Enforcing Security Best Practices for Amazon EKS using Kyverno

Enforcing Security Best Practices for Amazon EKS using Kyverno

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) is a popular managed service for building cloud-native applications due to its feature-rich offerings and seamless integration with other AWS services. However, Kubernetes itself is considered insecure by default, prioritizing functionality over security. Although AWS provides several recommendations to secure Amazon EKS clusters, it’s crucial to enforce best practices and prevent misconfigurations to avoid unintended attacks. To help with this, AWS has released an official EKS Security Best Practices guide, which can be found at https://aws.github.io/aws-eks-best-practices/security/docs/.

How can policies help?

Policy engines, such as Kyverno, allow developers to define and enforce custom policies for their clusters. When it comes to securing Amazon EKS clusters, Kyverno policies can be an effective tool to ensure compliance with best practices and industry standards. In this post, we’ll explore how Kyverno policies can be used to secure your Amazon EKS clusters by writing simple policies for the guidelines laid out by AWS. So, whether you’re new to Amazon EKS or looking to enhance your existing security practices, read on to learn more about using Kyverno policies to improve Amazon EKS security.

Setup & Execution

Let me take you through the setup. I have an EKS Cluster running on Kubernetes version 1.25, which you can set up yourself by following the AWS official guide. In addition, I’ve installed Nirmata Enterprise for Kyverno v1.9.1 and the Kyverno AWS adapter v0.3.0. If you’d like to test out the enterprise version of Kyverno, you can request a free trial here or install Kyverno as an Amazon EKS add-on using the AWS Marketplace. Alternatively, you can also install the open-source Kyverno version v1.9.1.

The Kyverno AWS adapter, an open-source project from Nirmata, securely fetches the cluster configuration information using AWS APIs and stores it as a Custom Resource called AWSAdapterConfig. This allows us to write Kyverno policies just as easily as we would write for any other Kubernetes resource. You can find instructions on how to install the adapter here.

Nirmata offers a curated policy pack, which includes Amazon EKS best practices. You can find the entire policy pack here, but for this exercise, you will only need the EKS best practices.

Now let’s take a look at the pods and the resources –

# kyverno-aws-adapter pod
$ kubectl get pods -n nirmata-aws-adapter
NAME                                  READY   STATUS   RESTARTS    AGE
kyverno-aws-adapter-6d88f6dcdd-k6bc5   1/1    Running     0        45s
# kyverno-aws-adapter Custom Resource
$ kubectl get awsacfg -n nirmata-aws-adapter kyverno-aws-adapter 
kyverno-aws-adapter   demo-blog    us-west-1     ACTIVE            1.25                success

To view complete status details that contains cloud configuration information, view the complete YAML using –

$ kubectl get awsacfg -n nirmata-aws-adapter kyverno-aws-adapter -o yaml
# kyverno pod
$ kubectl get pods -n kyverno 
NAME                      READY   STATUS   RESTARTS   AGE 
kyverno-7c444878f7-zmmd2   1/1    Running     0      2m30s
# EKS Best Practices policies
$ kubectl get cpol NAME          BACKGROUND   VALIDATE ACTION   READY 
add-networkpolicy                   true          audit         true 
add-networkpolicy-dns               true          audit         true 
add-ns-quota                        true          audit         true 
check-amazon-inspector              true          audit         true 
check-ami-deprecation-time          true          audit         true 
check-cluster-endpoint              true          audit         true 
check-cluster-logging               true          audit         true 
check-cluster-remote-access         true          audit         true 
check-cluster-rolearn               true          audit         true 
check-cluster-secrets-encryption    true          audit         true 
check-cluster-tags                  true          audit         true 
check-immutable-tags-ecr            true          audit         true 
check-instance-profile-access       true          audit         true 
check-public-dns                    true          audit         true 
check-vpc-flow-logs                 true          audit         true 
require-pod-probes                  true          audit         true 
require-requests-limits             true          audit         true 
restrict-image-registries           true          audit         true 
...                                 ...           ...           ...

Nirmata Policies in Action

Let’s take an example to understand how Nirmata policies and the Kyverno AWS Adapter work together to achieve the best practices guidelines set forth by AWS.

This is the recommendation for using immutable tags with ECR. The guideline is stated simply as “Immutable tags force you to update the image tag on each push to the image repository. This can thwart an attacker from overwriting an image with a malicious version without changing the image’s tags. Additionally, it gives you a way to easily and uniquely identify an image.”

Now it is up to the Security Admin to figure out and manage all tags within ECR and ensure they are immutable as per the security guideline. This can be a manual task which is error-prone when you have to do this at scale.

Let’s look at a Kyverno policy for checking immutable tags with ECR. The resource kind we are matching on is the `AWSAdapterConfig` which we get from the Kyverno AWS Adapter. We have a single rule in this policy that checks whether every ECR repository has the imageTagMutable field set to true.

View the JSON output of the AWSAdapterConfig resource to see the various configuration information made available to us for writing policies by the AWS Adapter. In this example, we will consider the `status.ecrRepositories[]` list. Note: If you do not have any ECR repositories configured for your account, you may not see this field. It means the list is empty (and we are automatically compliant with this guideline).

$ cat check-immutale-tags-ecr.yaml
apiVersion: kyverno.io/v1
kind: ClusterPolicy
  name: check-immutable-tags-ecr   
    policies.kyverno.io/title: Check Immutable Tags for ECR     
    policies.kyverno.io/category: EKS Best Practices     
    policies.kyverno.io/severity: medium     
    policies.kyverno.io/subject: Cluster     
    policies.kyverno.io/description: >-       
      Immutable tags are not enabled on all ECR repositories.   
    validationFailureAction: audit   
    background: true   
    - name: check-immutable-tag       
        - resources:             
          - AWSAdapterConfig       
        message: "The `imageTagMutable` field must be set to true on all ECR repositories."         
        - list: "request.object.status.ecrRepositories[]"           
            imageTagMutable: true

If there is any violation, we can view this using the kubectl CLI by looking at the PolicyReport.

