AWS Open Source Blog

Using Pod Security Policies with Amazon EKS Clusters

You asked for it and with Kubernetes 1.13 we have enabled it:  Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (EKS) now supports Pod Security Policies. In this post we will review what PSPs are, how to enable them in the Kubernetes control plane and how to use them, from both the cluster admin and the developer perspective.

What is a Pod Security Policy and why should I care?

As a cluster admin, you may have wondered how to enforce certain policies concerning runtime properties for pods in a cluster. For example, you may want to prevent developers from running a pod with containers that don’t define a user (hence, run as root). You may have documentation for developers about setting the security context in a pod specification, and developers may follow it … or they may choose not to. In any case, you need a mechanism to enforce such policies cluster-wide.

The solution is to use Pod Security Policies (PSP) as part of a defense-in-depth strategy.

As a quick reminder, a pod’s security context defines privileges and access control settings, such as discretionary access control (for example, access to a file based on a certain user ID), capabilities (for example, by defining an AppArmor profile), configuring SECCOMP (by filtering certain system calls), as well as allowing you to implement mandatory access control (through SELinux).

A PSP, on the other hand, is a cluster-wide resource, enabling you as a cluster admin to enforce the usage of security contexts in your cluster. The enforcement of PSPs is carried out by the API server’s admission controller. In a nutshell: if a pod spec doesn’t meet what you defined in a PSP, the API server will refuse to launch it. For PSPs to work, the respective admission plugin must be enabled, and permissions must be granted to users. An EKS 1.13 cluster now has the PSP admission plugin enabled by default, so there’s nothing EKS users need to do.

In general, you want to define PSPs according to the least-privilege principle: from enforcing rootless containers, to read-only root filesystems, to limitations on what can be mounted from the host (the EC2 instance the containers in a pod are running on).


A new EKS 1.13 cluster creates a default policy named eks.privileged that has no restriction on what kind of pod can be accepted into the system (equivalent to running the cluster with the PodSecurityPolicy controller disabled).

To check the existing pod security policies in your EKS cluster:

$ kubectl get psp
eks.privileged   true   *      RunAsAny   RunAsAny    RunAsAny   RunAsAny   false            *

Now, to describe the default policy we’ve defined for you:

$ kubectl describe psp eks.privileged

As you can see in the output below – anything goes! This policy is permissive to any sort of pod specification:

Name:  eks.privileged

  Allow Privileged:                       true
  Allow Privilege Escalation:             true
  Default Add Capabilities:               <none>
  Required Drop Capabilities:             <none>
  Allowed Capabilities:                   *
  Allowed Volume Types:                   *
  Allow Host Network:                     true
  Allow Host Ports:                       0-65535
  Allow Host PID:                         true
  Allow Host IPC:                         true
  Read Only Root Filesystem:              false
  SELinux Context Strategy: RunAsAny
    User:                                 <none>
    Role:                                 <none>
    Type:                                 <none>
    Level:                                <none>
  Run As User Strategy: RunAsAny
    Ranges:                               <none>
  FSGroup Strategy: RunAsAny
    Ranges:                               <none>
  Supplemental Groups Strategy: RunAsAny
    Ranges:                               <none>

Note that any authenticated users can create any pods on this EKS cluster as currently configured, and here’s the proof:

$ kubectl describe clusterrolebindings eks:podsecuritypolicy:authenticated

The  output of above command shows that the cluster role eks:podsecuritypolicy:privileged is assigned to any system:authenticated users:

Name:         eks:podsecuritypolicy:authenticated
Annotations: ...

  Kind:  ClusterRole
  Name:  eks:podsecuritypolicy:privileged
  Kind   Name                  Namespace
  ----   ----                  ---------
  Group  system:authenticated

Note that if multiple PSPs are available, the Kubernetes admission controller selects the first policy that validates successfully. Policies are ordered alphabetically by their name, and a policy that does not change pod is preferred over mutating policies.

