Comparing Keystone and Istio RBAC

To continue with my previous investigation to Istio, and to continue the comparison with the comparable parts of OpenStack, I want to dig deeper into how Istio performs
RBAC. Specifically, I would love to answer the question: could Istio be used to perform the Role check?


Let me reiterate what I’ve said in the past about scope checking. Oslo-policy performs the scope check deep in the code base, long after Middleware, once the resource has been fetched from the Database. Since we can’t do this in Middleware, I think it is safe to say that we can’t do this in Istio either. SO that part of the check is outside the scope of this discussion.

Istio RBAC Introduction

Lets look at how Istio performs RBAC.

The first thing to compare is the data that is used to represent the requester. In Istio, this is the requestcontext. This is comparable to the Auth-Data that Keystone Middleware populates as a result of a successful token validation. How does Istio populate the the requestcontext? My current assumption is that it makes an Remote call to Mixer with the authenticated REMOTE_USER name.

What is telling is that, in Istio, you have

      user: source.user | ""
      groups: ""
         service: source.service | ""
         namespace: source.namespace | ""

Groups no roles. Kubernetes has RBAC, and Roles, but it is a late addition to the model. However…

Istio RBAC introduces ServiceRole and ServiceRoleBinding, both of which are defined as Kubernetes CustomResourceDefinition (CRD) objects.

ServiceRole defines a role for access to services in the mesh.
ServiceRoleBinding grants a role to subjects (e.g., a user, a group, a service)

This is interesting. Where-as Keystone requires a user to go to Keystone to get a token that is then associated with a a set of role assignments, Istio expands this assignment inside the service.

Keystone Aside: Query Auth Data without Tokens

This is actually not surprising. When looking into Keystone Middleware years ago, in the context of PKI tokens, I realized that we could do exactly the same thing; make a call to Keystone based on the identity, and look up all of the data associated with the token. This means that a user can go from a SAML provider right to the service without first getting a Keystone token.

What this means is that the Mixer can respond return the Roles assigned by Kubernetes as additional parameters in the “Properties” collection. However, with the ServiceRole, you would instead get the Service Role Binding list from Mixer and apply it in process.

We discussed Service Roles on multiple occasions in Keystone. I liked the idea, but wanted to make sure that we didn’t limit the assignments, or even the definitions, to just a service. I could see specific Endpoints varying in their roles even within the same service, and certainly have different Service Role Assignments. I’m not certain if Istio distinguishes between “services” and “different endpoints of the same service” yet…something I need to delve in to. However, assuming that it does distinguish, what Istio needs to be able to get request is “Give me the set of Role bindings for this specific endpoint.”

A history lesson in Endpoint Ids.

It was this last step that was a problem in Keystonemiddleware. An endpoint did not know its own ID, and the provisioning tools really did not like the workflow of

  1. create an endpoint for a service
  2. register endpoint with Keystone
  3. get back the endpoint ID
  4. add endpoint  ID to the config file
  5. restart the service

Even if we went with an URL based scheme, we would have had this problem.  An obvious (in hindsight) solution would be to pre-generate the Ids as a unique hash, and to pre-populate the configuration files as well as to post the IDs to Keystone.  These IDs could easily be tagged as a nickname, not even the canonical name of the service.

Istio Initialization

Istio does no have this problem, directly, as it knows the name of the service that it is protecting, and can use that to fetch the correct rules.  However, it does point to a chicken-egg problem that Istio has to solve; which is created first, the service itself, or the abstraction in Istio to cover it?  Since Kubernetes is going to orchestrate the Service deployment, it can make the sensible call;  Istio can cover the service and just reject calls until it is properly configured.

URL Matching Rules

If we look at the Policy enforcement in Nova, we can use the latest “Policy in Code” mechanisms to link from the URL pattern to the Policy rule key, and the key to the actual enforced policy.  For example, to delete a server we can look up the API

And see that it is

/servers/<span class="path_parameter">{server_id}</span>

And from the Nova source code:

        SERVERS % 'delete',
        "Delete a server",
                'method': 'DELETE',
                'path': '/servers/{server_id}'
With <strong>SERVERS %</strong>  expanding via :  <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">SERVERS = 'os_compute_api:servers:%s'</a>  to  <strong>os_compute_api:servers:delete</strong>.
<h1>Digging into Openstack Policy</h1>
Then, assuming you can get you hand on the policy file specific to that Nova server you could look at the policy for that rule.  <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Nova no longer includes that generated file in the etc directory</a>.  But in my local repo I have:
<pre lang="python">
"os_compute_api:servers:delete": "rule:admin_or_owner"

And the rule:admin_or_owner expanding to “admin_or_owner”: “is_admin:True or project_id:%(project_id)s” which does not do a role check at all. The policy.yaml or policy.json file is not guaranteed to exist, in which case you can either use the tool to generate it, or read the source code. From the above link we see the Rule is:


and then we need to look where that is defined.

Lets assume, for the moment, that a Nova deployment has overridden the main rule to implement a custom role called Custodian which has the ability to execute this API. Could Istio match that? It really depends on whether it can match the URL-Pattern: ‘/servers/{server_id}’.

In ServiceRole, the combination of “namespace”+”services”+”paths”+”methods” defines “how a service (services) is allowed to be accessed”.

So we can match down to the Path level. However, there seems to be no way to tokenize a Path. Thus, while you could set a rule that says a client can call DELETE on a specific instance, or DELETE on /services, or even DELETE on all URLS in the catalog (whether they support that API or not) you could not say that it could call delete on all services within a specific Namespace. If the URL were defined like this:

DELETE /services?service_id={someuuid}

Istio would be able to match the service ID in the set of keys.

In order for Istio to be able to effectively match, all it really would need would be to identify that an URL that ends /services/feed1234 Matches the pattern /services/{service_id} which is all that the URL pattern matching inside the Web servers do.

Istio matching

It looks like paths can have wildcards. Scroll down a bit to the quote:

In addition, we support prefix match and suffix match for all the fields in a rule. For example, you can define a “tester” role that has the following permissions in “default” namespace:

which has the further example:

    - services: ["bookstore.default.svc.cluster.local"]
       paths: ["*/reviews"]
       methods: ["GET"]

Deep URL matching

So, while this is a good start, there are many more complicated URLs in the OpenStack world which are tokenized in the middle: for example, the new API for System role assignments has both the Role ID and the User ID embedded. The Istio match would be limited to matching: PUT /v3/system/users/* which might be OK in this case. But there are cases where a PUT at one level means one role, much more powerful than a PUT deeper in the URL chain.

For example: The base role assignments API itself is much more complex. To assign a role on a domain uses an URL fragment comparable to that to edit the domain specific configuration file. Both would have to be matched with

       paths: ["/v3/domains/*"]
       methods: ["PUT"]

But assigning a role is a far safer operation than setting a domain specific config, which is really an administrative only operation.

However, I had to dig deeply to find this conflict. I suspect that there are ways around it, and comparable conflicts in the catalog.


So, the tentative answer to my question is:

Yes, Istio could perform the Role check part of RBAC for OpenStack.

But it would take some work. Of Course. An early step would be to write a Mixer plugin to fetch the auth-data from Keystone based on a user. This would require knowing about Federated mappings and how to expand them, plus query the Role assignments. Of, and get the list of Groups for a user. And the project ID needs to be communicated, somehow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.