June 26, 2018

Cilium 1.1: Istio sidecar mode, cri-o/containerd support, improved efficiency & scale, init policies

We are excited to announce Cilium 1.1. 33 contributors have contributed 964 commits to this release. Below is a list of highlighted features and architectural improvements that have made the 1.1 release in addition to the countless bugfixes.

What is Cilium?

Cilium is open source software for transparently securing the network connectivity between application services deployed using Linux container management platforms like Docker and Kubernetes.

At the foundation of Cilium is a new Linux kernel technology called BPF, which enables the dynamic insertion of powerful security visibility and control logic within Linux itself. Because BPF runs inside the Linux kernel, Cilium security policies can be applied and updated without any changes to the application code or container configuration.

See the section Introduction to Cilium for a more detailed introduction to Cilium.


  • Deep Istio Integration

    • mTLS compatibility: New alternative mode to enforce Cilium application protocol security policies directly in the Istio sidecar proxy managed by Pilot to support application level policy enforcement when Mutual TLS is in effect. Pod and port-level policies continue to be enforced outside of the pod.
    • Istio guide: New getting started guide based on Istio 0.8.0 release that features Helm charts to deploy Istio.
    • Init policies: A new init identity covers the time span of a pod while it is being initialized, i.e. while the labels and or policy of an endpoint is not known yet. The init policy enforces a configurable policy. It is in particular importance to Istio architectures because the sidecar proxy of a pod is required to have privileges to communicate with the control plane running in the istio-system namespace.
  • Support for additional container runtimes

    • The runtimes are automatically detected as reliably as possible but can also be explicitly specified using the --container-runtime option.
    • cri-o: Includes an extension of the minikube getting started guide with the cri-o specific deployment steps.
    • containerd
  • Additional Network Security for Kubernetes

    • podSelector && namespaceSelector: Support for the new combined podSelector and namespaceSelector in NetworkPolicy as introduced in Kubernetes 1.11.
    • Service accounts: Ability to match on the Kubernetes Service Account association of a pod. Please see example below.
    • NodePort security: Ability to differentiate between local host and traffic that is SNATed to the node IP when entering the node. This allows differentiation between host traffic performing health checks and external accesses via NodePort. Old behavior can be preserved with the --k8s-legacy-host-allows-world option.
    • Changing pod labels: The policy enforcement layer now supports containers and pods changing their labels on the fly.
    • Policy correlation: Annotations of a CiliumNetworkPolicy are now mirrored in the status field for each node. This simplifies the correlation of what policy is being enforced on which node.
  • Extended IP/CIDR policy enforcement capabilities

    • Combined IP+L4/L7: Support to specify port and application protocol (L7) rules that only apply in combination with IP/CIDR matching.
    • Unlimited # of CIDR prefix lengths: CIDR enforcement implementation with new BPF longest-prefix-match map when available. Leads to support of unlimited number of prefix lengths.
  • Improved connection tracker efficiency

    • CT cleanup on deny: Removal of connection tracking entries when policy denies the traffic. This is possible because the policy enforcement cost is only O(1).
    • Improved UDP conntrack: More aggressive cleaning of connection tracking table for non-TCP traffic. This primarily improves resource usage of workloads such as Prometheus metrics scraping causing a continuously large number of DNS lookups per second.
  • Efficiency & Scale

    • Large identity count environments: Massive improvement of identity allocation performance in environments with several thousand workload identities.
    • MTU improvements: Better MTU handling by implementing the encapsulation packet overhead via the MTU metric of the transmission route to allow using the full MTU on receive. This reduces the probability of fragmentation and packet drops.
  • Additional Prometheus metrics

    • L3/L4/L7 forwards/drops: Counters for all forwarded and rejected traffic on both packet and application protocol request layer. Packet level metrics are exported directly from the BPF datapath using efficient per-CPU maps. Application protocol metrics are exported by the proxies.
    • Status as a metric: Representation of all status-relevant failure scenarios such as the number of failing controllers.
  • Reliability Work

    • Support for changing host IPs: If you add or change one of the IPs of the host, it will be properly detected and policy is applied accordingly. This is made possible by replying to all ARP requests with the virtual MAC address of the Cilium router regardless of the IP being requested as all traffic is always L3 forwarded.
    • Continous BPF synchronization: Synchronization of policy to BPF maps is now done via controllers. If something modifies the state of the BPF maps other than Cilium, the state in the BPF map is automatically fixed again.
    • Reuse of devices & routes: Network devices and routes are no longer re-created but modified if possible to ensure continued connectivity across agent restarts.
    • Synchronous CNI plugin: The CNI plugin is now performing the plumbing in a synchronous fashion. This guarantees that networking is being provided from the moment the application container is being spawned. See init policy to define policy privileges for the duration when workload identity is not known yet.
    • TCP keepalive support: Envoy and the Kafka proxy now enable TCP keepalive by default to ensure that persistent connections are never subject to connection tracking expiration even if no data is being sent for days.
    • IPv6: Improved handling of unsupported IPv6 extension headers.
  • Operations

