Kubernetes image policy webhook explained


In this article we will explore how webhook works in kubernetes and more specifically about the ImagePolicyWebhook, the kubernetes documentation about it is kind of vague, since there is no real example or implementation that you can get out of it, so here we will break it down to the different alternatives, in a real world scenario I would prefer to rely in OPA Gatekeeper, I’m planning to make this trip worth by adding a database and make the webhook allow or disallow images based in the vulnerability scan, for example allow only medium or lower vulnerabilities in your containers, but that will be a post for another day, if you are interested you can help in this repo, see more.

There are two ways to make this work each one has a slightly different behavior, one way is using the ImagePolicyWebhook and the other is using an Admission Controllers either works validating or mutating, here I used the validating webhook, you can learn more here.

This admission controller will reject all the pods that are using images with the latest tag and in the future we will see if all pods that are not able to meet the required security levels.


The ImagePolicyWebhook is an admission controller that evaluates only images, you need to parse the requests do the logic and the response in order to allow or deny images in the cluster.

The good parts about the ImagePolicyWebhook:

  • The API server can be instructed to reject the images if the webhook endpoint is not reachable, this is quite handy but it can also bring issues, like core pods won’t be able to schedule for example.

The bad parts about the ImagePolicyWebhook:

  • The configuration is a bit more involved and requires access to the master nodes or to the apiserver configuration, the documentation is not clear and it can be hard to make changes, update, etc.
  • The deployment is not so trivial as you need to deploy it with systemd or run it as a docker container in the host, update the dns, etc.

On the other hand the ValidatingAdmissionWebhook can be used for way more things that just images (if you use the mutating one, well, you can inject or change things on the fly).

The good parts about the ValidatingAdmissionWebhook:

  • Easier deployment since the service runs as a pod.
  • Everything can be a kubernetes resource.
  • Less manual intervention and access to the master is not required.
  • If the pod or service is unavailable then all images are going to be allowed which can be a security risk in some cases, so if you are going this path be sure to make it highly available, this can actually be configured by specifying the failurePolicy to Fail instead of Ignore (Fail is the default).

The bad parts about the ValidatingAdmissionWebhook:

  • Anyone with enough RBAC permissions can update/change the configuration since it’s just another kubernetes resource.


If you intend to use it as a plain service:

$ go get github.com/kainlite/kube-image-bouncer

You can also use this Docker image:

$ docker pull kainlite/kube-image-bouncer


We can rely in the kubernetes CA to generate the certificate that we need, if you want to learn more go here:

Create a CSR:

$ cat <<EOF | cfssl genkey - | cfssljson -bare server
  "hosts": [
  "CN": "system:node:image-bouncer-webhook.default.pod.cluster.local",
  "key": {
    "algo": "ecdsa",
    "size": 256
  "names": [
      "O": "system:nodes"

Then apply it to the cluster

$ cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f -
apiVersion: certificates.k8s.io/v1
kind: CertificateSigningRequest
  name: image-bouncer-webhook.default
  request: $(cat server.csr | base64 | tr -d '\n')
  signerName: kubernetes.io/kubelet-serving
  - digital signature
  - key encipherment
  - server auth

Approve and get your certificate for later use

$ kubectl get csr image-bouncer-webhook.default -o jsonpath='{.status.certificate}' | base64 --decode > server.crt

ImagePolicyWebhook path

There are two possible ways to deploy this controller (webhook), for this to work you will need to create the certificates as explained below, but first we need to take care of other details add this to your hosts file in the master or where the bouncer will run:

We use this name because it has to match with the names from the certificate, since this will run outside kuberntes and it could even be externally available, we just fake it with a hosts entry

$ echo " image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc" >> /etc/hosts

Also in the apiserver you need to update it with these settings:


If you did this method you don’t need to create the validating-webhook-configuration.yaml resource nor apply the kubernetes deployment to run in the cluster.

Create an admission control configuration file named /etc/kubernetes/kube-image-bouncer/admission_configuration.json file with the following contents:

  "imagePolicy": {
     "kubeConfigFile": "/etc/kubernetes/kube-image-bouncer/kube-image-bouncer.yml",
     "allowTTL": 50,
     "denyTTL": 50,
     "retryBackoff": 500,
     "defaultAllow": false

Adjust the defaults if you want to allow images by default.

Create a kubeconfig file /etc/kubernetes/kube-image-bouncer/kube-image-bouncer.yml with the following contents:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Config
- cluster:
    certificate-authority: /etc/kubernetes/kube-image-bouncer/pki/server.crt
    server: https://image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc:1323/image_policy
  name: bouncer_webhook
- context:
    cluster: bouncer_webhook
    user: api-server
  name: bouncer_validator
current-context: bouncer_validator
preferences: {}
- name: api-server
    client-certificate: /etc/kubernetes/pki/apiserver.crt
    client-key:  /etc/kubernetes/pki/apiserver.key

This configuration file instructs the API server to reach the webhook server at https://image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc:1323 and use its /image_policy endpoint, we’re reusing the certificates from the apiserver and the one for kube-image-bouncer that we already generated.

