Add Fine Grained Restrictions to Application Credentials


Currently Keystone application credentials are mostly unrestricted. Restrictions can only be imposed on creation of follow-up application credentials and trusts. Other than that they allow unfettered use of the roles being delegated in the project the application credential is created for. This renders application credentials questionable anywhere a least-privilege delegation is desired. Technically it would be possible to store a white list style list of access rules for an application credential which other OpenStack services would then enforce. This spec outlines an approach for storing and handling such restrictions.

Problem Description

This section uses the predecessor of application credentials, Keystone trusts, to outline a few example where unrestricted role delegation is a problem. The same problem applies to application credentials since both delegate a subset of users’ roles. Only the authentication method is different (a secret for application credentials, a trustee user’s username/password for trusts).

Keystone trusts, have been around for quite a while now (they were introduced in the Grizzly release). Right now, trusts are used by the following projects among others (list may not be complete):

  • Heat: operations on behalf of the user at times when a token may have expired already.

  • Magnum: access to Magnum’s certificate signing API and other OpenStack APIs from inside a cluster’s instances where the container orchestration engine requires it (e.g. Glance as backend for docker-registry or cinder as backend for docker-volume)

Other projects (neutron-lbaas, Barbican) hesitate to employ trusts and application credentials since they are an all-or-nothing approach: they grant full access to all OpenStack APIs in the scope (roles in a project) they are created for. In order to provide least-privilege access, these services implement ACLs of their own (Barbican, Swift) or rely on other services’ ACLs to grant limited access to resources (neutron-lbaas uses Barbican’s ACLs to grant its service user access to secret containers holding SSL keys). Monasca suffers from slightly different problems: it uses Keystone to authenticate metric submission which requires Keystone credentials or an application credential. This can potentially be abused for out-of-band access to other OpenStack APIs from inside any VMs running a Monasca agent.

In summary, there is a real need for fine-grained delegation of access. The implementation of Keystone application credentials as it exists right now cannot serve this need, though: an application credential can only be used to grant full access within the application credential’s project/roles scope, but it cannot be used to give access limited to just one particular resource or access that only allows the creation of specific new resources, but not the modification/deletion of existing resources.

With fine-grained restrictions in place, application credentials can be used to safely grant the least privilege required in the scenarios described above. This is not possible with the current role based access control solution some services use, where a special-purpose role such as Heat`s heat_stack_user role is merely explicitly blacklisted for all operations other than the specific one it is intended for. For this blacklisting usually only extends to the service owning this particular role and putting these restrictions in place (other services usually do not know this role is supposed to have blacklist entries for any and all of _their_ operations and thus allow unrestricted access).

Proposed Change

The approach to implementing fine-grained permissions for application credentials is two-pronged. Permission data is stored in Keystone and enforced by keystonemiddleware as follows:

  1. Alongside an application credential, a list of access rules with zero or more access rules can be stored. An entry in this list consists of:

    1. A URL path (e.g. /v2.1/servers, /v2.1/servers/* or /v2.1/servers/{server_id}). This URL path must be explicitly permitted according to an operator-configured list of access rules (see Access Rules Config below).

    2. A request method (e.g. GET)

    3. A service type (ideally matching the published Service Types Authority) from the Keystone service catalog.

    This list is a whitelist, i.e. any request not explicitly allowed by an access rule is rejected. Keystone itself does not validate the content of access rules because that would require domain knowledge of each service in the catalog.

    The access rules are stored in a separate database table and linked to the application credential so that old rules can be re-used with new application credentials.

  2. keystonemiddleware on the service’s side receives the access rule list during token validation. It then checks

    1. The service type (e.g. compute)

    2. The URL path (e.g. /v2.1/servers/* or /v2.1/servers/{server_id} or /v2.1/servers/b2088298-50e5-4c81-8a50-66bfd1d8943b)

    3. The request method (e.g. GET)

    Against every entry in the access rule list retrieved from the token. If an access rule matches the request, checking stops and the request is handed over to oslo.policy for the regular role based checking. If no access rules match, the request is rejected right away.

    There are three special cases to access rule list processing:

    1. If no list is provided (i.e. if the access_rules attribute is None), no access rule checking is performed and the request is passed to oslo.policy right away.