$ kubectl get polr cpol-check-immutable-tags-ecr -n nirmata-aws-adapter  
NAME                           PASS   FAIL   WARN   ERROR   SKIP   AGE 
cpol-check-immutable-tags-ecr   0      1      0      0       0     4d3h

With just a few lines of YAML, we can enforce the guideline recommended by AWS. Many of the other recommendations can also be expressed as code which reduces the burden on the Security team to manually validate for all configurations and they can easily scale with this approach.

Nirmata Policy Manager for centralized visibility and management

Nirmata Policy Manager (NPM) provides a cloud-native solution for centralized policy management and automation of Kubernetes clusters, allowing organizations to enforce compliance, governance, and security policies across their entire infrastructure. By implementing NPM, application teams can focus on writing business logic without the burden of ensuring adherence to the organization’s best practices and standards.

At Nirmata, we provide an extensive mapping of compliance standards to policies. We have codified the list of EKS Best Practices into Kyverno policies which can be found here. The Kyverno AWS Adapter captures all the AWS cloud configuration information in the `AWSAdapaterConfig` Custom Resource which makes it easy to write YAML-based Kyverno policies.

Using kubectl CLI to view the Policy Reports is limited to only one cluster. NPM provides centralized visibility of Policy Reports across all your Kubernetes clusters – you can easily apply filters based on clusters, namespaces and PolicyReport status.

Policy Report in NPM


NPM also provides a Compliance Score for each of the clusters. This reporting can be used to demonstrate compliance to auditors, stakeholders, or other parties.

Compliance Scoring in NPM

NPM also provides detailed reporting on compliance status. You can view all the controls listed in the compliance standard and the policy execution results for each of the individual controls.

Compliance Control details in NPM


In this blog post, we have demonstrated how policies can be utilized to codify AWS security best practices. However, the policies we implemented are only the starting point. At Nirmata, we continually revise our policy list to relieve you of the burden of imposing guardrails and enable you to concentrate on your business applications.

We also witnessed the capabilities of the Nirmata Policy Manager, which offers a comprehensive view of all the Kubernetes security and governance activities for your cluster fleet through a single pane of glass. Furthermore, NPM is set to introduce several exciting features that will further streamline your workflows and enhance cluster governance and visibility.

Bonus Use Case

You can also watch this use case demo on YouTube.

EKS nodes can be provisioned through custom-built AMIs or AMIs provided by your platform vendor. If you attempt to provision a deprecated or deregistered AMI, AWS returns an error. However, what happens when nodes have already been provisioned, and the AMIs become stale beyond their deprecation timeline? It is crucial to ensure that nodes are not running on deprecated AMIs as there would be no official support or updates available. Fortunately, detecting this through Kyverno policy is as easy as writing any other validation policy.

Let’s look at the below policy –

> cat check-ami-deprecation-time.yaml
apiVersion: kyverno.io/v1
kind: ClusterPolicy
  name: check-ami-deprecation-time
    policies.kyverno.io/title: Check AMI deprecation Time
    policies.kyverno.io/category: EKS Best Practices
    policies.kyverno.io/severity: medium
    policies.kyverno.io/subject: Cluster
    policies.kyverno.io/description: >-
      AMIs past their deprecation time
  validationFailureAction: audit
  background: true
  - name: check-ami-deprecation-time
      - resources:
          - AWSAdapterConfig
      message: "This rule audits for AMIs that are past their deprecation time"
      - list: "request.object.status.eksCluster.compute.nodeGroups[].amazonMachineImage"
            - key: "{{ time_before('{{ element.deprecationTime }}', '{{ time_now_utc() }}') }}"
              operator: Equals
              value: true

AMI information is captured in the AWSAdapterConfig under `status.eksCluster.compute.nodeGroups[].amazonMachineImage`. This also includes the deprecation time of the AMI. In the validate rule, we check that if the deprecation time is a time in the past, then it is an old AMI and it is denied. We can check in the policy report that there is a failure for this policy and rule type.

You can check the output by fetching the PolicyReport Custom Resource.

> kubectl get polr cpol-check-ami-deprecation-time -n nirmata-aws-adapter
NAME                               PASS   FAIL   WARN   ERROR   SKIP   AGE
cpol-check-ami-deprecation-time     1      0      0      0       0     2m26s

You can also view this information on the Nirmata Policy Manager.

ami screen 1

You can now easily audit for AMIs that have exceeded their deprecation time and ensure that your EKS Clusters won’t encounter any issues, even if the nodes remain operational for an extended period! Let us know if you have more such use cases or how you would use Kyverno policies to achieve operational efficiency. Get in touch!

Additional Information

Kyverno 1.9 introduces an array of new features that offer interesting use cases. Check out the release blog here. To get a sneak peek of Kyverno 1.10 features, check out this CNCF webinar presented by the lead maintainers of Kyverno – Chip & Jim.

In addition, Nirmata offers a robust version of Kyverno that includes several benefits, such as the Operator for lifecycle management and Adapters for seamless integration with other cloud services and tools. Sign up for a free trial of Nirmata Policy Manager.

Kyverno 1.10 Pre-Release Announcement
An in-depth look at Kubernetes security and compliance challenges and solutions
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