Authentication vs Authorization: What’s the Difference (Kubernetes)

Authentication vs Authorization: What's the Difference (Kubernetes)


Let’s start this with different type of users, Who will be trying to access the cluster (We will use Kubernetes cluster for example)

Type of Users:

  • Admins
  • Developers
  • Bots – Service accounts

So, Basically the way to identify and verify a user or service account.

In Kubernetes, Users are authenticated by API Server (request would come from either by kubectl or api call), There are different type of authentication mechanisms

  • List of username/password in a file
  • Static Token file
  • Certificates
  • LDAP or AD external services

For example: If we take “List of username/password in a file” , User who provide the correct username <-> password will be authenticated and allowed to access the cluster and it is called authentication.


We saw, How users can gain access to a cluster (Authentication), So once they gain access what can they do in a cluster and it is called Authorisation

Why we need Authorisation: Let take the same set of users

Type of Users:

  • Admins
  • Developers
  • Bots – Service accounts

Let’s say. Admin would be allowed to perform any operations in a cluster (like pod creation deletion, node creation and deletion), But soon others need to access the cluster as well. So we need to limit certain privilege to other users.

  • Developers – Only to create and delete pod (Owned by them) and get details about the running pod.
  • Bots – To get access to read-only informations

Below are the Mechanisms, We can achieve authorisation in Kubernetes

  • NODE Authorizer – These would be provided to kubelet (Within the cluster)
  • ABAC : Atribute based Authorization (for external user)
  • RBAC : Role based Authorization (Multiple roles tagged to each and every user based on the user roles)
  • Third party agent for Authorization (Webhoook)

By the above mechanisms, We can limit the user privilege based on “Who can access What” and it is called Authorisation.

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