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EdgeX Microservice Authentication (token-based)


  • Bryon Nevis (Intel)

Change Log

Referenced Use Case(s)


The AS-IS Architecture figure below depicts the current state of microservice communication security prior to EdgeX 3.0, when security is enabled:

AS-IS Architecture

As shown in the diagram, many of the foundational services used by EdgeX Foundry have already been secured:

  • Communication with EdgeX's secret store, as implemented by Hashicorp Vault, is secured over a local HTTP socket with token-based authentication. An access control list limits access to the keyspace of the key value store.

  • Communication with EdgeX's service registry and configuration provider, as implemented by Hashicorp Consul, is secured over a local HTTP socket with token-based authentication, with the token being mediated by Hashicorp Vault. An access control list limits access to the keyspace of the configuration store.

  • Communication with EdgeX's default database, Redis, is secured using username/password authentication, with the password stored in Hashicorp Vault. An access control list limits the commands that clients are allowed to issue to the server.

External access to EdgeX microservices has also been secured. EdgeX microservices only bind to local ports, and are only exposed externally through a Kong API gateway. This gateway is configured to use TLS 1.3, using RS256 or ES256 JWT authentication (at the user's discretion). All external requests are filtered at the API gateway. URL rewriting is used to concentrate microservices on a single HTTP-accessible port.

Behind the proxy, it is not possible to verify Kong as the origin of local network traffic because mutual-auth TLS is not supported in the open source version of Kong. Although the Kong JWT plugin will set request headers on the backend request that identify the caller, there is no mechanism by which Kong can prove to a backend service that it was the component that performed the authentication step. Even though the original JWT passes through the proxy, the Kong authentication plugins do not expose token introspection endpoints that the backend service could use to check token validity independently.

The consequence of having an API gateway that performs all microservice authentication is that communication between EdgeX microservices running behind the API gateway are not authenticated in any way. EdgeX microservices are unable to distinguish malicious traffic that has evaded the API gateway from legitimate microservice traffic.

Proposed Design

This ADR proposes an implementation of the Microservice Authentication UCR that uses a token-based authentication mechanism.

This ADR proposes to relieve the Kong API gateway of its JWT management responsibility, and instead use Hashicorp Vault for this purpose, which is already used as EdgeX's secret store. This change requires minimal modification of existing clients written to perform JWT-based authentication at the Kong gateway: they simply use a Vault-issued JWT instead of a Kong-issued JWT or a self-issued JWT.

This ADR proposes a layered authentication scheme, with the reverse proxy performing an initial check for all external requests, and EdgeX services themselves authenticating all internal and external requests. There are three reasons for the layered approach:

  1. Authentication at the proxy layer provides a choke point and policy enforcement points for incoming requests. By customizing the behavior of the proxy-auth component, it is possible to allow access to some URLs and deny access to other URLs based on arbitrary criteria, such as source IP address, JWT-based claims, or user identity and role mappings.

  2. It means that individual microservices do not immediately need to implement fine-grained authorization to get the same effect as having custom policy enforcement at the proxy.

  3. It provides defense-in-depth against microservice implementation bugs and other technical debt that might otherwise put EdgeX microservices at risk. Getting a known response to /core-data/api/v2/ping as a result of an anonymous HTTP request would positively identify an EdgeX installation. Similarly, an adopter porting their custom services to EdgeX 3.0 without adding authentication hooks could be vulnerable to outside attacks that might be mitigated by the additional check at the proxy layer.

EdgeX microservices shall utilize Vault to assess JWT validity and an NGINX reverse proxy shall use the ngx_http_auth_request_module to delegate confirmation of JWT validity. TLS termination at the reverse proxy shall be enabled by default so as to be consistent with ADR 0015 - Encryption between microservices.

Behind the proxy, there are two major changes:

  1. Every EdgeX service, when security is enabled, requires a JWT be passed as part of the HTTP request that is validated using Vault's token introspection endpoint, or manually validated based on published signature keys.

  2. Every EdgeX service, when security is enabled, uses a Vault-supplied JWT to authenticate outgoing calls to peer EdgeX services. The original caller's identity may be passed through at the developers' discretion for microservice chaining scenarios.

The new TO-BE architecture is diagrammed in the following figure:

TO-BE Architecture

Implementation pre-requisites

This ADR assumes a minor refactoring to the security bootstrapping components use the Vault identity API and one or more authentication engines to issue identity-based Vault tokens instead of raw Vault tokens. Affected services include, go-mod-secrets (configure identity, issue and validate JWT's), security-secretstore-setup, security-file-token-provider, and security-spiffe-token-provider.

This refactoring results in several benefits:

  • It de-privileges security-secretstore-setup's use of Vault, which currently requires Vault "sudo" capability to issue raw Vault tokens. (This is a blocking issue for customers that want to bring their own Vault.)

