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Service Account signing key retrieval

Table of Contents

Release Signoff Checklist

ACTION REQUIRED: In order to merge code into a release, there must be an issue in kubernetes/enhancements referencing this KEP and targeting a release milestone before Enhancement Freeze of the targeted release.

For enhancements that make changes to code or processes/procedures in core Kubernetes i.e., kubernetes/kubernetes, we require the following Release Signoff checklist to be completed.

Check these off as they are completed for the Release Team to track. These checklist items must be updated for the enhancement to be released.

  • kubernetes/enhancements issue in release milestone, which links to KEP (this should be a link to the KEP location in kubernetes/enhancements, not the initial KEP PR)
  • KEP approvers have set the KEP status to implementable
  • Design details are appropriately documented
  • Test plan is in place, giving consideration to SIG Architecture and SIG Testing input
  • Graduation criteria is in place
  • "Implementation History" section is up-to-date for milestone
  • User-facing documentation has been created in kubernetes/website, for publication to
  • Supporting documentation e.g., additional design documents, links to mailing list discussions/SIG meetings, relevant PRs/issues, release notes

Note: Any PRs to move a KEP to implementable or significant changes once it is marked implementable should be approved by each of the KEP approvers. If any of those approvers is no longer appropriate than changes to that list should be approved by the remaining approvers and/or the owning SIG (or SIG-arch for cross cutting KEPs).

Note: This checklist is iterative and should be reviewed and updated every time this enhancement is being considered for a milestone.


The Kubernetes API server generates (signs) JSON Web Tokens that are meant to authenticate Kubernetes service accounts (KSA). The API server can indeed authenticate these tokens, but in general, no other system can: there is no standard way to get the public portion of the keypair used to sign KSA tokens. Systems ("relying parties") that want to authenticate KSA tokens must either send them back to the API server (via TokenReview) or use some provider-specific method to get the authentication key.

If a relying party could obtain trusted metadata about the service account token provider, in particular the issuer (iss) value and the public key(s) used, then the relying party could authenticate tokens without putting proportionate load on the API server. This would allow KSA tokens to be used as a general authentication mechanism, including to services outside the cluster or in other clusters.

OpenID Connect defines a discovery mechanism that, given an issuer URL, allows a client to discover the rest of the issuer metadata, including the key set. Providing an OIDC-compatible discovery document would allow flexibility in how relying parties authenticate KSA tokens; they can use existing OIDC authenticators in their language/framework of choice, without Kuberentes-specific or provider-specific logic.


Kubernetes workloads can consume a variety of services from a variety of producers. They have a native identity (KSA), presented in a widely-compatible format (JWT); but only an API server can authenticate the KSA token, since only the API server has access to the public key verifying the signature. If services want to authenticate workloads using KSAs, today, the API server must serve every authentication request (i.e. TokenReview).

When authenticating across clusters, i.e. from within a cluster to somewhere else, credential management must use a separate system. Someone has to provision an identity; provision credentials; grant the workload access to the credentials; and consider:

  • Did I delete ephemeral traces of the credential (e.g. files on my local disk)?
  • How securely is the credential stored? Is the storage system hardened? Are the ACLs restricted?
  • How much damage can be caused by an exploit of the workload? Could that compromise a credential with an extended validity period?
  • How often do the keys expire? How often do I rotate them?

If services (other than the API server) could authenticate KSA tokens directly:

  • The API server wouldn't have to scale with the data-plane (i.e. authentication) load.
  • Workloads could use native credentials to authenticate to services outside of the cluster.


  • Allow (authorized) systems to discover the information they need to authenticate KSA tokens.
  • Attempt compatibility with OIDC: common libraries that authenticate OIDC tokens should be able to authenticate KSA tokens.
  • Support authentication when the API server is not directly reachable by the relying party.
    • e.g.: a cloud-based service authenticating an API server that doesn't have a public Internet address.

Note that the API server has a very different flow from OIDC with respect to generating tokens. As such, our goal is OIDC compatibility.


Our goal is not OIDC compliance.

We aren't trying to make the KSA token process fully compliant with OIDC specifications. OIDC includes flows for token acquisition, token exchange, getting user data out of tokens, etc. But we are primarily interested in the parts relevant to relying parties, i.e. token authentication. We don't need to do something REQUIRED just because the spec says REQUIRED; but we may need to do it if relying parties expect that field. This may mean that our implementation doesn't fully comply with the spec; e.g. we might skip token_endpoint in the discovery document, even without supporting the Implicit Flow. Ensuring compatibility with existing implementations, for example that libraries can validate tokens without erroring out during the discovery fetch/parse, is critical, and is part of the Alpha to Beta graduation criteria. If we determine that it is impossible to broadly meet our compatibility goals with the current design, then we will revisit serving a complete discovery doc with placeholder values.

