As of version v0.3.1 RKE adds the support for managing secret data encryption at rest, which is supported by Kubernetes since version v1.13.

At-rest data encryption is required for:

  • Compliance requirements
  • Additional layer of security
  • Reduce security impact of etcd node compromise
  • Reduce security impact of etcd backups compromise
  • Ability to use external Key Management Systems

RKE provides users with two paths of configuration to enable at-rest data encryption:

  • Managed at-rest data encryption
  • Custom configuration for at-rest data encryption

Both configuration options can be added during initial cluster provisioning or by updating an existing cluster.

To utilize this feature, a new field secrets_encryption_config is added to the Kubernetes API service configuration. A full custom configuration looks like this:

      enabled: true
        kind: EncryptionConfiguration
        - resources:
          - secrets
          - aescbc:
              - name: k-fw5hn
                secret: RTczRjFDODMwQzAyMDVBREU4NDJBMUZFNDhCNzM5N0I=
          - identity: {}

Managed At-Rest Data Encryption

Enabling and disabling at-rest data encryption in Kubernetes is a relatively complex process that requires several steps to be performed by the Kubernetes cluster administrator. The managed configuration aims to reduce this overhead and provides a simple abstraction layer to manage the process.

Enable Encryption

Managed at-rest data encryption is disabled by default and can be enabled by using the following configuration:

      enabled: true

Once enabled, RKE will perform the following actions to enable at-rest data encryption:

  • Generate a new random 32-bit encryption key
  • Generate an encryption provider configuration file using the new key The default provider used is aescbc
  • Deploy the provider configuration file to all nodes with controlplane role
  • Update the kube-apiserver container arguments to point to the provider configuration file.
  • Restart the kube-apiserver container.

After the kube-api server is restarted, data encryption is enabled. However, all existing secrets are still stored in plain text. RKE will rewrite all secrets to ensure encryption is fully in effect.

Disable Encryption

To disable encryption, you can either set the enabled flag to false, or simply remove the secrets_encryption_config block entirely from cluster.yml.

      enabled: false

Once encryption is disabled in cluster.yml, RKE will perform the following actions to disable encryption in your cluster:

  • Generate a new provider configuration file with the no-encryption identity{} provider as the first provider, and the previous aescbc set in the second place. This will allow Kubernetes to use the first entry to write the secrets, and the second one to decrypt them.
  • Deploy the new provider configuration and restart kube-apiserver.
  • Rewrite all secrets. This is required because, at this point, new data will be written to disk in plain text, but the existing data is still encrypted using the old provider. By rewriting all secrets, RKE ensures that all stored data is decrypted.
  • Update kube-apiserver arguments to remove the encryption provider configuration and restart the kube-apiserver.
  • Remove the provider configuration file.

Key Rotation

Sometimes there is a need to rotate encryption config in your cluster. For example, the key is compromised. There are two ways to rotate the keys: with an RKE CLI command, or by disabling and re-enabling encryption in cluster.yml.

Rotating Keys with the RKE CLI

With managed configuration, RKE CLI has the ability to perform the key rotation process documented here with one command. To perform this operation, the following subcommand is used:

$ ./rke encrypt rotate-key --help
   rke encrypt rotate-key - Rotate cluster encryption provider key

   rke encrypt rotate-key [command options] [arguments...]

   --config value           Specify an alternate cluster YAML file (default: "cluster.yml") [$RKE_CONFIG]
   --ssh-agent-auth         Use SSH Agent Auth defined by SSH_AUTH_SOCK
   --ignore-docker-version  Disable Docker version check

This command will perform the following actions:

  • Generate a new random 32-bit encryption key
  • Generate a new provider configuration with the new key as the first provider and the second key as the second provider. When the secrets are rewritten, the first key will be used to encrypt the data on the write operation, while the second key (the old key) will be used to decrypt the stored data during the the read operation
  • Deploy the new provider configuration to all controlplane nodes and restart the kube-apiserver
  • Rewrite all secrets. This process will re-encrypt all the secrets with the new key.
  • Update the configuration to remove the old key and restart the kube-apiserver

Rotating Keys by Disabling and Re-enabling Encryption in cluster.yml

For a cluster with encryption enabled, you can rotate the encryption keys by updating cluster.yml. If you enable and re-enable the data encryption in the cluster.yml, RKE will not reuse old keys. Instead, it will generate new keys every time, yielding the same result as a key rotation with the RKE CLI.

