Disallowing Privileged Pods

Using Policy Controller to prevent running privileged pods

This guide demonstrates how to use the Sigstore Policy Controller to prevent running containers with elevated privileges. You will create a ClusterImagePolicy that uses the CUE language to examine a pod spec, and only allow admission into a cluster if the pod is running without the privileged: true setting.


To follow along with this guide outside of the terminal that is embedded on this page, you will need the following:

If you are using the terminal that is embedded on this page, then all the prerequsites are installed for you. Note that it make take a minute or two for the Kubernetes cluster to finish provisioning. If you receive any errors while running commands, retry them after waiting a few seconds.

Once you have everything in place you can continue to the first step and confirm that the Policy Controller is working as expected.

Step 1 - Checking the Policy Controller is Denying Admission

Before creating a ClusterImagePolicy, check that the Policy Controller is deployed and that your default namespace is labeled correctly. Run the following to check that the deployment is complete:

kubectl -n cosign-system wait --for=condition=Available deployment/policy-controller-webhook && \
kubectl -n cosign-system wait --for=condition=Available deployment/policy-controller-policy-webhook

When both deployments are finished, verify the default namespace is using the Policy Controller:

kubectl get ns -l policy.sigstore.dev/include=true

You should receive output like the following:

default   Active   24s

Once you are sure that the Policy Controller is deployed and your default namespace is configured to use it, run a pod to make sure admission requests are handled and denied by default:

kubectl run --image cgr.dev/chainguard/nginx:latest nginx

Since there is no ClusterImagePolicy defined yet, the Policy Controller will deny the admission request with a message like the following:

Error from server (BadRequest): admission webhook "policy.sigstore.dev" denied the request: validation failed: no matching policies: spec.containers[0].image

In the next step, you will define a policy that only admits unprivileged pods and apply it to your cluster.

Step 2 — Creating a ClusterImagePolicy

Now that you have the Policy Controller running in your cluster, and have the default namespace configured to use it, you can now define a ClusterImagePolicy to admit images.

Open a new file with nano or your preferred editor:

nano /tmp/cip.yaml

Copy the following policy to the /tmp/cip.yaml file:

apiVersion: policy.sigstore.dev/v1beta1
kind: ClusterImagePolicy
  name: privileged-containers-cue
  - version: "v1"
    resource: "pods"
  images: [glob: '**']
  authorities: [static: {action: pass}]
  mode: enforce
    includeSpec: true
    type: "cue"
    data: |
      spec: {
        initContainers: [...{
          securityContext: {
            privileged: false
        containers: [...{
          securityContext: {
            privileged: false
        ephemeralContainers: [...{
          securityContext: {
            privileged: false

This policy will ensure that any kind of container in a pod spec will only be admitted if the privileged setting is not set, or is set to false.

Save the file and then apply the policy:

kubectl apply -f /tmp/cip.yaml

You will receive output showing the policy is created:


Next you will test the policy with a failing pod spec. Once you have confirmed that the admission controller is rejecting pods running with privileges, you’ll create a pod that runs without elevated privileges and admit it into your cluster.

Step 3 — Testing a ClusterImagePolicy

Now that you have a policy defined, you can test that it successfully rejects or accepts admission requests.

Use nano or your preferred editor to create a new file /tmp/pod.yaml and copy in the following pod spec that runs with elevated privileges:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: yolo
  - name: "app"
    image: docker.io/ubuntu
      privileged: true

Apply the pod spec and check for the Policy Controller admission denied message:

kubectl apply -f /tmp/pod.yaml
Error from server (BadRequest): error when creating "pod.yaml": admission webhook "policy.sigstore.dev" denied the request: validation failed: failed policy: privileged-containers-cue: spec.containers[0].image
index.docker.io/library/ubuntu@sha256:2adf22367284330af9f832ffefb717c78239f6251d9d0f58de50b86229ed1427 failed evaluating cue policy for ClusterImagePolicy: failed to evaluate the policy with error: spec.containers.0.securityContext.privileged: conflicting values false and true

The first line shows the error message and the failing ClusterImagePolicy name. The second line contains the image ID, along with the specific CUE error message showing the policy violation.

Edit the /tmp/pod.yaml file and change the privileged setting to false:

    privileged: false

Save and apply the spec:

kubectl apply -f /tmp/pod.yaml

The pod will be admitted into the cluster with the following message:

pod/yolo created

Since the pod spec now ensures the container does not have elevated privileges, the Policy Controller evaluates the pod spec against the CUE policy and admits the pod into the cluster.

Delete the pod once you’re done experimenting with it:

kubectl delete pod yolo

Options for Continuous Verification

While it is useful to use the Policy Controller to manage admission into a cluster, once a workload is running any vulnerability or policy violations that occur after containers are running will not be detected.

Chainguard Enforce is designed to address this issue by continuously verifying whether a container or cluster contains any vulnerabilities or policy violations over time. This includes what packages are deployed, SBOMs (software bills of materials), provenance, signature data, and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about Chainguard Enforce, you can request access to the product by selecting Chainguard Enforce on the inquiry form.

Last updated: 2023-03-02 13:11