Ingress Intrigue: Unpacking the Vulnerabilities Within Kubernetes' Gatekeepers

KTrust Team

Part One In A Three-Part Series About Securing Key Kubernetes Components

Welcome to the first instalment of our series exploring the security of key components of Kubernetes, the powerhouse behind modern container orchestration. In this series, we aim to demystify the complex architecture of Kubernetes, making it accessible and understandable for everyone from seasoned developers to those just beginning their journey in cloud-native technologies.  Our kickoff article shines a spotlight on one of the most crucial components within the Kubernetes ecosystem: Ingress Controllers.

Within Kubernetes' complex architecture, the Ingress Controller plays a crucial role, managing how external traffic reaches services inside the cluster. Exploring the intricacies of Ingress Controllers reveals their pivotal role in Kubernetes, the vulnerabilities that make them targets for exploitation, and the essential practice of vigilant security measures.

Understanding Kubernetes Ingress Controllers

At its core, an Ingress Controller is a critical piece of the Kubernetes architecture, designed to manage access to services from outside the Kubernetes cluster. It operates at the application layer (Layer 7) of the network stack and provides HTTP and HTTPS routing to services based on requests' domain names or paths. Unlike simple load balancers that operate at Layer 4 and route traffic based solely on IP address and port, Ingress Controllers can make more sophisticated routing decisions, including URL paths, request headers, and more. The Ingress Controller serves as the gatekeeper for incoming traffic, directing it to the appropriate services within the cluster. It's configured via the Kubernetes API, which allows it to dynamically adjust to changes within the cluster, such as scaling services up or down, or deploying new versions of applications.

What sets the Ingress Controller apart from other components in the Kubernetes ecosystem is its exposure to external traffic. While most components of Kubernetes operate internally, the Ingress Controller is one of the few that directly interacts with requests from outside the cluster. This unique position makes it both a powerful tool for managing access to services and a critical point of security. The Ingress Controller's ability to understand and manipulate Layer 7 traffic allows for sophisticated routing rules, SSL/TLS termination, and name-based virtual hosting. This level of control is essential for running complex, multi-service applications in Kubernetes but also introduces a unique set of challenges and potential vulnerabilities.

Targeting Kubernetes Ingress Controllers: The Why and How

Given its critical role and exposure to external traffic, the Ingress Controller becomes a prime target for exploits. Attackers who can compromise the Ingress Controller gain a foothold from which they can attempt to access sensitive services within the cluster, intercept or manipulate traffic, or exploit vulnerabilities in the routing logic itself.

Several factors contribute to the targeting of Kubernetes Ingress Controllers:

  • Exposure to External Traffic: Being one of the entry points into the cluster, it is naturally exposed to more attack vectors.
  • Complex Configuration: The sophisticated routing rules and configurations can be prone to misconfiguration, leading to security gaps.
  • High Privileges: Ingress Controllers often have significant permissions within the cluster to manage traffic routing, making them a valuable target for escalation of privileges.

The Technical Depth Behind CVEs Targeting Kubernetes Ingress Controllers

Exploits targeting Kubernetes Ingress Controllers often leverage vulnerabilities that can have profound implications for the security of a Kubernetes cluster. To understand the gravity and technical nuances of these vulnerabilities, let's delve into the specifics of some notable CVEs, their mechanisms, and the potential risks they pose.

CVE-2023-5043 and CVE-2023-5044: A Closer Look

CVE-2023-5043 and CVE-2023-5044 represent a pair of vulnerabilities that highlight the complex security landscape of Kubernetes Ingress Controllers. These vulnerabilities were identified in the NGINX Ingress Controller, one of the most widely used Ingress Controllers within Kubernetes environments.

CVE-2023-5043 specifically targets a flaw in how the NGINX Ingress Controller processes certain requests. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability by crafting a malicious request that, when processed by the Ingress Controller, could lead to arbitrary code execution within the context of the Ingress Controller pod. This vulnerability underscores the risks associated with parsing and handling HTTP requests, where a seemingly benign request can turn into a vector for a significant breach.

CVE-2023-5044, on the other hand, focuses on a vulnerability related to the handling of HTTP/2 connections. This flaw could allow an attacker to perform a Denial of Service (DoS) attack by sending specially crafted requests that exhaust system resources. This vulnerability highlights the challenges in managing newer protocols like HTTP/2, which, while offering performance improvements, also introduce new attack surfaces.

CVE-2022-4886 is another critical vulnerability that affects the NGINX Ingress Controller. This vulnerability stems from a misconfiguration or lack of proper validation in the Ingress Controller's settings, allowing attackers to bypass intended access controls. By exploiting this vulnerability, an attacker could redirect traffic to unauthorized destinations, potentially gaining access to sensitive information or internal services within the Kubernetes cluster.

CVE-2023-45539: HAProxy Kubernetes Ingress Controller Vulnerability

Numerous ingress controller alternatives are available, with HAproxy being among the favored choices.  CVE-2023-45539 was identified as a flaw in how HAProxy processes URIs, specifically its handling of the ‘#’ character. In standard practice, the ‘#’ character denotes the start of a fragment identifier in a URI, which is client-side and should not be sent to the server. However, this vulnerability arises from HAProxy's deviation from this standard, accepting ‘#’ as part of the URI sent to the server. The incorrect handling of the ‘#’ character could allow attackers to craft specially designed requests that bypass expected processing rules. This could lead to various security issues, including unauthorized access, information disclosure, or even server-side request forgery (SSRF) attacks, depending on how the backend services interpret these malformed URIs.

The Technical Implications and Mitigation Strategies

The technical depth of these CVEs reveals several critical themes in Kubernetes security:

  • Complexity of HTTP Traffic Handling: The processing of HTTP/HTTPS traffic, especially with advanced features like HTTP/2, introduces significant complexity and potential for vulnerabilities.
  • Importance of Secure Configuration: Many vulnerabilities arise from inadequate validation of configurations, emphasizing the need for thorough security practices in setting up and maintaining Ingress Controllers.
  • Potential for Code Execution and Service Disruption: The ability to execute arbitrary code or disrupt services through DoS attacks via the Ingress Controller demonstrates the high stakes of securing these components.

Mitigation strategies for these vulnerabilities include applying patches or version updates provided by the Ingress Controller projects, adhering to best practices for secure configuration, and employing additional security measures such as Web Application Firewalls (WAFs).

About KTrust

KTrust is at the forefront of Kubernetes security, transforming the landscape with its pioneering automated red-team strategy, deeply rooted in exploitation research and continuous reverse engineering of Kubernetes-specific CVEs. This meticulous approach not only maps out potential attack vectors but also deconstructs vulnerabilities to their very core, uncovering the ways they can be exploited. Through this process, KTrust transcends the mere identification of threats, simplifying the intricate web of CVE complexities and proactively shielding your Kubernetes environment from the threats that lurk within. With KTrust, the daunting task of dissecting every possible attack path is handled by experts, allowing you to focus on what you do best. This commitment to in-depth analysis and proactive defence ensures that your Kubernetes infrastructure remains robust, secure, and two steps ahead of potential threats.

Discover Validated Exposures within Your Unique K8s Ecosystem within Minutes

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.