Q: How can I enable/disable mTLS encryption after I installed Istio?

The most straightforward way to enable/disable mTLS is by entirely uninstalling and re-installing Istio.

If you are an advanced user and understand the risks you can also do the following:

kubectl edit configmap -n istio-system istio

comment out or uncomment out authPolicy: MUTUAL_TLS to toggle mTLS and then

kubectl delete pods -n istio-system -l istio=pilot

to restart Pilot, after a few seconds (depending on your *RefreshDelay) your Envoy proxies will have picked up the change from Pilot. During that time your services may be unavailable.

We are working on a smoother solution.

Q: Can a service with Istio Auth enabled communicate with a service without Istio?

This is not supported currently, but will be in the near future.

Q: Can I enable Istio Auth with some services while disable others in the same cluster?

Starting with release 0.3, you can use service-level annotations to disable (or enable) Istio Auth for particular service-port. The annotation key should be{port_number}, and the value should be NONE (to disable), or MUTUAL_TLS (to enable).

Example: disable Istio Auth on port 9080 for service details.

kind: Service
name: details
  app: details
annotations: NONE

Q: How can I use Kubernetes liveness and readiness for service health check with Istio Auth enabled?

If Istio Auth is enabled, http and tcp health check from kubelet will not work since they do not have Istio Auth issued certs. A workaround is to use a liveness command for health check, e.g., one can install curl in the service pod and curl itself within the pod. The Istio team is actively working on a solution.

An example of readinessProbe:

  - curl
  - -f
  - http://localhost:8080/healthz # Replace port and URI by your actual health check
initialDelaySeconds: 10
periodSeconds: 5

Q: Can I access the Kubernetes API Server with Auth enabled?

The Kubernetes API server does not support mutual TLS authentication, so strictly speaking: no. However, if you use version 0.3 or later, see next question to learn how to disable mTLS in upstream config on clients side so they can access API server.

Q: How to disable Auth on clients to access the Kubernetes API Server (or any control services that don't have Istio sidecar)?

Starting with release 0.3, edit the mtlsExcludedServices list in Istio config map to contain the fully-qualified name of the API server (and any other control services for that matter). The default value of mtlsExcludedServices already contains kubernetes.default.svc.cluster.local, which is the default service name of the Kubernetes API server.

For a quick reference, here are commands to edit Istio configmap and to restart pilot.

kubectl edit configmap -n istio-system istio
kubectl delete pods -n istio-system -l istio=pilot

Note: DO NOT use this approach to disable mTLS for services that are managed by Istio (i.e. using Istio sidecar). Instead, use service-level annotations to overwrite the authentication policy (see above).

Q: How to configure the lifetime for Istio certificates?

For the workloads running in Kubernetes, the lifetime of their Istio certificates is controlled by the workload-cert-ttl flag on Istio CA. The default value is 19 hours. This value should be no greater than max-workload-cert-ttl of the Istio CA.

The Istio CA uses a flag max-workload-cert-ttl to control the maximum lifetime for Istio certificates issued to workloads. The default value is 7 days. If workload-cert-ttl on CA or node agent is greater than max-workload-cert-ttl, Istio CA will fail issuing the certificate.

Modify the istio-auth.yaml file to customize the CA configuration. The following modification specifies that the Istio certificates for workloads running in Kubernetes has 1 hours lifetime. Besides that, the maximum allowed Istio certificate lifetime is 48 hours.

kind: Deployment
  name: istio-ca
  namespace: istio-system
      - name: istio-ca
          - --workload-cert-ttl=1h # Lifetime of certificates issued to workloads in Kubernetes.
          - --max-workload-cert-ttl=48h # Maximum lifetime of certificates issued to workloads by the CA.

For the workloads running on VMs and bare metal hosts, the lifetime of their Istio certificates is specified by the workload-cert-ttl flag on each node agent. The default value is also 19 hours. This value should be no greater than max-workload-cert-ttl of the Istio CA.

To customize this configuration, the argument for the node agent service should be modified. After setting up th machines for Istio mesh expansion, modify the file /lib/systemd/system/istio-auth-node-agent.service on the VMs or bare metal hosts:

ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/node_agent --workload-cert-ttl=24h # Specify certificate lifetime for workloads on this machine.

The above configuraiton specifies that the Istio certificates for workloads running on this VM or bare metal host will have 24 hours lifetime.

After configuring the service, restart the node agent by running systemctl daemon-reload.

Q: Does Istio Auth support authorization?

Yes. Starting from Istio 0.5 release, we provide Role Based Access Control for services in Istio mesh. Learn more.

Q: Does Istio Auth use Kubernetes secrets?

Yes. The key and certificate distribution in Istio Auth is based on Kubernetes secrets.

Secrets have known security risks. The kubernetes team is working on several features to improve Kubernetes secret security, from secret encryption to node-level access control. And as of version 1.6, Kubernetes introduces RBAC authorization, which can provide fine-grained secrets management.

Q: Is the secret encrypted for workload key and cert?

By default, they are base64 encoded but not encrypted. However, the secret encryption feature is supported in Kubernetes and you can do it by following the instruction.

Notice that this feature is not enabled yet in Google Container Enginer (GKE). While the data may not be encrypted inside the etcd running on the master node, the contents of the master node itself are encrypted, see here for more info.

Q: How to configure Istio Ingress to only accept TLS traffic?

By following the instructions on Configuring secure ingress, Istio Ingress can be secured to only accept TLS traffic.