Be aware that you need to be sitting in the folder with the certs for that to work:

$ docker run --rm -v `pwd`/server-key.pem:/certs/server-key.pem:ro -v `pwd`/server.crt:/certs/server.crt:ro -p 1323:1323 --network host kainlite/kube-image-bouncer -k /certs/server-key.pem -c /certs/server.crt

ValidatingAdmissionWebhook path

If you are going this path, all you need to do is generate the certificates, everything else can be done with kubectl, first of all you have to create a tls secret holding the webhook certificate and key (we just generated this in the previous step):

$ kubectl create secret tls tls-image-bouncer-webhook \
  --key server-key.pem \
  --cert server.pem

Then create a kubernetes deployment for the image-bouncer-webhook:

$ kubectl apply -f kubernetes/image-bouncer-webhook.yaml

Finally create ValidatingWebhookConfiguration that makes use of our webhook endpoint, you can use this but be sure to update the caBundle with the server.crt content in base64:

$ kubectl apply -f kubernetes/validating-webhook-configuration.yaml

Or you can can simply generate the validating-webhook-configuration.yaml file like this and apply it in one go:

$ cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f -
apiVersion: admissionregistration.k8s.io/v1
kind: ValidatingWebhookConfiguration
  name: image-bouncer-webook
  - name: image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc
      - apiGroups:
          - ""
          - v1
          - CREATE
          - pods
    failurePolicy: Ignore
    sideEffects: None
    admissionReviewVersions: ["v1", "v1beta1"]
      caBundle: $(kubectl get csr image-bouncer-webhook.default -o jsonpath='{.status.certificate}')
        name: image-bouncer-webhook
        namespace: default

This could be easily automated (helm chart coming soon…), changes can take a bit to reflect, so wait a few seconds and give it a try.


Both paths should work the same way and you will see a similar error message, example:

Error creating: pods "nginx-latest-sdsmb" is forbidden: image policy webhook backend denied one or more images: Images using latest tag are not allowed


Warning  FailedCreate  23s (x15 over 43s)  replication-controller  Error creating: admission webhook "image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc" denied the request: Images using latest tag are not allowed

Create a nginx-versioned RC to validate that versioned releases still work:

$ cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f -
apiVersion: v1
kind: ReplicationController
  name: nginx-versioned
  replicas: 1
    app: nginx-versioned
      name: nginx-versioned
        app: nginx-versioned
      - name: nginx-versioned
        image: nginx:1.13.8
        - containerPort: 80

Ensure/check the replication controller is actually running:

$ kubectl get rc
nginx-versioned   1         1         0         2h

Now create one for nginx-latest to validate that our controller/webhook can actually reject pods with images using the latest tag:

$ cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f -
apiVersion: v1
kind: ReplicationController
  name: nginx-latest
  replicas: 1
    app: nginx-latest
      name: nginx-latest
        app: nginx-latest
      - name: nginx-latest
        image: nginx
        - containerPort: 80

If we check the pod it should not be created and the RC should show something similar to the following output, you can also check with kubectl get events --sort-by='{.lastTimestamp}':

$ kubectl describe rc nginx-latest
Name:         nginx-latest
Namespace:    default
Selector:     app=nginx-latest
Labels:       app=nginx-latest
Annotations:  <none>
Replicas:     0 current / 1 desired
Pods Status:  0 Running / 0 Waiting / 0 Succeeded / 0 Failed
Pod Template:
  Labels:  app=nginx-latest
    Image:        nginx
    Port:         80/TCP
    Host Port:    0/TCP
    Environment:  <none>
    Mounts:       <none>
  Volumes:        <none>
  Type             Status  Reason
  ----             ------  ------
  ReplicaFailure   True    FailedCreate
  Type     Reason        Age                 From                    Message
  ----     ------        ----                ----                    -------
  Warning  FailedCreate  23s (x15 over 43s)  replication-controller  Error creating: admission webhook "image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc" denied the request: Images using latest tag are not allowed


It’s always useful to see the apiserver logs if you are using the admission controller path since it will log there why did it fail, and also the logs from the image-bouncer, for example: apiserver

W0107 17:39:00.619560       1 dispatcher.go:142] rejected by webhook "image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc": &errors.StatusError{ErrStatus:v1.Status{TypeMeta:v1.TypeMeta{Kind:"", APIVersion:""}, ListMeta:v1.ListMeta{ SelfLink:"", ResourceVersion:"", Continue:"", RemainingItemCount:(*int64)(nil)}, Status:"Failure", Message:"admission webhook \"image-bouncer-webhook.default.svc\" denied the request: Images using latest tag are not allowed", Reason:"", Details:(*v1.StatusDetails)(nil), Code:400}}


echo: http: TLS handshake error from remote error: tls: bad certificate
method=POST, uri=/image_policy?timeout=30s, status=200
method=POST, uri=/image_policy?timeout=30s, status=200
method=POST, uri=/image_policy?timeout=30s, status=200

The error is from a manual test, the others are successful requests from the apiserver.

