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Exploring Istio Security Policies for Enhanced Service Mesh Protection with 3 Objects

Exploring Istio Security Policies For Enhanced Service Mesh Protection With 3 Objects

Istio Security Policies are crucial in securing microservices within a service mesh environment. We have discussed Istio and the capabilities that it can introduce to your Kubernetes workloads. Still, today we’re going to be more detailed regarding the different objects and resources that would help us make our workloads much more secure and enforce the communication between them. These objects include PeerAuthentication, RequestAuthentication, and AuthorizationPolicy objects.

PeerAuthentication: Enforcing security on pod-to-pod communication

PeerAuthentication focuses on securing communication between services by enforcing mutual TLS (Transport Layer Security) authentication and authorization. It enables administrators to define authentication policies for workloads based on the source of the requests, such as specific namespaces or service accounts. Configuring PeerAuthentication ensures that only authenticated and authorized services can communicate, preventing unauthorized access and man-in-the-middle attacks. This can be achieved depending on the value of the mode where defining this object being STRICT for only allowed mTLS communication, PERMISSIVE to allow both kinds of communication, DISABLE to forbid the mTLS connection and keep the traffic insecure, and UNSET to use the inherit option. This is a sample of the definition of the object:

kind: PeerAuthentication
  name: default
  namespace: foo
    mode: PERMISSIVE

RequestAuthentication: Defining authentication methods for Istio Workloads

RequestAuthentication, on the other hand, provides fine-grained control over the authentication of inbound requests. It allows administrators to specify rules and requirements for validating and authenticating incoming requests based on factors like JWT (JSON Web Tokens) validation, API keys, or custom authentication methods. With RequestAuthentication, service owners can enforce specific authentication mechanisms for different endpoints or routes, ensuring that only authenticated clients can access protected resources. Here you can see a sample of a RequestAuthentication object:

kind: RequestAuthentication
  name: jwt-auth-policy
  namespace: my-namespace
      app: my-app
    - issuer: ""
      jwksUri: ""

As commented, JWT validation is the most used approach as JWT tokens are becoming the de-facto industry standard for incoming validations and the OAuth V2 authorization protocol. Here you can define the rules the JWT needs to meet to be considered a valid request. But the RequestAuthentication only describes the “authentication methods” supported by the workloads but doesn’t enforce it or provide any details regarding the Authorization.

That means that if you define a workload to need to use JWT authentication, sending the request with the token will validate that token and ensure it is not expired. It meets all the rules you have specified in the object definition, but it will also allow bypassing requests with no token at all, as you’re just defining what the workloads support but not enforcing it. To do that, we need to introduce the last object of this set, the AuthorizationPolicy object.

AuthorizationPolicy: Fine-grained Authorization Policy Definition for Istio Policies

AuthorizationPolicy offers powerful access control capabilities to regulate traffic flow within the service mesh. It allows administrators to define rules and conditions based on attributes like source, destination, headers, and even request payload to determine whether a request should be allowed or denied. AuthorizationPolicy helps enforce fine-grained authorization rules, granting or denying access to specific resources or actions based on the defined policies. Only authorized clients with appropriate permissions can access specific endpoints or perform particular operations within the service mesh. Here you can see a sample of an Authorization Policy object:

kind: AuthorizationPolicy
  name: rbac-policy
  namespace: my-namespace
      app: my-app
    - from:
        - source:
            principals: [""]
        - operation:
            methods: ["GET"]

Here you can go as detailed as you need; you can apply rules on the source of the request to ensure that only some recommendations can go through (for example, requests that are from a JWT token to use in combination with the RequestAuthenitcation object), but also rules on the target, if this is going to a specific host or path or method or a combination of both. Also, you can apply to ALLOW rules or DENY rules (or even CUSTOM) and define a set of them, and all of them will be enforced as a whole. The evaluation is determined by the following rules as stated in the Istio Official Documentation:

  • If there are any CUSTOM policies that match the request, evaluate and deny the request if the evaluation result is denied.
  • If there are any DENY policies that match the request, deny the request.
  • If there are no ALLOW policies for the workload, allow the request.
  • If any of the ALLOW policies match the request, allow the request. Deny the request.
Authorization Policy Validation Flow From: Https://

This will provide all the requirements you could need to be able to do a full definition of all the security policies needed.


In conclusion, Istio’s Security Policies provide robust mechanisms for enhancing the security of microservices within a service mesh environment. The PeerAuthentication, RequestAuthentication, and AuthorizationPolicy objects offer a comprehensive toolkit to enforce authentication and authorization controls, ensuring secure communication and access control within the service mesh. By leveraging these Istio Security Policies, organizations can strengthen the security posture of their microservices, safeguarding sensitive data and preventing unauthorized access or malicious activities within their service mesh environment.

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