We will not define new cryptographic or authentication protocols, or change the format of KSA tokens, how they're generated, or how they're issued.


A non-resource API will be added to the apiserver that will expose an OIDC discovery- compatible document. This document will reflect the issuer value and provide some additional information about the tokens issued.

In addition, the API server will serve a JWKS consisting of the public keys from --service-account-key-file and --service-account-signing-key, i.e. all the public keys used for valid KSA tokens. The OIDC discovery document will point to the JWKS path as the jwks_uri.

Finally, it will be possible for users to override the jwks_uri via a new --service-account-jwks-uri flag. We do attempt to construct a default JWKS URI from the API server's external address, but without this additional option, it isn't possible to correctly configure the server in some cases. For example, even given an issuer URL, we don't necessarily know the JWKS path, because it is not part of the specification and the issuer URL may not point directly to an API server (the user may choose an alternative issuer URL if their cluster does not serve on the public internet, as long as the cluster is configured to use that URL for issuer claims).

For example, if the API server is configured with the --service-account-issuer value, which is also the API server root, and --service-account-jwks-uri value (the cluster serves the JWKS at the /openid/v1/jwks path by default), the API server could expose the following configuration. Note that if the JWKS URI overide is not provided, the API server will report it as relative to its external address. For example: Note also this example intentionally omits the authorization_endpoint field, as it is not necessary for token verification flows.

  "issuer": "",
  "jwks_uri": "",
  "response_types_supported": [
  "subject_types_supported": [
  "id_token_signing_alg_values_supported": [
> GET /openid/v1/jwks
  "keys": [
      "kty": "RSA",
      "alg": "RS256",
      "use": "sig",
      "kid": "ccab4acb107920dc284c96c6205b313270672039",
      "n": "wWGfvdCEjJJy7CQpGcTq6GghmqWLi9H4SNHNTtFMfIDPsv-aWj1e_iSO22505BlC9UcL9LvlSyVH8HmQUy5916YNqxCbhPFPabBAv0a-CpVuzbbyhpDNP3RkRIJgxlzPDh_dB11cbPTQ3yz0A0JARX3QNZfIQ8LFiZ1vh0iZAIm-I3eZeI4QZigImNDviZstSoHB2Ny1tsRmpZn-neYZCxYq717buFctnCVvot4iCwcQpeaGdniqYNDxzN4KlQwwDeCVJm-K0rG9nkiqZ_rq8SgCxi_l7NyF2ZURNTTzZyDwYfBR7jZUhbmjxIDoDZalsa1Tzzy1vzqBfxkFD5Z03w",
      "e": "AQAB"
      "kty": "RSA",
      "alg": "RS256",
      "use": "sig",
      "kid": "8770f6158b125040b98e50a1e0e6790ff2f9ea09",
      "n": "vpgsIIPqDO3A3dEuRCIZvQinyfME0BjH_RbeyLAAvrQx-Sv08ryFPjplqxm5t9mC0yULrhOmaIZCVfIuYn5n_dOblZNhpIpoy89bP0qNwV7gxsNv-0Tdu9nj4ymxeoaby6SFiv_c8P2JZ0CSqif_qXgj-o0TqU20FEv1hkizzQWDzFsKZ__IABAkdKfpGqQTOBTylFG9HFLV1tdh9AAdhVRf40982rksaOSDWvN_sfxiz6midGPgG0OOnMnwKAW-3BBNNd_uUrD9baSXZPFA8zo9dlkhQhfrFgg_U6ke4M5DPyFiPKOVitBzpL1Kth_patVZvnBGXtq2frbReF-6pw",
      "e": "AQAB"
      "kty": "RSA",
      "alg": "RS256",
      "use": "sig",
      "kid": "68241231bbf0df8f9123d018cf9e601e2aa3673a",
      "n": "rHozcxeim9flTWQxqC1ObpGP0EjpkUHVHpHNX8WGHHnMcVi63_9PaHn2cJeFuPF9qkI1dMPXeoX0m33N0tgM9-KOSmTg1oGbyJGoUYMFI-A7tdxoobb91LGjeNWJC0la0gLOGPcQ6zQLEU5RGftCZT0wElxMuwEH7FZoVBn5i8Ddvc2ADd4bFW0f_FckwFYN1rIU1uLf6coku_1xBfae3b_JiBq38QOGXPdPgxfPzmJEvIz_LB2WOIcwhl97DY32BQU7l_lNLYz6wMg9HeCKolypPIFEGNxLj1TcuOhwP5-BnSja-PvrB-1FN1JyzlL3nh__uJv8SoKPn0CoBPueWw",
      "e": "AQAB"

