Kubernetes API Server Bypass Risks

Security architecture information relating to the API server and other components

The Kubernetes API server is the main point of entry to a cluster for external parties (users and services) interacting with it.

As part of this role, the API server has several key built-in security controls, such as audit logging and admission controllers. However, there are ways to modify the configuration or content of the cluster that bypass these controls.

This page describes the ways in which the security controls built into the Kubernetes API server can be bypassed, so that cluster operators and security architects can ensure that these bypasses are appropriately restricted.

Static Pods

The kubelet on each node loads and directly manages any manifests that are stored in a named directory or fetched from a specific URL as static Pods in your cluster. The API server doesn't manage these static Pods. An attacker with write access to this location could modify the configuration of static pods loaded from that source, or could introduce new static Pods.

Static Pods are restricted from accessing other objects in the Kubernetes API. For example, you can't configure a static Pod to mount a Secret from the cluster. However, these Pods can take other security sensitive actions, such as using hostPath mounts from the underlying node.

By default, the kubelet creates a mirror pod so that the static Pods are visible in the Kubernetes API. However, if the attacker uses an invalid namespace name when creating the Pod, it will not be visible in the Kubernetes API and can only be discovered by tooling that has access to the affected host(s).

If a static Pod fails admission control, the kubelet won't register the Pod with the API server. However, the Pod still runs on the node. For more information, refer to kubeadm issue #1541.


  • Only enable the kubelet static Pod manifest functionality if required by the node.
  • If a node uses the static Pod functionality, restrict filesystem access to the static Pod manifest directory or URL to users who need the access.
  • Restrict access to kubelet configuration parameters and files to prevent an attacker setting a static Pod path or URL.
  • Regularly audit and centrally report all access to directories or web storage locations that host static Pod manifests and kubelet configuration files.

The kubelet API

The kubelet provides an HTTP API that is typically exposed on TCP port 10250 on cluster worker nodes. The API might also be exposed on control plane nodes depending on the Kubernetes distribution in use. Direct access to the API allows for disclosure of information about the pods running on a node, the logs from those pods, and execution of commands in every container running on the node.

When Kubernetes cluster users have RBAC access to Node object sub-resources, that access serves as authorization to interact with the kubelet API. The exact access depends on which sub-resource access has been granted, as detailed in kubelet authorization.

Direct access to the kubelet API is not subject to admission control and is not logged by Kubernetes audit logging. An attacker with direct access to this API may be able to bypass controls that detect or prevent certain actions.

The kubelet API can be configured to authenticate requests in a number of ways. By default, the kubelet configuration allows anonymous access. Most Kubernetes providers change the default to use webhook and certificate authentication. This lets the control plane ensure that the caller is authorized to access the nodes API resource or sub-resources. The default anonymous access doesn't make this assertion with the control plane.


  • Restrict access to sub-resources of the nodes API object using mechanisms such as RBAC. Only grant this access when required, such as by monitoring services.
  • Restrict access to the kubelet port. Only allow specified and trusted IP address ranges to access the port.
  • Ensure that kubelet authentication. is set to webhook or certificate mode.
  • Ensure that the unauthenticated "read-only" Kubelet port is not enabled on the cluster.

The etcd API

Kubernetes clusters use etcd as a datastore. The etcd service listens on TCP port 2379. The only clients that need access are the Kubernetes API server and any backup tooling that you use. Direct access to this API allows for disclosure or modification of any data held in the cluster.

Access to the etcd API is typically managed by client certificate authentication. Any certificate issued by a certificate authority that etcd trusts allows full access to the data stored inside etcd.

Direct access to etcd is not subject to Kubernetes admission control and is not logged by Kubernetes audit logging. An attacker who has read access to the API server's etcd client certificate private key (or can create a new trusted client certificate) can gain cluster admin rights by accessing cluster secrets or modifying access rules. Even without elevating their Kubernetes RBAC privileges, an attacker who can modify etcd can retrieve any API object or create new workloads inside the cluster.

Many Kubernetes providers configure etcd to use mutual TLS (both client and server verify each other's certificate for authentication). There is no widely accepted implementation of authorization for the etcd API, although the feature exists. Since there is no authorization model, any certificate with client access to etcd can be used to gain full access to etcd. Typically, etcd client certificates that are only used for health checking can also grant full read and write access.


  • Ensure that the certificate authority trusted by etcd is used only for the purposes of authentication to that service.
  • Control access to the private key for the etcd server certificate, and to the API server's client certificate and key.
  • Consider restricting access to the etcd port at a network level, to only allow access from specified and trusted IP address ranges.

Container runtime socket

On each node in a Kubernetes cluster, access to interact with containers is controlled by the container runtime (or runtimes, if you have configured more than one). Typically, the container runtime exposes a Unix socket that the kubelet can access. An attacker with access to this socket can launch new containers or interact with running containers.

At the cluster level, the impact of this access depends on whether the containers that run on the compromised node have access to Secrets or other confidential data that an attacker could use to escalate privileges to other worker nodes or to control plane components.


  • Ensure that you tightly control filesystem access to container runtime sockets. When possible, restrict this access to the root user.
  • Isolate the kubelet from other components running on the node, using mechanisms such as Linux kernel namespaces.
  • Ensure that you restrict or forbid the use of hostPath mounts that include the container runtime socket, either directly or by mounting a parent directory. Also hostPath mounts must be set as read-only to mitigate risks of attackers bypassing directory restrictions.
  • Restrict user access to nodes, and especially restrict superuser access to nodes.
Last modified February 06, 2023 at 9:55 AM PST: Clean up api-server-bypass-risks.md (42e746a379)