  • An external user identity could be authenticated by an external service, such as Auth0. Alternatively, username/password or AppRole authentication could be used if an external source of identity is not available. This is viewed as beneficial, as downstream EdgeX deployments are already building their own similar integrations.

  • An internal service identity could be authenticated by a Kubernetes service account token. This could eliminate the requirement to pre-distribute Vault tokens to services via a shared filesystem volume, simplifying Kubernetes-based deployments of EdgeX.

  • As an added bonus, Vault supports longer JWT key sizes than the Kong JWT plugin.

Additionally, security-bootstrapper will need to modified to not block on availability of Postgres before issuing the ready-to-run signal. (This change is already completed.)

High-level list of changes

The following list of changes is derived from the proof of concept implementation to actually effect the change (besides the prerequisite changes above):

  • Kong and Postgres is removed from compose files and snaps.

  • Add an NGINX reverse proxy with using the proxy auth module.

  • Create a new security-proxy-auth service to check the incoming JWT for validity. (NGINX will be configured to delegate to this service for authentication checks. NGINX could also delegate to a minimal function like /api/v2/version, but the reason as to why the function was called wouldn't be as clear as having a separate authentication service.)

  • The security-proxy-setup container remains, with the binary replaced with a small shell script to create a default TLS certificate and key.

  • The secrets-config utility will create new users in Vault instead of Kong, and update TLS configuration for NGINX on disk instead of the Kong API.

  • Modifications to go-mod-core-contracts to support an injectable authentication interface to add JWT's to outgoing HTTP requests.

  • Modifications to go-mod-bootstrap to realize the go-mod-secrets changes, create common JWT authentication handlers, and inject JWT authentication to the core-contracts clients.

  • Modifications to individual EdgeX services to authenticate selected routes (that is, every route except /api/v2/ping, which remains anonymous).

  • Modifications to security-bootstrapper to build an entrypoint script for NGINX and a default NGINX configuration.

  • Documentation updates.


Token-based authentication is flexible and works in a wide variety of use cases, but does not address issues of network security.

For scenarios where all EdgeX services are running on the same host, or there is an existing solution to network security already in place, such as an encrypted network overlay as might be found in some Kubernetes deployments of EdgeX, the token-based solution offers significant memory and disk savings over the Kong-based solution used in EdgeX releases prior to 3.0.

For scenarios where token-based authentication credentials can be exposed over a network, an authentication solution based on end-to-end encryption would be more appropriate.


Size and Space Impact of Kong + Postgres Versus Alternatives

Disk space

A savings of up to ~300 MB in docker images can be expected, depending on specific selection of container images used. (The POC implementation successfully used the smallest NGINX available, alpine-slim.)

Image Tag Image ID Age Size
nginx alpine 2bc7edbc3cf2 6 days ago 40.7MB
nginx alpine-slim c59097225492 6 days ago 11.5MB
nginx latest 3f8a00f137a0 8 days ago 142MB
kong 2.8 0affcb95d383 6 days ago 139MB
postgres 13.8-alpine 551b13d106b4 4 months ago 213MB
edgexfoundry/security-proxy-auth 0.0.0-dev b2ee5c21efba 8 days ago 16.2MB

Image data collected on 2023-02-17.


A memory savings of up to ~150 MB has been observed in the POC implementation upon initial startup of the framework.

cad71e71ab32 edgex-kong 0.03% 109.4MiB / 15.61GiB 0.68% 255kB / 263kB 0B / 69.6kB 2
9ab4de1e5448 edgex-kong-db 0.11% 64.51MiB / 15.61GiB 0.40% 232kB / 183kB 32.2MB / 53.9MB 18
ff1e97c16e55 edgex-nginx 0.00% 4.289MiB / 15.61GiB 0.03% 3.24kB / 248B 0B / 0B 5
42629157e65c edgex-proxy-auth 0.00% 6.258MiB / 15.61GiB 0.04% 22.9kB / 16.2kB 7.3MB / 0B 11

Alternative: Using Kong to Mediate EdgeX Internal Microservice Interactions

One approach that is seen in some microservice architectures is to force all communication between microservices to go through the external API gateway. There are two problems with this approach:

  • In the typical EdgeX runtime environment, there is no mechanism to block direct microservice-to-microservice communication.

  • The external address of the API gateway may not be known to internal code, increasing implementation difficulty for the programmer.

Alternative: Using Kong as a Service Identity Provider

Neither the JWT nor OAuth2 plugins offer a token introspection endpoint, though it would be possible to create a fake service that EdgeX microservices could call to validate a bearer token. Using the Kong Admin API to obtain a public key for JWT validation via database dump would be unnecessarily complex. Validation of an opaque OAuth2 token would require direct access to Kong's backend database and is also unnecessarily complex.