Now let’s create a new PSP that we will call  eks.restrictive . First, create a dedicated namespace as well as a service account. We’ll use this service account for a non-admin user:

$ kubectl create ns psp-eks-restrictive
namespace/psp-eks-restrictive created

$ kubectl -n psp-eks-restrictive create sa eks-test-user
serviceaccount/eks-test-user created

$ kubectl -n psp-eks-restrictive create rolebinding eks-test-editor \
             --clusterrole=edit \
             --serviceaccount=psp-eks-restrictive:eks-test-user created

Next, create two aliases to highlight the difference between admin and non-admin users:

$ alias kubectl-admin='kubectl -n psp-eks-restrictive'
$ alias kubectl-dev='kubectl --as=system:serviceaccount:psp-eks-restrictive:eks-test-user -n psp-eks-restrictive'

Now, with the cluster admin role, create a policy that disallows creation of pods using host networking:

$ cat > /tmp/eks.restrictive-psp.yaml <<EOF
apiVersion: policy/v1beta1
kind: PodSecurityPolicy
  name: eks.restrictive
  hostNetwork: false
    rule: RunAsAny
    rule: RunAsAny
    rule: RunAsAny
    rule: RunAsAny
  - '*'

$ kubectl-admin apply -f /tmp/eks.restrictive-psp.yaml
podsecuritypolicy.policy/eks.restrictive created

Also, don’t forget to remove the default (permissive policy) eks.privileged :

$ kubectl delete psp eks.privileged
$ kubectl delete clusterrole eks:podsecuritypolicy:privileged
$ kubectl delete clusterrolebindings eks:podsecuritypolicy:authenticated

Deleting the default EKS policy before adding your own PSP can impair the cluster. When you delete the default policy, no pods can be created on the cluster, except those that meet the security context in your new namespace. For an existing cluster, be sure to create multiple restrictive policies that cover all of your running pods and namespaces before deleting the default policy

Now, to confirm that the policy has been created:

$ kubectl get psp
eks.restrictive   false          RunAsAny   RunAsAny    RunAsAny   RunAsAny   false            *

Finally, try creating a pod that violates the policy, as the unprivileged user (simulating a developer):

$ kubectl-dev apply -f- <<EOF
apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: busybox
    - name: busybox
      image: busybox
      command: [ "sh", "-c", "sleep 1h" ]

As you might expect, you get the following result:

Error from server (Forbidden): error when creating "STDIN": pods "busybox" is forbidden: unable to validate against any pod security policy: []

The above operation failed because we have not yet given the developer the appropriate permissions. In other words, there is no role binding for the developer user eks-test-user. So let’s change this by creating a role psp:unprivileged for the pod security policy eks.restrictive:

$ kubectl-admin create role psp:unprivileged \
  --verb=use \
  --resource=podsecuritypolicy \
  --resource-name=eks.restrictive created

Now, create the rolebinding to grant the eks-test-user the use verb on the eks.restrictive policy.

$ kubectl-admin create rolebinding eks-test-user:psp:unprivileged \
  --role=psp:unprivileged \
  --serviceaccount=psp-eks-restrictive:eks-test-user created

To  verify that eks-test-user can use the PSP eks.restrictive:

$ kubectl-dev auth can-i use podsecuritypolicy/eks.restrictive

At this point in time the developer eks.restrictive user should be able to create a pod:

$ kubectl-dev apply -f- <<EOF
apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: busybox
    - name: busybox
      image: busybox
      command: [ "sh", "-c", "sleep 1h" ]
pod/busybox created

Yay, that worked! However, we would expect that a host networking-based pod creation should be rejected, because of what we defined in our eks.restrictive PSP, above:

$ kubectl-dev apply -f- <<EOF
apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: privileged
  hostNetwork: true
    - name: busybox
      image: busybox
      command: [ "sh", "-c", "sleep 1h" ]

Error from server (Forbidden): error when creating "STDIN": pods "privileged" is forbidden: unable to validate against any pod security policy: [spec.securityContext.hostNetwork: Invalid value: true: Host network is not allowed to be used]

Great! This confirms that the PSP  eks.restrictive works as expected, restricting the privileged pod creation by the developer.

What’s new

For all new EKS clusters using Kubernetes version 1.13, PSPs are now available. For clusters that have been upgraded from previous versions, a fully-permissive PSP is automatically created during the upgrade process. Your main task is to define sensible PSPs that are scoped for your environment, and enable them as described above. By sensible, I mean that (for example) you may choose to be less restrictive in a dev/test environment compared to a production environment. Or, equally possible, different projects or teams might require different levels of protection and hence different PSPs.

Here’s a final tip: as a cluster admin, be sure to educate your developers about security contexts in general and PSPs in particular. Have your CI/CD pipeline testing PSP as part of your smoke tests, along with other security-related topics such as testing permissions defined via RBAC roles and bindings.

You can learn more about PSP in the Amazon EKS documentation. Please leave any comments below or reach out to me via Twitter!

— Michael

Michael Hausenblas

Michael Hausenblas

Michael works in the AWS open source observability service team where he is a Solution Engineering Lead and owns the AWS Distro for OpenTelemetry (ADOT) from the product side.