    2. If an empty list is provided (i.e. []), all requests are rejected (even if the request would otherwise pass the test in (c).

    3. If there is a valid service token in the request, keystonemiddleware passes the request to oslo.policy right away, though a future iteration of this feature will enable a toggle to control this behavior.

Preventing Regressions

If a Keystone API which supports this feature encounters a keystonemiddleware version (or 3rd party software authenticating against Keystone) that dates to before implementation of this feature there is potential for regression: while Keystone would provide the access rule list upon token validation, the other side would simply ignore it - giving the requests all the permissions granted by the delegated roles. This can be prevented by treating application credentials with access rules (i.e. a access_rules attribute that is not None) as follows):

  1. When requesting token validation, keystonemiddleware (or any 3rd party application that supports access rule enforcement) sets an Openstack-Identity-Access-Rules header with a version string as its value. Token validation for an application credential with a access rule list will only succeed if this header is present. The version string will allow us to safely extend this feature by invalidating tokens using the extended version in situations where keystonemiddleware only supports an older version of this feature.

  2. If there is no Openstack-Identity-Access-Rules header in the token validation request, token validation fails.

This way we ensure that nobody erroneously assumes access rules are being enforced in environments where outdated keystonemiddleware (or its equivalent in 3rd party software) cannot enforce them because it is not aware of them. For any application credentials that do not have access rules, validation proceeds as it would have before the introduction of access rules (regardless of whether there is an Openstack-Identity-Access-Rules or not).

API Examples

An example creation request for an application credential looks as follows:

POST /v3/users/{user_id}/application_credentials
    "application_credential": {
        "name": "allow-metrics-logs",
        "description": "Allow submitting metrics and logs to Monasca",
        "access_rules": [
                "path": "/v2.0/metrics",
                "method": "POST"
                "path": "/v3.0/logs",
                "method": "POST"

With this, two new access rules will be created under the user’s ID. They can be queried like this:


GET /v3/users/{user_id}/access_rules


    "access_rules": [
            "id": "180e86bc",
            "path": "/v2.0/metrics",
            "method": "POST"
            "id": "03e13d17",
            "path": "/v3.0/logs",
            "method": "POST"

If desired, they could then be re-used for another application credential by providing the ID:

POST /v3/users/{user_id}/application_credentials
    "application_credential": {
        "name": "allow-just-metrics",
        "description": "Allow submitting only metrics to Monasca",
        "access_rules": [
                "id": "180e86bc"


  1. One alternative to this exists already: internal ACL implementations by various OpenStack services. This situation is undesirable for several reasons, some of which are:

    1. Auditability: authorization information is stored in multiple

      locations, all of which need to be checked to find out who is authorized to perform what operation. From an auditability perspective it would be preferable to have a central source of truth.

    2. Maintenance: when there are multiple independent implementations a lot

      of code is duplicated and bugs may be duplicated as well as new projects implement their own ACL system.

    3. Consistency: with multiple sources of truth, an individual service’s

      ACLs may well end up overriding a cloud-wide policy permitting or denying an operation.

  2. 391624 proposes a superficially similar role check in keystonemiddleware. There are several key differences, though:

    1. Application credential access rules do not require a Cambrian explosion of fine-grained roles (one for every API operation of every OpenStack service) that must be managed by an administrator.

    2. Application credential access rules does not require any changes to existing policy enforcement. Instead, they add an additional check that takes place before policy enforcement even comes into play and rejects requests early. Not being entangled with policy enforcement gives us the freedom to start out with a very basic implementation and add features as required later (as opposed to having to be feature complete immediately).

    3. The role check in keystonemiddleware targets administrators who want to create role profiles for their users, such as “give this user read-only access to any services’ resources but without letting them create new ones”. Application credential access rules on the other hand, target OpenStack services and third party applications that only need access to a select handful of operations such as “submit SSL certificates to the Magnum API for signing”.

    4. Application credential access rules do not require keystone to be the guardian of access control rules, since all the information needed to validate access is contained in the token.

    5. Unlike a policy based check, an access rule based check will also work for services that do not use oslo.policy such as Swift.

