Secure Supply Chain with Kubewarden: securing Kubewarden policies

Author: Víctor Cuadrado Juan



With recent releases, the Kubewarden stack supports verifying the integrity and authenticity of content using the Sigstore project.

In this post, we focus on Kubewarden Policies and how to create a Secure Supply Chain for them.


Since a full Sigstore dive is not within the scope for this post, we recommend checking out their nice docs.

In short, Sigstore provides an automatable workflow to match the distributed Open Source development model. The workflow specifies how to digitally sign and verify artifacts which in our case are Kubewarden Policies. It also provides a transparency log to monitor such signatures. The workflow allows to sign artifacts with traditional Public-Private key pairs, or in Keyless mode.

In the keyless mode, signatures are created with short-lived certs using an OpenID Connect (OIDC) service as identity provider. Those short-lived certs are issued by Sigstore’s PKI infrastructure, Fulcio.

Fulcio acts as a Registration Authority, authenticating that you are who you say you are by using an OIDC service (SSO via your own Okta instance, GitHub, Google, etc). Once authenticated, Fulcio acts as a Certificate Authority, issuing the short-lived certificate that you will use to sign artifacts.

These short-lived certificate include the identity information obtained by the OIDC service inside of the certificate extensions attributes. The private key associated with the certificate is then used to sign the object while the certificate itself has a public key that can be used to verify the signatures produced by the private key.

The certificates issued by Fulcio have a short validity because they are generated to be short-lived. This is an interesting property that we will discuss shortly.

Once the artifact is signed, the proof of signature is then sent to an append-only transparency log, Rekor, that allows monitoring of such signatures and protects against timing attacks. The proof of signature is signed by Rekor and this information is stored inside of the signature itself.

By using the timestamp found inside of the proof of signature, the verifier can ensure that the signing action has been performed during the limited lifetime of the certificate.

Due to this the private key associated with the certificate doesn’t need to be safely stored. It can be discarded at the end of the signature process. An attacker could even reuse the private key, but the signature would not be considered valid if used outside of the limited lifetime of the certificate.

Nobody - developers, project leads, or sponsors, needs to have access to keys and Sigstore never obtains your private key. Hence the term keyless. Additionaly, one doesn’t need expensive infra for creating and validating signatures.

Since there’s no need for key secrets and the like in Keyless mode, it is easily automated inside CIs and implemented and monitored in the open. This is one of the reasons that makes it so interesting.

Building a Rust Sigstore stack

The policy server and libs within the Kubewarden stack are responsible for instantiating and running policies. They are written in Rust and therefore, we needed a good Rust implementation of Sigstore features. Since there weren’t any available, we are glad to announce that we have created a new crate, sigstore-rs, under the Sigstore org. This was done in an upstream-first manner and we’re happy to report that it is now taking a life of its own.

Securing kubewarden policies

As you may already know, Kubewarden Policies are small wasm-compiled binaries (~1 to ~6 MB) that are distributed via container registries as OCI artifacts. Let us see how Kubewarden protects policies against Secure Supply Chain attacks by signing and verifying them before they run.

Signing your Kubewarden Policy

Signing a Policy is done in the same way as signing a container image. This means just adding a new layer within the signature to a dedicated signature object managed by Sigstore. In the Sigstore workflow, one can sign with Public-Private keypair, or Keyless. Both can also add key=value annotations to the signatures.

The Public-Private key pair signing is straightforward, using sigstore/cosign:

$ COSIGN_PASSWORD=yourpass cosign generate-key-pair

Private key written to cosign.key
Public key written to cosign.pub

$ COSIGN_PASSWORD=yourpass cosign sign \
  --key cosign.key --annotations blog=yes \

Pushing signature to: ghcr.io/kubewarden/policies/user-group-psp

The Keyless mode is more interesting:

$ COSIGN_EXPERIMENTAL=1 cosign sign \
  --annotations blog=yes \

Generating ephemeral keys...
Retrieving signed certificate...
Your browser will now be opened to:
Successfully verified SCT...
tlog entry created with index: (...)
Pushing signature to: ghcr.io/viccuad/policies/volumes-psp

What happened? cosign prompted us for an OpenID Connect provider on the browser, which authenticated us, and instructed Fulcio to generate an ephemeral private key and a x509 certificate with the associated public key.

If this were to happen in a CI, the CI would provide the OIDC identity token in its environment. cosign has support for detecting some automated environments and producing an identity token. Currently that covers GitHub And Google Cloud, but one can always use a flag.

