. Istio extracts telemetry from the Envoy sidecars and sends it to Mixer, the Istio component responsible for collecting telemetry and enforcing policy.

The App Identity and Access adapter extends the Mixer functionality by analyzing the telemetry (attributes) against various access control policies across the service mesh. The access control policies can be linked to a particular Kubernetes services and can be finely tuned to specific service endpoints. For more information about policies and telemetry, see the Istio documentation.

When App Identity and Access Adapter is combined with Istio, it provides a scalable, integrated identity and access solution for multicloud architectures that does not require any custom application code changes.

Installation

App Identity and Access adapter can be installed using Helm directly from the github.com repository

$ helm repo add appidentityandaccessadapter https://raw.githubusercontent.com/ibm-cloud-security/app-identity-and-access-adapter/master/helm/appidentityandaccessadapter
$ helm install --name appidentityandaccessadapter appidentityandaccessadapter/appidentityandaccessadapter

Alternatively, you can clone the repository and install the Helm chart locally

$ git clone git@github.com:ibm-cloud-security/app-identity-and-access-adapter.git
$ helm install ./helm/appidentityandaccessadapter --name appidentityandaccessadapter.

Protecting web applications

Web applications are most commonly protected by the OpenID Connect (OIDC) workflow called authorization_code. When an unauthenticated/unauthorized user is detected, they are automatically redirected to the identity service of your choice and presented with the authentication page. When authentication completes, the browser is redirected back to an implicit /oidc/callback endpoint intercepted by the adapter. At this point, the adapter obtains access and identity tokens from the identity service and then redirects users back to their originally requested URL in the web app.

Authentication state and tokens are maintained by the adapter. Each request processed by the adapter will include the Authorization header bearing both access and identity tokens in the following format Authorization: Bearer <access_token> <id_token>

Developers can read leverage the tokens for application experience adjustments, e.g. displaying user name, adjusting UI based on user role etc.

In order to terminate the authenticated session and wipe tokens, aka user logout, simply redirect browser to the /oidc/logout endpoint under the protected service, e.g. if you're serving your app from https://example.com/myapp, redirect users to https://example.com/myapp/oidc/logout

Whenever access token expires, a refresh token is used to automatically acquire new access and identity tokens without your user's needing to re-authenticate. If the configured identity provider returns a refresh token, it is persisted by the adapter and used to retrieve new access and identity tokens when the old ones expire.

Applying web application protection

Protecting web applications requires creating two types of resources - use OidcConfig resources to define various OIDC providers, and Policy resources to define the web app protection policies.

apiVersion: "security.cloud.ibm.com/v1"
kind: OidcConfig
metadata:
    name: my-oidc-provider-config
    namespace: sample-namespace
spec:
    discoveryUrl: <discovery-url-from-oidc-provider>
    clientId: <client-id-from-oidc-provider>
    clientSecretRef:
        name: <kubernetes-secret-name>
        key: <kubernetes-secret-key>
apiVersion: "security.cloud.ibm.com/v1"
kind: Policy
metadata:
    name: my-sample-web-policy
    namespace: sample-namespace
spec:
    targets:
    - serviceName: <kubernetes-service-name-to-protect>
        paths:
        - prefix: /webapp
            method: ALL
            policies:
            - policyType: oidc
                config: my-oidc-provider-config
                rules: // optional
                - claim: iss
                    match: ALL
                    source: access_token
                    values:
                    - <expected-issuer-id>
                - claim: scope
                    match: ALL
                    source: access_token
                    values:
                    - openid

Read more about protecting web applications

Protecting backend application and APIs

Backend applications and APIs are protected using the Bearer Token flow, where an incoming token is validated against a particular policy. The Bearer Token authorization flow expects a request to contain the Authorization header with a valid access token in JWT format. The expected header structure is Authorization: Bearer {access_token}. In case token is successfully validated request will be forwarded to the requested service. In case token validation fails the HTTP 401 will be returned back to the client with a list of scopes that are required to access the API.

Applying backend application and APIs protection

Protecting backend applications and APIs requires creating two types of resources - use JwtConfig resources to define various JWT providers, and Policy resources to define the backend app protection policies.

apiVersion: "security.cloud.ibm.com/v1"
kind: JwtConfig
metadata:
    name: my-jwt-config
    namespace: sample-namespace
spec:
    jwksUrl: <the-jwks-url>
apiVersion: "security.cloud.ibm.com/v1"
kind: Policy
metadata:
    name: my-sample-backend-policy
    namespace: sample-namespace
spec:
    targets:
    - serviceName: <kubernetes-service-name-to-protect>
        paths:
        - prefix: /api/files
            method: ALL
            policies:
            - policyType: jwt
                config: my-oidc-provider-config
                rules: // optional
                - claim: iss
                    match: ALL
                    source: access_token
                    values:
                    - <expected-issuer-id>
                - claim: scope
                    match: ALL
                    source: access_token
                    values:
                    - files.read
                    - files.write

Read more about protecting backend applications

Known limitations

At the time of writing this blog there are two known limitations of the App Identity and Access adapter:

  • If you use the App Identity and Access adapter for Web Applications you should not create more than a single replica of the adapter. Due to the way Envoy Proxy was handling HTTP headers it was impossible to return multiple Set-Cookie headers from Mixer back to Envoy. Therefore we couldn't set all the cookies required for handling Web Application scenarios. The issue was recently addressed in Envoy and Mixer and we're planning to address this in future versions of our adapter. Note that this only affects Web Applications, and doesn't affect Backend Apps and APIs in any way.

  • As a general best practice you should always consider using mutual-tls for any in-cluster communications. At the moment the communications channel between Mixer and App Identity and Access adapter currently does not use mutual-tls. In future we plan to address this by implementing an approach described in the Mixer Adapter developer guide.

Summary

When a multicloud strategy is in place, security can become complicated as the environment grows and diversifies. While cloud providers supply protocols and tools to ensure their offerings are safe, the development teams are still responsible for the application-level security, such as API access control with OAuth2, defending against man-in-the-middle attacks with traffic encryption, and providing mutual TLS for service access control. However, this becomes complex in a multicloud environment since you might need to define those security details for each service separately. With proper security protocols in place, those external and internal threats can be mitigated.

Development teams have spent time making their services portable to different cloud providers, and in the same regard, the security in place should be flexible and not infrastructure-dependent.

Istio and App Identity and Access Adapter allow you to secure your Kubernetes apps with absolutely zero code changes or redeployments regardless of which programming language and which frameworks you use. Following this approach ensures maximum portability of your apps, and ability to easily enforce same security policies across multiple environments.

You can read more about the App Identity and Access Adapter in the release blog.

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