The API server would treat these as nonResourceURLs, and restrict access appropriately. We will provide a default RBAC ClusterRole called service-account-issuer-discovery that provides GET access to these nonResourceURLs. To make it easy for in-cluster workloads (via their service accounts) to consume this info, we will also provide a default ClusterRoleBinding that binds this role to all service accounts (via the system:serviceaccounts group).

Users with certain forms of write access (create pods, create secrets, create service accounts, etc) can gain access to a service account identity which would allow them to access this information. This includes the issuer URL, which is already present in the SA token JWT. Similarly, SAs can already gain this same info via introspection of their own token. Since this discovery endpoint points to what issued all service account tokens, it seems fitting for SAs to have this access.

Even though this information is not sensitive, we will not provide a default binding to all authenticated and/or unauthenticated users. Such a binding requires further discussion, including ongoing efforts to harden the unauthenticated API surface area. This leaves the decision of completely exposing these endpoints up to cluster admins.

Risks and Mitigations

  • Security is being reviewed by @mikedanese and @liggitt.
  • This feature exposes public key information that is derived from sensitive private keys. It is important that code reviewers pay careful attention to the construction of the keysets so that sensitive private keys are not exposed.
  • This proposal allows Kubernetes identities to be federated into other systems, and creates a dependency on the Kubernetes API server to verify these identities. This means that if the API server is down, and verification keys are not cached by relying parties or an intermediary, workloads may fail to authenticate with their dependencies. This can be mitigated by running a high availability configuration, or by caching discovery docs and keysets in a reliable intermediate location.

Design Details

Test Plan

This feature includes unit, integration, and E2E tests:

  • Unit tests in pkg/serviceaccount to test that the server code constructs OIDC responses in the correct format.
  • Integration tests in test/integration/auth/svcacct_test.go to attempt a token verification based on the OIDC flow against an API server, and also to verify the expected headers on the responses.
  • An E2E test that exercises the full stack by mounting a new-style Kubernetes service-account token on a Pod which then attempts to verify its token by calling into a third-party library implementation of the OIDC flow ( This helps confirm compatibility with third-party implementations.

Graduation Criteria

This feature does not expose a new K8s style API resource object. Instead, it provides endpoints for the subset of the OIDC 1.0 spec specified above. As such, it doesn't quite match up with the API doc definition of versioning. However, we can still treat graduation in terms of Maturity levels (alpha, beta, stable).

  • Zero State to Alpha:
    • KEP is implemented behind a feature gate.
    • Unit, integration, and E2E tests exist, though some tests (e.g. E2E) won't automatically run in release-blocking suites.
    • There must be a test that ensures no private keys are emitted via the JWKS endpoint.
  • Alpha to Beta:
    • Any fixes or API changes from the Alpha experience are implemented.
    • The feature has been confirmed compatible with several independent relying parties by federating K8s identities with multiple top cloud providers and ensuring that the most popular OIDC libraries used by relying parties are compatible.
    • Test failures are release blocking.
  • Beta to Stable:
    • Cluster conformance tests for this feature exist.

Production Readiness Review Questionnaire

Feature Enablement and Rollback

This section must be completed when targeting alpha to a release.

  • How can this feature be enabled / disabled in a live cluster?

    No. This feature is always enabled (post-GA). Pre-GA it was possible to disable with the feature gate.

    • Feature gate (also fill in values in kep.yaml)
      • Feature gate name: ServiceAccountIssuerDiscovery
      • Components depending on the feature gate: kube-apiserver
      • Note: This feature is targeted to GA in 1.21, at which point feature gates lock to enabled. This means it will not be possible to disable after the current dev cycle.
  • Does enabling the feature change any default behavior? No. It adds an entirely new non-resource-url that can be used to discover metadata related to the cluster's service account issuer.

  • Can the feature be disabled once it has been enabled (i.e. can we roll back the enablement)?

    No. This feature is always enabled post-GA. The only way to roll back is to return to an older K8s version.

    Describe the consequences on existing workloads (e.g., if this is a runtime feature, can it break the existing applications?).

    Existing applications would have to take a dependency on this feature to be broken by it. Thus, enabling the feature for the first time is not a risk to existing applications, but disabling it later could be.