We shall now detail how it works for policies built by the Kubewarden team in GitHub Actions. First, we call cosign, and sign the policy in keyless mode. The certificate issued by Fulcio includes the following details about the identity of the signer inside of its x503v extensions:

  • An issuer, telling you who certified the image:
  • A subject related to the specific workflow and worker, for example:

If you are curious, and want to see the contents of one of the certificates issued by Fulcio, install the crane cli tool, jq and openssl and execute the following command:

crane manifest \
  $(cosign triangulate ghcr.io/kubewarden/policies/pod-privileged:v0.1.10) | \
  jq -r '.layers[0].annotations."dev.sigstore.cosign/certificate"' | \
  openssl x509 -noout -text -in -

The end result is the same. A signature is added as a new image layer of a special OCI object that is created and managed by Sigstore. You can view those signatures as added layers,with sha256-<sha>.sig in the repo.

Even better, you can use tools like crane or the CLI tool, kwctl to perform the same action as demonstrated below.

kwctl pull <policy_url>; kwctl inspect <policy_url>

If you want to verify policies locally, you now can use kwctl verify:

$ kwctl verify --github-owner kubewarden registry://ghcr.io/kubewarden/policies/pod-privileged:v0.1.10
$ echo $?

When testing policies locally with kwctl pull or kwctl run, you can also enable signature verification by using any verification related flag. For example:

$ kwctl pull --github-owner kubewarden registry://ghcr.io/kubewarden/policies/pod-privileged:v0.1.10
$ echo $?

All the policies from the Kubewarden team are signed in keyless mode by the workers of the CI job, specifically the CI job of Github. We don’t leave certs around and they are verifiable by third parties.

Enforcing signature verification for instantiated Kubewarden policies

You can now configure PolicyServers to enforce that all policies being run need to be signed. When deploying Kubewarden via Helm charts, you can do it so for the default PolicyServer installed by kubewarden-defaults chart.

For this, the PolicyServers have a new spec.VerificationConfig argument. Here, you can put the name of a ConfigMap containing a “verification config”, to specify the needed signatures.

You can obtain a default verification config for policies from the Kubewarden team with:

$ kwctl scaffold verification-config
# Default Kubewarden verification config
# With this config, the only valid policies are those signed by Kubewarden
# infrastructure.
# This config can be saved to its default location (for this OS) with:
#   kwctl scaffold verification-config > /home/youruser/.config/kubewarden/verification-config.yml
# Providing a config in the default location enables Sigstore verification.
# See https://docs.kubewarden.io for more Sigstore verification options.
apiVersion: v1
  - kind: githubAction
    owner: kubewarden
    repo: ~
    annotations: ~
anyOf: ~

The verification config format has several niceties, see its reference docs. For example, kind: githubAction with owner and repo, instead of checking the issuer and subject strings blindly. Or anyOf a list of signatures, with anyOf.atLeast a number of them: this allows for accepting at least a specific number of signatures, and makes migration between signatures in your cluster easy. It’s the little things 🤓.

If you want support for other CIs (such as GitLab, Jenkins, etc) drop us a note on Slack or file a GitHub issue!

Once you have crafted your verification config, create your ConfigMap:

$ kubectl create configmap my-verification-config \
  --from-file=verification-config=./my-verification-config.yml \

And pass it to your PolicyServers in spec.VerificationConfig, or if using the default PolicyServer from the kubewarden-defaults chart, set it there with for example:

$ helm upgrade --set policyServer.verificationConfig=my-verification-config \
  --wait -n kubewarden kubewarden-defaults ./kubewarden-defaults


Using cosign sign policy authors can sign or author their policies. All the policies owned by the Kubewarden team have already been signed in this way.

With kwctl verify, operators can verify them, and with kwctl inspect (and other tools such as crane manifest), operators can inspect the signatures. We can keep using kwctl pull and kwctl run to test policies locally as in the past, plus now verify their signatures too. Once we are satisfied, we can deploy Kubewarden PolicyServers so they enforce those signatures. If we want, the same verification config format can be used for kwctl and the cluster stack.

This way we are sure that the policies come from their stated authors, and have not been tampered with. Phew!

We, the Kubewarden team, are curious on how you approach this. What workflows are you interested in? What challenges do you have? Drop us a word in our Slack channel or foile a GitHub issue!

There are more things to secure in the chain and we’re excited for what lays ahead. Stay tuned for more blog entries on how to secure your supply chain with Kubewarden!