AKS Managed Pod Identity and access to Azure Storage

When you need to access Azure Storage (or other Azure resources) from a container in AKS (Kubernetes on Azure), you have many options. You can put credentials in your code (nooooo!), pass credentials via environment variables, use Kubernetes secrets, obtain secrets from Key Vault and so on. Usually, the credentials are keys but you can also connect to a Storage Account with an Azure AD account. Instead of a regular account, you can use a managed identity that you set up specifically for the purpose of accessing the storage account or a specific container.

A managed identity is created as an Azure resource and will appear in the resource group where it was created:

User assigned managed identity

This managed identity can be created from the Azure Portal but also with the Azure CLI:

az identity create -g storage-aad-rg -n demo-pod-id -o json 

The managed identity can subsequently be granted access rights, for instance, on a storage account. Storage accounts now also support Azure AD accounts (in preview). You can assign roles such as Blob Data Reader, Blob Data Contributor and Blob Data Owner. The screenshot below shows the managed identity getting the Blob Data Reader role on the entire storage account:

Granting the managed identity access to a storage account

When you want to use this specific identity from a Kubernetes pod, you can use the aad-pod-identity project. Note that this is an open source project and that it is not quite finished. The project’s README contains all the instructions you need but here are the highlights:

  • Deploy the infrastructure required to support managed identities in pods; these are the MIC and NMI containers plus some custom resource definitions (CRDs)
  • Assign the AKS service principle the role of Managed Identity Operator over the scope of the managed identity created above (you would use the resource id of the managed identity in the scope such as  /subscriptions/YOURSUBID/resourcegroups/YOURRESOURCEGROUP/providers/Microsoft.ManagedIdentity/userAssignedIdentities/YOURMANAGEDIDENTITY
  • Define the pod identity via the AzureIdentity custom resource definition (CRD); in the YAML file you will refer to the managed identity by its resource id (/subscr…) and client id
  • Define the identity binding via the AzureIdentityBinding custom resource definition (CRD); in the YAML file you will setup a selector that you will use later in a pod definition to associate the managed identity with the pod; I defined a selector called myapp

Here is the identity definition (uses one of the CRDs defined earlier):

apiVersion: "aadpodidentity.k8s.io/v1"
kind: AzureIdentity
metadata:
name: aks-pod-id
spec:
type: 0
ResourceID: /subscriptions/SUBID/resourcegroups/RESOURCEGROUP/providers/Microsoft.ManagedIdentity/userAssignedIdentities/demo-pod-id
ClientID: c35040d0-f73c-4c4e-a376-9bb1c5532fda

And here is the binding that defines the selector (other CRD defined earlier):

apiVersion: "aadpodidentity.k8s.io/v1"
kind: AzureIdentityBinding
metadata:
name: aad-identity-binding
spec:
AzureIdentity: aks-pod-id
Selector: myapp

Note that the installation of the infrastructure containers depends on RBAC being enabled or not. To check if RBAC is enabled on your AKS cluster, you can use https://resources.azure.com and search for your cluster. Check for the enableRBAC. In my cluster, RBAC was enabled:

Yep, RBAC enabled so make sure you use the RBAC YAML files

With everything configured, we can spin up a container with a label that matches the selector defined earlier:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
name: ubuntu
labels:
aadpodidbinding: myapp
spec:
containers:
name: ubuntu
image: ubuntu:latest
command: [ "/bin/bash", "-c", "--"]
args: [ "while true; do sleep 30; done;"]

Save the above to a file called ubuntu.yaml and use kubectl apply -f ubuntu.yaml to launch the pod. The pod will keep running because of the forever while loop. The pod can use the managed identity because of the aadpodidbinding label of myapp. Next, get a shell to the container:

kubectl exec -it ubuntu /bin/bash

To check if it works, we have to know how to obtain an access token (which is a JWT or JSON Web Token). We can obtain it via curl. First use apt-get update and then use apt-get install curl to install it. Then issue the following command to obtain a token for https://azure.storage.com:

curl 'http://169.254.169.254/metadata/identity/oauth2/token?api-version=2018-02-01&resource=https%3A%2F%2Fstorage.azure.com%2F' -H Metadata:true -s

TIP: if you are not very familiar with curl, use https://curlbuilder.com. As a precaution, do not paste your access token in the command builder.

The request to 169.254.169.254 goes to the Azure Instance Metadata Service which provides, among other things, an API to obtain a token. The result will be in the following form:

{"access_token":"THE ACTUAL ACCESS TOKEN","refresh_token":"", "expires_in":"28800","expires_on":"1549083688","not_before":"1549054588","resource":"https://storage.azure.com/","token_type":"Bearer"

Note that many of the SDKs that Microsoft provides, have support for managed identities baked in. That means that the SDK takes care of calling the Instance Metadata Service for you and presents you a token to use in subsequent calls to Azure APIs.

Now that you have the access token, you can use it in a request to the storage account, for instance to list containers:

curl -XGET -H 'Authorization: Bearer THE ACTUAL ACCESS TOKEN' -H 'x-ms-version: 2017-11-09' -H "Content-type: application/json" 'https://storageaadgeba.blob.core.windows.net/?comp=list 

The result of the call is some XML with the container names. I only had a container called test:

OMG… XML

Wrap up

You have seen how to bind an Azure managed identity to a Kubernetes pod running on AKS. The aad-pod-identity project provides the necessary infrastructure and resources to bind the identity to a pod using a label in its YAML file. From there, you can work with the managed identity as you would on a virtual machine, calling the Instance Metadata Service to obtain the token (a JWT). Once you have the token, you can include it in REST calls to the Azure APIs by adding an authorization header. In this post we have used the storage APIs as an example.

Note that Microsoft has AKS Pod Identity marked as in development on the updates site. I am not aware if this is based on the aad-pod-identity project but it does mean that the feature will become an official part of AKS pretty soon!

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