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Kubernetes / Security

Managing Access to All Your Clusters at Scale

A look at the common challenges of managing clusters at scale and best practices for securing kubectl access and authentication from anywhere.
Jun 7th, 2022 3:00am by
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Increasingly, Kubernetes is a key part of the enterprise tech stack, which comes with a need to secure and strengthen access.

Cliff Malmborg
Cliff  is senior product marketing manager at Rafay Systems, a dynamic product marketing leader with more than 15 years of experience. He is passionate about telling stories and bringing complex products to life and has a history of successful industry-disrupting, go-to-market launches.

For many organizations, it also comes with an explosion in the growth of clusters. More clusters don’t have to mean more problems, but adding capabilities often does mean more to secure and manage. Each cluster manages together multiple containerized applications running on nodes. This brings more abstraction and reduces DevOps complexity, but it has a side effect of creating more to manage.

Today’s access is largely managed by default, with clusters assuming trusted network communications as a given and user communications potentially accessing the Kubernetes API. As workloads grow, these approaches become much less practical and more prone to potential security issues.

Role-based access control (RBAC) isn’t provided by default with kubectl, and executed commands are not logged. Yet ops/platform teams can position the organization for further expansion, centralizing and securing kubectl for future growth.

This creates challenges for ops teams that can only be managed with a centralized platform — otherwise, configuration and management is an unscalable cluster-by-cluster process. This article outlines the common challenges of managing clusters at scale and best practices for securing kubectl access and authentication from anywhere.

Challenges of Managing Access to Clusters at Scale

Managing role-based access one cluster at a time is burdensome for ops teams. Authorization decisions that are controlled manually interfere with scalability and are more resource intensive for the entire organization. Here are some of the key factors that make securing clusters at scale challenging:

  • Access control of your fleet of clusters

Configuring access control for all of your clusters is a process spanning multiple operating environments, different clouds (EKS, AKS, etc.) and on-premises data centers operating behind firewalls.

Decentralized access control complicates cluster management and leads to each cluster being defined by separate rules. This, in turn, creates more work for ops teams and creates more errors. Nonstandard environments are much harder to manage as a fleet.

  • Taking advantage of kubectl

By default, Kubernetes security is largely cluster-by-cluster through the command line and is a complex, error-prone process. It’s hard to DIY your security management with kubectl for this reason.

It’s also difficult to access kubectl outside firewalls, limiting how and where you use it to manage your clusters. These challenges limit Kubernetes scalability by hindering efforts to strengthen Kubernetes security.

  • Ops skills and talent are necessary to establish and manage access control 

To properly configure and manage access control, clusters should be managed by teams with specialized ops skills and talent. This means organizations have to bridge the talent gap to maximize their investment in Kubernetes.

Since fleets of clusters have different requirements for access, ops teams should be able to effectively configure and manage clusters across different environments. They should also be prepared to repeat processes as needed. Operational and user productivity issues with SSH, Bastion, VPNs or namespace access control should be addressed effectively without impinging on cluster performance or security.

Secure kubectl Access and Authentication to Remote Clusters from Anywhere

In contrast with cluster-by-cluster management, there is a way to centralize access and authentication. Streamlining access provides ops teams with a means of configuring and managing clusters anywhere and in any environment.

By consolidating access, your team has identity-driven, single sign-on (SSO) secure access to kubectl. The ops team can easily manage user groups and provide them with their own access, simplifying authentication for developers, contractors and DevOps engineers.

Configure and consolidate kubectl access to remote clusters

With audit logging of all kubectl actions, you get improved visibility into how clusters are used. You can use these user-level audit logs to prevent rogue Kubernetes administration and verify security compliance throughout the fleet from a single pane of glass inside your management console.

Benefits of a Zero-Trust Access Service for Kubernetes

Rafay provides the flexibility and convenience of a centralized platform for managing multicluster access and authentication. With these automation, security, and governance capabilities, enterprises are better prepared to make the most of their Kubernetes deployments.

Seamlessly integrating with your Kubernetes environments, Rafay’s Zero-Trust Access Service for Kubernetes uses a browser-based virtual terminal to provide multicluster access and authentication. You can also use a consolidated kubeconfig file on a laptop with kubectl CLI. To learn more, try Rafay.

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