  • What happens if we reenable the feature if it was previously rolled back?

    The feature should continue to work just fine.

  • Are there any tests for feature enablement/disablement?


Rollout, Upgrade and Rollback Planning

This section must be completed when targeting beta graduation to a release.

  • How can a rollout fail? Can it impact already running workloads? Enablement shouldn't affect any existing workloads. If we broke the feature in the future, we would possibly see failures of workloads to authenticate to Relying Parties outside the cluster, but in-cluster workload to kube-apiserver authentication would still work, since it doesn't rely on this path.

  • What specific metrics should inform a rollback? N/A

  • Were upgrade and rollback tested? Was the upgrade->downgrade->upgrade path tested? The standard upgrade tests would have covered this between alpha and beta, when the feature was enabled by default.

  • Is the rollout accompanied by any deprecations and/or removals of features, APIs, fields of API types, flags, etc.?


Monitoring Requirements

This section must be completed when targeting beta graduation to a release.

  • How can an operator determine if the feature is in use by workloads? Ideally, there would just be usage metrics for all API server endpoints. Since we don't currently have that, the next best option would be to examine API server logs.

  • What are the SLIs (Service Level Indicators) an operator can use to determine the health of the service?

    • Other (treat as last resort)
      • Details: API server logs, or ability of workloads to authenticate to Relying Parties.
  • What are the reasonable SLOs (Service Level Objectives) for the above SLIs? We expect the endpoints to maintain high reliability, with reliability matching that of kube-apiserver.

  • Are there any missing metrics that would be useful to have to improve observability of this feature? It would be nice to have usage metrics for this endpoint. We haven't added them so far because non-resource URLs don't have them by default. This could be worth solving in general but a general solution is out of scope for this KEP.


This section must be completed when targeting beta graduation to a release.

  • Does this feature depend on any specific services running in the cluster? It only depends on kube-apiserver being up. If, for example, the issuer is configured as https://kubernetes.default.svc, then the corresponding Service needs to exist in the cluster as well.


For alpha, this section is encouraged: reviewers should consider these questions and attempt to answer them.

For beta, this section is required: reviewers must answer these questions.

For GA, this section is required: approvers should be able to confirm the previous answers based on experience in the field.

  • Will enabling / using this feature result in any new API calls? Yes.

    • GET ${API_SERVER}/.well-known/openid-configuration
    • GET ${API_SERVER}/openid/v1/jwks
    • Note each endpoint serves a response that is pre-rendered when kube-apiserver starts up.
    • Originating components: Could be arbitrary. For example:
      • A cluster installer reads these once when configuring identity federation with a cloud provider (Low throughput).
      • In-cluster components use this to perform an OIDC discovery flow to validate tokens (Medium to High throughput). Note TokenReview is the preferred approach in this case.
      • A cluster admin adds additional RBAC to make these endpoints public, and points Relying Parties directly at these endpoints (High throughput, though RPs should do some caching instead of making calls on every token validation).
  • Will enabling / using this feature result in introducing new API types? No new types, just two new non-resource URLs that implement this KEP, as described above. There is no new state stored in etcd.

  • Will enabling / using this feature result in any new calls to the cloud provider? No.

  • Will enabling / using this feature result in increasing size or count of the existing API objects? No.

  • Will enabling / using this feature result in increasing time taken by any operations covered by existing SLIs/SLOs? No.

  • Will enabling / using this feature result in non-negligible increase of resource usage (CPU, RAM, disk, IO, ...) in any components? This isn't expected, given it's just copying a pre-rendered string into the response.


The Troubleshooting section currently serves the Playbook role. We may consider splitting it into a dedicated Playbook document (potentially with some monitoring details). For now, we leave it here.

This section must be completed when targeting beta graduation to a release.

  • How does this feature react if the API server and/or etcd is unavailable? If kube-apiserver is unavailable, this feature is also unavailable. This feature is not affected by etcd availability.

  • What are other known failure modes? N/A

  • What steps should be taken if SLOs are not being met to determine the problem?

  • Examine the responses from the above endpoints.
  • Examine kube-apiserver logs.
  • Examine kube-apiserver configuration related to this KEP.

Implementation History

  • 2018-06-26: Proposed in kubernetes/community#2314
  • 2018, 2019: Various comments on pull request
  • 2019-07-30: Moved to a KEP (with no edits from the original proposal)
  • 2019-08-05: Updated KEP with more details.
  • 2019-10-18: Updated KEP with more RBAC details.
  • 2020-01-25: Updated KEP and marked as implementable.
  • 2021-01-28: Added PRR questionaire.