Istio publishes results of 2022 security audit

Security review of Istio finds a CVE in Go standard library.

Jan 30, 2023 | By Craig Box - ARMO, for the Istio Product Security Working Group

Istio is a project that platform engineers trust to enforce security policy in their production Kubernetes environments. We pay a lot of care to security in our code, and maintain a robust vulnerability program. To validate our work, we periodically invite external review of the project, and we are pleased to publish the results of our second security audit.

The auditors’ assessment was that “Istio is a well-maintained project that has a strong and sustainable approach to security”. No critical issues were found; the highlight of the report was the discovery of a vulnerability in the Go programming language.

We would like to thank the Cloud Native Computing Foundation for funding this work, as a benefit offered to us after we joined the CNCF in August. It was arranged by OSTIF, and performed by ADA Logics.

Scope and overall findings

Istio received its first security assessment in 2020, with its data plane, the Envoy proxy, having been independently assessed in 2018 and 2021. The Istio Product Security Working Group and ADA Logics therefore decided on the following scope:

Once again, no Critical issues were found in the review. The assessment found 11 security issues; two High, four Medium, four Low and one informational. All the reported issues have been fixed.

Aside from their observations above, the auditors note that Istio follows a high level of industry standards in dealing with security. In particular, they highlight that:

Resolution and learnings

Request smuggling vulnerability in Go

The auditors uncovered a situation where Istio could accept traffic using HTTP/2 Over Cleartext (h2c), a method of making an unencrypted connection with HTTP/1.1 and then upgrading to HTTP/2. The Go library for h2c connections reads the entire request into memory, and notes that if you wish to avoid this, the request should be wrapped in a MaxBytesHandler.

In fixing this bug, Istio TOC member John Howard noticed that the recommended fix introduces a request smuggling vulnerability. The Go team thus published CVE-2022-41721 — the only vulnerability discovered by this audit!

Istio has since been changed to disable h2c upgrade support throughout.

Improvements to file fetching

The most common class of issue found were related to Istio fetching files over a network (for example, the Istio Operator installing Helm charts, or the WebAssembly module downloader):

To execute these code paths, an attacker would need enough privilege to either specify a URL for a Helm chart or a WebAssembly module. With such access, they would not need an exploit: they could already cause an arbitrary chart to be installed to the cluster or an arbitrary WebAssembly module to be loaded into memory on the proxy servers.

The auditors and maintainers both note that the Operator is not recommended as a method of installation, as this requires a high-privilege controller to run in the cluster.

Other issues

The remaining issues found were:

Please refer to the full report for details.

Reviewing the 2020 report

All 18 issues reported in Istio’s first security assessment were found to have been fixed.


The OSS-Fuzz project helps open source projects perform free fuzz testing. Istio is integrated into OSS-Fuzz with 63 fuzzers running continuously: this support was built by ADA Logics and the Istio team in late 2021.

The assessment notes that “Istio benefits largely from having a substantial fuzz test suite that runs continuously on OSS-Fuzz”, and identified a few APIs in security-critical code that would benefit from further fuzzing, Six new fuzzers were contributed as a result of this work; by the end of the audit, the new tests had run over 3 billion times.


Supply chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA) is a check-list of standards and controls to prevent tampering, improve integrity, and secure software packages and infrastructure. It is organized into a series of levels that provide increasing integrity guarantees.

Istio does not currently generate provenance artifacts, so it does not meet the requirements for any SLSA levels. Work on reaching SLSA Level 1 is currently underway. If you would like to get involved, please join the Istio Slack and reach out to our Test and Release working group.

Get involved

If you want to get involved with Istio product security, or become a maintainer, we’d love to have you! Join our public meetings to raise issues or learn about what we are doing to keep Istio secure.

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