Glance Image Signing and Verification

Before Liberty, OpenStack did not support the following feature:

  • Signature validation of uploaded signed images

Deploying authentication protects image integrity by verifying that an image has not been modified after the upload by the user. This feature improves the enterprise-ready posture of OpenStack.

Although an initial implementation was merged into Glance for the Liberty release, adding functionality for this feature to Nova requires modifications to this implementation [1].

Problem description

Before Liberty, there was no method for users to verify that a previously uploaded image had not been modified. An image could potentially be modified in transit (such as when it is uploaded to Glance or transferred to Nova) or Glance itself could be untrusted and modify images without a user’s knowledge. An image that is modified could include malicious code. Providing support for image signatures and signature verification would allow the user to verify that an image has not been modified prior to booting the image.

There are several use cases that this feature supports:

  • An image is signed by an End User, using the user’s private key. The user then uploads the image to Glance, along with the signature created and a reference to the user’s public key certificate. Glance uses this information to verify that the signature is valid, and notifies the user if the signature is invalid.

  • An image is created in Nova, and Nova signs the image at the request of the End User. When the image is uploaded to Glance, the signature and public key certificate reference are also provided. Glance verifies the signature before storing the image, and notifies Nova if the signature verification fails.

  • A signed image is requested by Nova, and Glance provides the signature and a reference to the public key certificate to Nova along with the image so that Nova can verify the signature before booting the image.

Proposed change

For the initial implementation in Liberty, this change used the property feature of Glance to store the metadata items needed for image signing and verification. These include a public key certificate reference, and the signature. These are provided when the image is created, and are accessible when the image is uploaded. Note that the feature only supports image uploads with the Glance API v2 (and does not support using the Glance API v1). Also note that multiple formats for the key (such as SubjectPublicKeyInfo) and for the signature (such as PSS) are supported. The format of the signature is stored as one of the properties.

The certificate reference is used to access the certificate from a key manager, where the certificate is stored. This certificate is added to the key manager by the end user before uploading the image. Note that the signature is done offline.

Glance supports computing a checksum of an image when an image is uploaded, and this checksum is stored with the image. In the Liberty implementation, this same hash (which is hardcoded to be MD5) was used for the signature verification. The checksum hash is computed in glance_store (when the image data is uploaded), and is then used to verify the signature in Liberty. The Glance frontend uses the reference to the public key certificate to retrieve the certificate from the key manager, and then uses this public key along with the signature, the computed checksum, and the rest of the signature metadata to verify the signature. If the signature verification fails, the image is transition to a killed state, and the user is notified that the upload failed and given a reason why.

However, in Mitaka, this approach will be modified to instead validate a signature of the image data, rather than validating an image signature of a hash of the image data. To explain this further, consider the following two options using ‘RSA-PSS’ as the signature type, and ‘SHA-256’ as the signature hash method:

  1. A signature of the Glance checksum of the image data (hardcoded to MD5)

signature = RSA-PSS(SHA-256(MD5(IMAGE-CONTENT)))

  1. A signature of the image data directly

signature = RSA-PSS(SHA-256(IMAGE-CONTENT))

The first approach (‘sign-the-hash’) was implemented in Liberty, but the second approach (‘sign-the-data’) will be used instead in Mitaka. Although the sign-the-hash approach will still be supported in Mitaka, it will be deprecated, and removed in a later release. Note that, as seen above, the ‘sign-the-data’ approach still involves creating a hash of the image. However, this is done as part of the signature verification process, and is internal to the signature verifier. This is in contrast to the ‘sign-the-hash’ approach, where the verifier does a hash of the hash of the image data as part of the verification process.

To support the ‘sign-the-data’ approach, a few modifications will have to be made. Currently, the ‘checksum’ is computed in each of the glance_store/_drivers/*.py ‘add’ methods. When ‘checksum.update()’ is called for the image data chunk, this data chunk will also be passed to a signature_utils module (through an optional callback method), provided that the necessary signature properties are present. These data chunks will then be used to update the signature verifier, and when the image data is done being read the verifier will be finalized and the verification will occur. As in Liberty, if the signature verification fails, the image is transition to a killed state, and the user is notified that the upload failed and given a reason why.


An alternative to replacing the sign-the-hash approach with the sign-the-data approach would be to leave the Liberty implementation as-is. However, there has been pushback from the Nova community with this approach [2], since it requires initially using MD5 (which is not cryptographically secure) as the basis, and then querying Glance for the hash method used, assuming the hash was made configurable. In the interest of using an implementation that is accepted by both Glance and Nova, as well as removing any attachment to MD5, it is necessary to modify the initial approach.

