mTLS authentication for (nginx) Kubernetes Ingress


You can set [Mutual TLS][] authentication with ingress-nginx in Kubernetes.

We’re back with Kubernetes Ingress. Are you happy of it? Tired of it? I guess this is your time for bailing out!

If you’re still there, a little recap. In TLS for Kubernetes Ingress we looked at how to secure the communication between external clients and the Ingress resource that acts as a gateway to the internal (HTTP) service. Then in Basic Authentication for (nginx) Kubernetes Ingress we looked at how to restrict access to the service by means of client authentication.

Now our next step is be aware that Basic Authentication might be considered a little too… basic. Cool people today use OAuth 2.0 or, at the very least, Mutual TLS Authentication (also known as mTLS). This is a fancy way of saying that the client connecting to the server MUST present a valid certificate too.

This is explained in Client Certificate Authentication, from the official documentation for ingress-nginx. Well… a midway between hinted and explained, so let’s elaborate a bit.

The plan

First of all, the starting point MUST be TLS for Kubernetes Ingress. We can’t simply enable TLS authentication for clients without supporting TLS on the server side.

The plan is the following:

  • get certificates for all Certification Authorities involved;
  • set them in a Kubernetes Secret;
  • instruct ingress-nginx to turn client TLS authentication and use them for validating clients’ certificates.

Sounds familiar?

Client and CA certificates

As said, your client will need a certificate. Which will need to be signed by a Certification Authority (CA). Which might be an intermediate CA, with a certificate signed by another CA, in a chain that goes up to a root CA.

Nothing new here, it’s much like what happens for server certificates. With a caveat, though: make sure the certificate will be recognized as a client certificate. Take a look to RFC 5280, remain more puzzled than how you started in the first place, then take a look at Recommended key usage for a client certificate and clear things out. The gist of it is that it’s probably wise to set the clientAuth key usage.

You will end up with the following files:

  • a client (secret) key, which will need to be set in the client only. No use for it in this post, yay!
  • a client (public) certificate, which will need to be set in the client only, so that it will provide it as evidence of its identity when necessary. Again, no use for it in this post, double yay!
  • a bunch of CA certificates with all the CAs involved in signing the client certificate, directly or indirectly.

The files in the last bullet can be concatenated; for good measure start from the CA certificate that was used to sign the client certificate and add all additional CA certificates up to the root CA certificate, in an ordered chain. You will end up with a file that we will call ca-certificates.pem, in a failed attempt at being original.

IF you want to experiment a bit, you can use ekeca to generate everything you need. Triple yay!

Add CA certificates in a secret

I personally prefer to keep the server certificates in one secret and put the CA certificates for client certificates validation in another one. Which means creating a separate secret than the one explained in TLS for Kubernetes Ingress, e.g.:

kubectl create secret generic -n my-namespace tls-authentication \

You will need to adjust for using the right namespace and name for the Secret, but you get the idea.

Set the Ingress up

To enable client authentication via TLS, you have to use two annotations (we already saw them in Basic Authentication for (nginx) Kubernetes Ingress):

  • set to the string on. Make sure it’s a string, i.e. use single or double quotes, otherwise I guess you might have some problems (didn’t verify myself to be honest);
  • set to a string that points to the right secret… including the namespace! This is extremely important, or it will not work. Dont’ rely on the Secret living in the same namespace as the Ingress - just put it! Use format <namespace>/<secret-name>.


apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Ingress
  name: ingress-with-auth
  namespace: my-namespace
  annotations: 'on' my-namespace/tls-authentication

You’re done

After installing the changes to the Ingress resource… you should be done! Make a test or two, clean up files and stay safe!

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