Custom At-Rest Data Encryption Configuration

With managed configuration, RKE provides the user with a very simple way to enable and disable encryption with minimal interaction and configuration. However, it doesn’t allow for any customization to the configuration.

With custom encryption configuration, RKE allows the user to provide their own configuration. Although RKE will help the user to deploy the configuration and rewrite the secrets if needed, it doesn’t provide a configuration validation on user’s behalf. It’s the user responsibility to make sure their configuration is valid.

Warning: Using invalid Encryption Provider Configuration could cause several issues with your cluster, ranging from crashing the Kubernetes API service, kube-api, to completely losing access to encrypted data.

Example: Using Custom Encryption Configuration with User Provided 32-byte Random Key

The following describes the steps required to configure custom encryption with a user provided 32-byte random key.

Step 1: Generate a 32 byte random key and base64 encode it. If you’re on Linux or macOS, run the following command:

head -c 32 /dev/urandom | base64

Place that value in the secret field.

      enabled: true
        kind: EncryptionConfiguration
        - Providers:
            - AESCBC:
                    - Name: key1
                    Secret: <BASE 64 ENCODED SECRET>
                - secrets
            - identity: {}

Example: Using Custom Encryption Configuration with Amazon KMS

An example for custom configuration would be enabling an external key management system like Amazon KMS. The following is an example of the configuration for AWS KMS:

      - "/var/run/kmsplugin/:/var/run/kmsplugin/"
      enabled: true
        kind: EncryptionConfiguration
          - resources:
            - secrets
            - kms:
                name: aws-encryption-provider
                endpoint: unix:///var/run/kmsplugin/socket.sock
                cachesize: 1000
                timeout: 3s
            - identity: {}

Documentation for AWS KMS can be found here. When Custom Configuration is set to to enable the AWS KMS provider, you should consider the following points:

  • Since RKE runs the kube-api service in a container, it’s required that you use the extra_binds feature to bind-mount the KMS provider socket location inside the kube-api container.
  • The AWS KMS provider runs as a pod in the cluster. Therefor, the proper way to enable it is to:
    1. Deploy your cluster with at-rest encryption disabled.
    2. Deploy the KMS pod and make sure it’s working correctly.
    3. Update your cluster with the custom encryption configuration to utilize the KMS provider.
  • Kube API connects to the KMS provider using a Unix socket. You should configure your KMS deployment to run pods on all controlplane nodes in the cluster.
  • Your controlplane node should be configured with an AMI profile that has access to the KMS key you used in your configuration.

How to Prevent Restore Failures after Rotating Keys

It’s important to understand that enabling encryption for you cluster means that you can no longer access encrypted data in your etcd database and/or etcd database backups without using your encryption keys.

The encryption configuration is stored in the cluster state file cluster.rkestate, which is decoupled from the etcd backups. For example, in any of the following backup cases, the restore process will fail:

  • The snapshot is taken while encryption is enabled and restored when it’s disabled. In this case, the encryption keys are no longer stored in the cluster state.
  • The snapshot is taken before the keys are rotated and restore is attempted after. In this case, the old keys used for encryption at the time of the snapshot no longer exist in the cluster state file.

Therefore, we recommend that when you enable or disable encryption, or when you rotate keys, you should create a snapshot so that your backup requires the same keys that you have access to.

This also means you should not rotate the keys during the restore process, because you would lose the encryption keys in cluster.rkestate.

The same applies to the custom configuration use case, however in this case it will depend on the user-provided encryption configuration.