Adding limited access IAM user to EKS Cluster


Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) is the fully managed Kubernetes service from AWS. It is deeply integrated with many AWS services such as AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) for authentication to the cluster, Amazon CloudWatch for logging, Auto Scaling Groups for scaling the worker nodes, and Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) for networking. Many reputed companies trust Amazon EKS to run their containerized workloads.

EKS IAM Authentication

EKS uses IAM to provide authentication to your Kubernetes cluster (via the aws eks get-token command, or the AWS IAM Authenticator for Kubernetes), it relies on native Kubernetes Role Based Access Control (RBAC) for authorization. IAM is used for authentication to your EKS Cluster. The permissions for interacting with your cluster’s Kubernetes API is managed through the native Kubernetes RBAC system.

Creating an IAM User

Go to your AWS Console, you will find the IAM service listed under the “Security, Identity & Compliance” group. Inside the IAM dashboard click on the Users tab and click the “Add User” button.

AWS IAM Dashboard User Tab

Create a new user and allow the user programmatic access by clicking on the Programmatic access checkbox. You do not need any particular permission for your user to access EKS. You can go ahead without selecting any permission.

Access Keys

After the user is created, you will have access to the users Access Key ID and Secret Access Key. You will be required to use these keys in the next step.

Configure AWS CLI

Configuring your AWS CLI with a new user is as simple as running the aws configure command and providing the AWS Access Key ID and the AWS Secret Access Key, the Default region name and Default Output format are optional though.

$ aws configure --profile eks-user
AWS Secret Access Key [None]: je7MtGbClwBF/2Zp9Utk/h3yCo8nvbEXAMPLEKEY
Default region name [None]: us-east-1
Default output format [None]: text

Once configured you can test to see if the user is properly configured using the aws sts get-caller-identity command:

$ aws sts get-caller-identity --profile eks-user

If the user is properly configured with the aws cli utility you should see a response like the one shown below:

    "Account": "123456789012",
    "Arn": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/eks-user"

Creating a Role and RoleBinding for the user

With your IAM user properly configured, you can go ahead by creating a role for the user. This snippet of code creates a role named eks-user-role with a modest list permission to pods resource in your cluster.

kind: Role
  name: eks-user-role
- apiGroups: [""]
  resources: ["pods"]
  verbs: ["list"]

Save the above snippet of code in a file and then apply the Role to your Kubernetes cluster:

$ kubectl apply -f role.yaml

With the role configured you need to create a corresponding RoleBinding:

apiVersion: rbac.authorization.k8s.io/v1
kind: RoleBinding
  name: eks-user-role-binding
- kind: User
  name: eks-user
  apiGroup: rbac.authorization.k8s.io
  kind: Role
  name: eks-user-role
  apiGroup: rbac.authorization.k8s.io

Save the above snippet of code in a file and then apply the Role Binding to your Kubernetes cluster:

$ kubectl apply -f role-binding.yaml

Adding the user to the aws-auth configmap

To grant additional AWS users or roles the ability to interact with your EKS cluster, you must add the users/roles to the aws-auth ConfigMap within Kubernetes in the kube-system namespace.

You can do this by either editing it using kubectl edit command:

$ kubectl edit configmap aws-auth -n kube-system

Or by importing the aws-auth ConfigMap and applying the changes:

$ kubectl get configmap aws-auth -n kube-system -o yaml > aws-auth.yaml

Add the user under the mapUsers as an item in the aws-auth ConfigMap:

  mapUsers: |
    - userarn: arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/eks-user
      username: eks-user
      - eks-role

If the user is properly configured you should be able to list pods in the Cluster:

$ kubectl get pods --as eks-user

The --as flag impersonates the request to Kubernetes as the given user, you can use this flag to test permissions for any given user.

Configuring permissions for the user

The role which you defined previously had the permission of only listing pods, the eks-user cannot access any other Kubernetes resources like Deployments, ConfigMaps, Events, Secrets, logs or even shell into a given pod.

In a real-world scenario, you will need to provide permissions to a given user to access the required resources. The below snippet of code provides access to resources such as events, pods, deployments, configmaps and secrets.

- apiGroups: [""]
  resources: ["events"]
  verbs: ["get", "list", "watch"]
- apiGroups: [""]
  resources: ["pods", "pods/log", "pods/exec"]
  verbs: ["list", "get", "create", "update", "delete"]
- apiGroups: ["extensions", "apps"]
  resources: ["deployments"]
  verbs: ["list", "get", "create", "update", "delete"]
- apiGroups: [""]
  resources: ["configmaps"]
  verbs: ["list", "get", "create", "update", "delete"]
- apiGroups: [""]
  resources: ["secrets"]
  verbs: ["list", "get", "create", "update", "delete"]

Add the above permissions to the role.yaml file and apply the changes, using kubectl apply -f.

Test, test and test!

Now go ahead and test to see if the permissions have been properly applied to the eks-user. You can test the same using the above mentioned --as USERNAME flag or set the eks-user as the default profile for the aws cli.

$ export AWS_PROFILE=eks-user

Once configured you can test to see if the user is properly configured using the aws sts get-caller-identity command:

$ aws sts get-caller-identity

You should see a response like the following, indicating the user is properly configured with your aws cli utility:

    "Account": "123456789012",
    "Arn": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/eks-user"

Test the permissions of the user with the below-mentioned commands.

$ kubectl get pods
$ kubectl get secrets
$ kubectl get configmaps
$ kubectl get deployments
$ kubectl logs <pod-name>
$ kubectl exec -it <pod-name> sh
$ kubectl create configmap my-cm --from-literal=db_username=<USERNAME> --from-literal=db_host=<HOSTNAME>
$ kubectl create secret generic my-secret --from-literal=db_password=<SOME_STRONG_PASSWORD>

Simply put the eks-user user should be able to perform all the actions specified in the verbs array for pods, secrets, configmaps, deployments, and events. You can read more about it here Kubernetes Authorization Overview.

Can-I or Not

You can use auth can-i to check if you have permission to a resource. To see if you have the permission to get pods simply run:

$ kubectl auth can-i get pods

The answer will be a simple yes or no. Amazing isn’t it.

Wanna check if you have cluster-admin permissions, fire this:

$ kubectl auth can-i "*" "*"


EKS provides the Kubernetes control plane with the backend persistence layer, the Kubernetes API server and the master nodes are provisioned and scaled across various availability zones, resulting in high availability and eliminating a single point of failure. The AWS-managed Kubernetes cluster can withstand the loss of an availability zone.

Access and authorization controls are critical for any security system. Kubernetes provides us with an awesome robust RBAC permission mechanism.


Faizan Bashir

Principal Engineer | Architecting and building distributed applications in the Cloud | Adventurer

Read More