What are the steps to secure a Kubernetes cluster using Pod Security Policies?

12 June 2024

As Kubernetes continues to dominate the container orchestration landscape, securing your Kubernetes cluster has never been more crucial. Using Pod Security Policies (PSPs) is one effective method to ensure that only trusted and secure pods are deployed in a Kubernetes cluster. This guide will walk you through the necessary steps to secure your Kubernetes environment using Pod Security Policies.

Pod Security Policies are a key security feature in Kubernetes designed to control pod creation and updates. PSPs allow administrators to set rules and policies that govern how pods can run, including what capabilities they have and what resources they can access. By enforcing these policies, you can prevent the deployment of potentially risky containers and mitigate security vulnerabilities.

When we talk about securing a Kubernetes cluster, it's essential to understand the core elements: containers, pods, security contexts, and admission controllers. PSPs fall under the category of admission controllers, which evaluate requests to create or update resources against a set of predefined rules.

Understanding the Role of Admission Controllers in Kubernetes Security

Admission controllers are crucial components in the Kubernetes API server that intercept requests to create or modify resources, ensuring they comply with the security policies set by cluster administrators. These controllers can either allow or deny a request based on rules defined in the Pod Security Policies.

In the context of cloud security and Kubernetes security, admission controllers play a significant role. They enforce security standards and help maintain a secure environment by only permitting the deployment of pods that meet the predefined security criteria. This is where Pod Security Policies come into play. By using PSPs, we define the security settings and constraints of the cluster, ensuring all pods adhere to these standards.

Moreover, admission controllers like PSPs can prevent the use of privileged containers and the rule runasany, which can pose significant security risks if not managed correctly. They also help enforce namespace and RBAC authorization controls, ensuring that only authorized users can deploy or modify resources within the cluster.

Creating and Applying Pod Security Policies

Pod Security Policies are defined in YAML files, where you specify various security configurations and constraints for the pods. These policies are then applied to the cluster, and the admission controller uses them to evaluate requests. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating and applying Pod Security Policies:

1. Define the Pod Security Policy

Start by defining a Pod Security Policy in a YAML file. This file will include various specifications (spec) like allowed and disallowed capabilities, volume types, and whether the pod can run as a privileged container.

apiVersion: policy/v1beta1
kind: PodSecurityPolicy
  name: example-psp
  privileged: false
    rule: 'MustRunAsNonRoot'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    rule: 'RunAsAny'
    - 'configMap'
    - 'emptyDir'
    - 'persistentVolumeClaim'
    - 'secret'

2. Apply the Pod Security Policy

Once the policy is defined, apply it to your Kubernetes cluster using kubectl:

kubectl apply -f example-psp.yaml

3. Configure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

To enforce the Pod Security Policy, you need to configure RBAC authorization. Create a role that grants access to the PSP and bind it to the necessary users or service accounts.

apiVersion: rbac.authorization.k8s.io/v1
kind: Role
  name: psp-role
  - apiGroups: ['policy']
    resources: ['podsecuritypolicies']
    verbs: ['use']

Then bind the role:

apiVersion: rbac.authorization.k8s.io/v1
kind: RoleBinding
  name: psp-role-binding
  apiGroup: rbac.authorization.k8s.io
  kind: Role
  name: psp-role
  - kind: ServiceAccount
    name: default
    namespace: default

4. Enable the Pod Security Policy Admission Controller

Finally, ensure that the Pod Security Policy admission controller is enabled in the Kubernetes API server. This step may vary depending on how your cluster is set up (e.g., managed Kubernetes services like Red Hat OpenShift or self-managed clusters).

Best Practices for Implementing Pod Security Policies

Implementing Pod Security Policies effectively requires following certain best practices to enhance your Kubernetes cluster's security. Here are some recommendations:

Minimize Privileged Containers

Avoid running privileged containers unless absolutely necessary. Privileged containers have elevated permissions and can pose significant security risks if compromised. Use PSPs to enforce that only non-privileged containers are deployed.

Restrict Capabilities

Containers should only possess the minimum capabilities required to function. Use PSPs to restrict unnecessary capabilities, mitigating potential attack vectors.

Enforce Non-Root Users

Ensure that containers do not run as the root user. Configure PSPs to enforce the MustRunAsNonRoot rule, preventing pods from running with root privileges.

Utilize Namespaces for Isolation

Use namespaces to logically separate and isolate workloads within your Kubernetes cluster. Apply different PSPs to different namespaces to enforce varying security requirements based on the sensitivity of the workloads.

Regularly Review and Update Policies

Security is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your Pod Security Policies to address new vulnerabilities and adapt to changing security requirements. Stay informed about the latest security standards and best practices in the cloud native ecosystem.

Real-World Examples and Use Cases

Implementing Pod Security Policies can significantly enhance the security of your Kubernetes cluster. Here are some real-world examples and use cases to illustrate their impact:

Financial Services

In the financial sector, security and compliance are paramount. Organizations can use Pod Security Policies to enforce strict controls on container configurations, ensuring that sensitive data is protected and regulatory requirements are met.


Healthcare organizations handle sensitive patient data that must be secured. PSPs can help enforce policies that prevent unauthorized access and ensure containers run with the least privileges necessary, protecting patient information.


E-commerce platforms often face high traffic and potential threats. PSPs can enhance security by preventing the deployment of insecure containers and ensuring that the platform remains resilient against attacks.

Securing a Kubernetes cluster using Pod Security Policies is a critical step in safeguarding your cloud-native environment. By defining and enforcing security policies at the pod level, you can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches and ensure that only trusted and compliant containers are deployed.

Pod Security Policies serve as a robust mechanism to control pod behavior, enforce security contexts, and prevent the use of risky configurations like privileged containers or the rule runasany. Through the effective use of admission controllers and RBAC authorization, PSPs help maintain a secure and compliant Kubernetes environment.

In summary, securing your Kubernetes cluster with Pod Security Policies involves defining the policies, applying them, configuring RBAC, and continually reviewing and updating them. By following best practices and leveraging the capabilities of PSPs, you can protect your Kubernetes infrastructure and run your workloads securely in the cloud.

With the steps and best practices outlined in this guide, you're well on your way to enhancing the security of your Kubernetes cluster using Pod Security Policies. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and keep your Kubernetes environment secure.

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