  3. One implementation detail from the previous section was discussed at length at the Rocky PTG: one could have chosen to match for oslo.policy targets rather than URL paths in the access rules, which would have been easier in some ways. In the end we opted for url paths for the following reasons:

    1. This is user facing and unlike API paths, policy targets are not easily discoverable by the user since there is no documentation on them. Moreover, policy targets are not as formalized as APIs and may easily change over time, thus breaking existing access rules.

    2. URL paths can be rejected in keystonemiddleware, without involving oslo.policy, leading to a faster failure for unauthorized requests.

Future Considerations

Chained API Calls

A future iteration of this feature may create a toggle to control whether a service can use one of these tokens to make background requests on behalf of the user, for example to allow the compute service to make requests to the block storage service even though the block storage API wasn’t explicitly whitelisted in the application credential access rules. For the time being, chained service requests like this will leverage service tokens to ensure that subsequent requests made on behalf of a user will be completed as normal, and will rely on operator-configured policies to prevent abuse.

Access Rules Config

A future iteration of this feature may enable a way for operators to restrict the allowed access rules that a user may configure by creating a global whitelist of access rules against which users’ access rules are validated prior to the creation of the application credential. The value of this would be to assist users in creating valid access rules by validating them against known working rules. It would also give the operator more control of the overall access control configuration. However, for the time being, this feature is infeasible because we lack discoverability of APIs and it is impossible to create a complete list of valid access rules for all services across OpenStack and external to OpenStack. Since providing a complete list is infeasible, leaving it up to the operator to curate their own list causes a poor operating experience for the operator and the list would be susceptible to mistakes, which in turn would cause an extremely poor user experience for the end user.

When this feature becomes feasible, another possibility is to allow operators to configure a role ID for each access rule to indicate that the user needs to provide that role in the application credential in order for the call to proceed. This allows for greater alignment between policy rules and access rules.


This proposal does not restrict the body of requests in any sort of way.

Security Impact

This change tightens security by providing a means to restrict the permissions granted by application credentials. That being said, its implementation does have various security critical aspects:

  • This change adds additional information to the token data retrieved by keystonemiddleware upon token validation.

  • URLs in access rules are user-supplied strings. Care must be taken to guard against format string attacks in these if anything beyond character by character comparison takes place.

  • It might be a good idea to limit the length/number of access rules per API credential to prevent denial of service against the Keystone database (by filling it with bogus rules) or the Keystone API (via large validation payloads). Another reason to introduce such a limit is the possibility to slow down a service by creating application credentials with a large number of non-matching access rules, which can be used to slow down a particular service.

  • This change is unlikely to allow privilege escalation since it only adds additional failing criteria to token validation and policy enforcement. These failing criteria need to be carefully tested for false positives, though.

Notifications Impact

No new notifications will be added from this API.

Other End User Impact

Since this changes adds extra information to application credentials, both python-keystoneclient and python-openstackclient need to be extended to handle that extra information.

Performance Impact

The performance impact upon application credential creation is probably neglible, since all that happens is that a small amount of data is stored along with the application credential.

That small amount of data may not be so small during the token validation, though, resulting in multiple/more packets being sent in response to a validation request, causing congestion and/or increasing latency. This can be mitigated by limiting the number of access rules allowed per application credential.

Developer Impact

This change provides developers across all OpenStack services with a means to create application credentials with fine-grained permissions, allowing them to delegate access to a user’s roles according to the principle of least privilege.

As far as the application credentials API is concerned, it will be fully backwards compatible, since specifying access rules when creating an application credential is optional: if none are specified, the access_rules attribute will be None, leading to no access rule checks being performed.



Primary assignee:

Other contributors:

Work Items

  1. Extend the application credential API and database schema in Keystone to allow for receiving and storing access rule lists.

  2. Implement handling for access rules in python-keystoneclient and python-openstackclient.

  3. Extend the Keystone token validation API to access rule lists upon upon token validation.

  4. Implement the endpoint list check in keystonemiddleware.



Documentation Impact

  • The access rule related settings for application credentials need to be documented in the release notes and the admin guide.

  • Documentation on access rules needs to be added to the Application Credentials section of the Keystone user documentation.