The code itself

Lets take a really brief look at the critical parts of creating an admission controller or webhook:

This is a section of the main.go as we can see we are handling two POST paths with different methods, and some other validations, what we need to know is that the we will receive a POST method call with a JSON payload and that we need to convert to an admission controller review request.

    app.Action = func(c *cli.Context) error {
        e := echo.New()
        e.POST("/image_policy", handlers.PostImagePolicy())
        e.POST("/", handlers.PostValidatingAdmission())

            Format: "method=${method}, uri=${uri}, status=${status}\n",

        if debug {

        if whitelist != "" {
            handlers.RegistryWhitelist = strings.Split(whitelist, ",")
                "Accepting only images from these registries: %+v\n",
            fmt.Println("WARN: this feature is implemented only by the ValidatingAdmissionWebhook code")
        } else {
            fmt.Println("WARN: accepting images from ALL registries")

        var err error
        if cert != "" && key != "" {
            err = e.StartTLS(fmt.Sprintf(":%d", port), cert, key)
        } else {
            err = e.Start(fmt.Sprintf(":%d", port))

        if err != nil {
            return cli.NewExitError(err, 1)

        return nil


This is a section from handlers/validating_admission.go, basically it parses and validates if the image should be allowed or not and then it sends an AdmissionReponse back with the flag Allowed set to true or false. If you want to learm more about the different types used here you can explore the v1beta1.Admission Documentation

func PostValidatingAdmission() echo.HandlerFunc {
    return func(c echo.Context) error {
        var admissionReview v1beta1.AdmissionReview

        err := c.Bind(&admissionReview)
        if err != nil {
            c.Logger().Errorf("Something went wrong while unmarshalling admission review: %+v", err)
            return c.JSON(http.StatusBadRequest, err)
        c.Logger().Debugf("admission review: %+v", admissionReview)

        pod := v1.Pod{}
        if err := json.Unmarshal(admissionReview.Request.Object.Raw, &pod); err != nil {
            c.Logger().Errorf("Something went wrong while unmarshalling pod object: %+v", err)
            return c.JSON(http.StatusBadRequest, err)
        c.Logger().Debugf("pod: %+v", pod)

        admissionReview.Response = &v1beta1.AdmissionResponse{
            Allowed: true,
            UID:     admissionReview.Request.UID,
        images := []string{}

        for _, container := range pod.Spec.Containers {
            images = append(images, container.Image)
            usingLatest, err := rules.IsUsingLatestTag(container.Image)
            if err != nil {
                c.Logger().Errorf("Error while parsing image name: %+v", err)
                return c.JSON(http.StatusInternalServerError, "error while parsing image name")
            if usingLatest {
                admissionReview.Response.Allowed = false
                admissionReview.Response.Result = &metav1.Status{
                    Message: "Images using latest tag are not allowed",

            if len(RegistryWhitelist) > 0 {
                validRegistry, err := rules.IsFromWhiteListedRegistry(
                if err != nil {
                    c.Logger().Errorf("Error while looking for image registry: %+v", err)
                    return c.JSON(
                        "error while looking for image registry")
                if !validRegistry {
                    admissionReview.Response.Allowed = false
                    admissionReview.Response.Result = &metav1.Status{
                        Message: "Images from a non whitelisted registry",

        if admissionReview.Response.Allowed {
            c.Logger().Debugf("All images accepted: %v", images)
        } else {
            c.Logger().Infof("Rejected images: %v", images)

        c.Logger().Debugf("admission response: %+v", admissionReview.Response)

        return c.JSON(http.StatusOK, admissionReview)

Everything is in this repo.

Closing words

This example and the original post were done here, so thank you Flavio Castelli for creating such a great example, my changes are mostly about explaining how it works and the required changes for it to work in the latest kubernetes release (at the moment v1.20.0), as I was learning to use it and to create my own.

The readme file in the project might not match this article but both should work, I didn’t update the entire readme yet.


If you spot any error or have any suggestion, please send me a message so it gets fixed.

Also, you can check the source code and changes in the generated code and the sources here