An alternative to the sign-the-data approach is to create a separate configurable hash for use with verifying/creating the signature. However, creating a separate hash is no different performance-wise to signing the image data directly, since part of the signature verification process is computing a hash of the image for use with verification. Also, the use of this separate hash, though stronger than MD5, would be limited, since having a signature makes the need for a hash obsolete.

An alternative to storing a reference to the public key certificate in Glance would be to store the actual public key certificate in Glance. However, this approach would be insecure, since Glance, unlike a dedicated key manager, has not been created with storing keys or certificates in mind.

An alternative to using asymmetric keys for integrity and confidentiality is to use symmetric keys. However, in order for Glance to be able to verify the image, it would need to have access to the key used to create the signature. This access would enable Glance to modify the image and create a new signature without the user’s knowledge. Using asymmetric keys enables Glance to verify the signature without giving Glance the power to modify the image and signature.

An alternative to using the Glance properties to store and retrieve the signature metadata would be to create an API extension that support signatures. Then, instead of the user setting the metadata using the property key value pairs, the API extension would be used. Currently, if a user were to use the metadata keys (for the certificate and signature) for other purposes, the image uploads would fail. Another item of note is that an API extension would allow for the management of multiple signatures per image in a clean manner, which is not possible with the properties approach. However, the Images API does not support extensions, so this is not a valid approach.

Another alternative to using the Glance properties to store and retrieve the signature metadata would be to use the CMS (cryptographic message syntax) format as defined in RFC 5652 Section 5. However, the size for this would be variable, and could not use the existing Glance properties, which would require API modifications. For the initial implementation, Glance properties will be used, with the plan to migrate to using CMS in a future implementation as the need for increased flexibility arises.

An alternative to requiring the user to provide the signature separate from the image is to support images that already have an embedded signature. Although this could be included as a future improvement, the initial implementation will not provide embedded signature support, since it is advantageous to keep the initial effort focused and small.

An alternative to focusing on a single-cloud implementation would be to include support for multi-clouds in the initial implementation. If images are exchanged between different clouds, signature verification could be used to confirm that images have not be modified. However, in the interest of a more simplistic initial implementation, explicit support for multi-clouds will be saved for future iterations.

Data model impact


REST API impact

No API changes will be needed for the initial implementation, provided that other services are able to retrieve all of the properties of a given image.

Note that the existing API allows for providing the signature metadata as Glance properties, and returning an error message if verification fails.

Security impact

This change improves the enterprise-ready posture of OpenStack by enabling signature signing and verification.

Although keys are used in this change, the keys themselves are assumed to be stored in a key manager, and only a reference to the certificate is stored in Glance.

This change involves hashing the image data for use in verifying and creating signatures for the image.

Note that the signature length is currently limited to 255 bytes, since this is the maximum size supported for Glance properties. In turn, this limits the size of the keys that can be used for signature creation.

Notifications impact

This change will involve adding log messages to indicate the success or failure of signature verification and creation.

Other end user impact

The user will be required to provide the appropriate information needed for the signing and verification in order to use this feature.

There are no changes that need to be made to python-glanceclient.

Performance Impact

The feature will only be used if a user has provided the appropriate properties during the image upload. Otherwise, no signature verification or creation will occur.

When signature verification and creation do occur, there will be some latency associated with retrieving the certificate from the key manager. Also, as a part of the signature verification or creation, a hash of the image data is computed by the ‘verifier’ or ‘signer’ which will have a small impact on performance.

Other deployer impact


Developer impact




Primary assignee:


Other contributors:



Core reviewer(s):

flaper87 nikhil_k

Other reviewer(s):


Work Items

The feature will be tackled in the following stages:

  1. Add signature verification on upload to verify a signature of the image data directly, rather than a signature of the MD5 hash of the image data, when the new signature metadata property names are present.

  2. Add a log entry to mark the sign-the-hash verification path as deprecated in Mitaka, when the old signature metadata property names are present.

  3. Remove the sign-the-hash verification steps in the release after Mitaka.


In order to take advantage of the signatures in Glance, Nova will need to be updated to retrieve the signatures from Glance and verify them. However, Glance does not depend on Nova to have this support in order to have the feature added. The spec for this in Nova [2] has been approved.


Before Nova support for this feature is added, unit tests will be sufficient. Once Nova support is added, Tempest tests should ensure that the interaction between Nova and Glance works as expected.

Documentation Impact

Instructions for how to use the change will need to be documented. These include instructions for the user on how to create keys and signatures offline before providing this information during the creation of an image.

This documentation will also include descriptions for each of the following signature metadata properties (note that “img_” has been included at Nova’s request):

  • img_signature: the signature of the “checksum hash” encoded in base64 format

  • img_signature_hash_method: the hash method used to create the signature

  • img_signature_key_type: the key type used in creating the signature

    • valid values are: “RSA-PSS”

  • img_signature_certificate_uuid: the uuid used to retrieve the certificate from castellan