    • Require k8s PodCIDR allocation: New agent options --k8s-require-ipv4-pod-cidr and --k8s-require-ipv6-pod-cidr to require the Kubernetes PodCIDR to be provided by Kubernetes via the Node resource.
    • IPv6: New --ipv6-cluster-alloc-cidr option to specify the IPv6 CIDR when Cilium allocates the per node IPv6 CIDR.
    • CNI compatibility: Rename of default CNI configuration name from 10-cilium.conf to 00-cilium.conf to simplify plugging Cilium into existing Kubernetes environments as some CNI plugins do not remove the configuration file when they get uninstalled.
    • State pruning: New clean-cilium-state option in the Kubernetes ConfigMap which will trigger running an init container when the Cilium pods starts up to clean all existing state before Cilium starts up.
    • BPF filesystem: Improved automatic mounting of the BPF filesystem when Cilium is being run in a separate mount namespace.
    • Ubuntu 18.04 base image: The base image for the Cilium container image has been upgraded to Ubuntu 18.04.
  • Documentation

Deep Istio integration

Cilium deeply integrates with Istio. Cilium operates as a CNI plugin and provides connectivity as well as transparent security starting packet level all the way up to API level. Among many things, Istio can provide Mutual TLS-based authentication between Istio managed services as well as authorization. Both are implemented with the help of a sidecar proxy running inside of the application pod. When running Istio in combination with Cilium, Cilium can:

  • Secure the Istio sidecar and control plane. More on this below.
  • Run in a Mutual TLS-compatible configuration allowing Cilium to enforce Cilium security policies using the Istio sidecar architecture.
  • Enhance the performance of Istio and Envoy by reducing the overhead introduced by the sidecar architecture. More details on this can be found in this separate blog post.

Restrict unsupported protocols

Istio ignores network traffic for protocols that are not supported by Istio. This includes all UDP, ICMP and IPv6 traffic. Traffic using these unsupported protocols is thus not subject to Istio's authentication and authorization rules and will bypass enforcement.

Cilium guarantees enforcement of all security policies outside of the pod regardless of the protocol being used. Cilium follows a strict whitelist model which will result in rejection of any unknown traffic. This allows restriction of traffic with protocols not supported by Istio and cover scenarios such as:

  • Prevent a compromised pod to leak information using a UDP based gossip protocol by only allowing UDP traffic to kube-dns running in the kube-system namespace.
  • Apply security policies to TCP ports which are excluded from the sidecar redirection logic. This could include restriction of traffic to only the port that is being redirected to the sidecar.
  • Prevent a compromised pod to leak information to a public IPv6 address which would otherwise bypass the proxy.

Securing the Sidecar

The sidecar proxy itself is not subject to any security rules as the proxy is being excepted from the redirection logic else it would cause a continuous loop. As Cilium provides enforcement outside of the pod, the traffic of a potentially compromised sidecar proxy is still subject to the security policies rules by:

  • Limiting communication to allowed services in the cluster to complement Mutual TLS. This is particularly important as a compromised sidecar gains access to all other services that are not using Mutual TLS because there is no ingress protection on the receiving side of the service.

  • Preventing a pod from leaking sensitive information by either not allowing the pod to communicate outside of the cluster at all or by limiting it to well-known IP/CIDR ranges on well known ports.

Securing the Control Plane

All Istio sidecars communicate with the Istio control plane that is deployed within the cluster. This communication is required for operations and application pods are required to have access to these services. Here are a few examples of how Cilium improves security of the overall architecture:

  • Only allow application pods that have been injected with an Istio sidecar to have access to the control plane. This can be achieved having Cilium policies match on Istio annotation added to pods during injection. Pods without an injected Istio sidecar proxy should not have access to the control plane.

  • The Istio control plane collects a lot of sensitive information as it manages certificates, performs tracing and host authorization logic. The control plane components obviously must be subject to security policies to prevent leaking of this information.

mTLS-compatible API-aware security policies

Prior to the 1.1 release, use of the Istio Mutual TLS functionality encrypted all of the TCP traffic between services, which restricted the capability of Cilium to enforce API-aware security policies for such services. Starting with Cilium 1.1, Cilium is capable of reusing the Envoy instance running as a sidecar inside the pod to enforce the Cilium security policies.

No change to the policies is required. All API level policies will be enforced in the sidecar and all policies on a pod/service and port level continue to be applied outside of the pod. Thus it will continue to include network traffic that is currently unsupported by Istio.

Please follow the Istio Getting Started Guide to learn how to run Cilium in the Mutual TLS compatible mode.

Init Policy

Security labels are bound to pod and container labels. Certain labels are only associated with a pod while the pod is being initialized. Consequently, the privileges granted by the policy matching on such labels are only applied while the pod is being initialized. This can lead to lack of connectivity while a pod or container initialization. Cilium 1.1 introduces a new init policy concept which allows definition of privileges which should be applied to pods and containers that are being initialized.

Kubernetes Example:

apiVersion: "cilium.io/v2"
kind: CiliumNetworkPolicy
  name: init-allow-dns
  - endpointSelector:
        "reserved:init": ""
    - toEntities:
      - all
      - ports:
        - port: "53"
          protocol: UDP

The above example allows all pods in the initialization phase to emit traffic on port 53/UDP regardless of the destination. Instead of an entities match on all, this policy could also match on the labels of kube-dns k8s-app=kube-dns, see kube-dns policy example for more information.

Kubernetes Service Account Policy

The service account of a pod is either defined via the service account admission controller or can be directly specified in the Pod, Deployment, ReplicationController resource like this:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: my-pod
  serviceAccountName: leia

The following example grants any pod running under the service account of "luke" to issue a HTTP GET /public request on TCP port 80 to all pods running associated to the service account of "leia".

apiVersion: "cilium.io/v2"
kind: CiliumNetworkPolicy
  name: "k8s-svc-account"
      io.cilium.k8s.policy.serviceaccount: leia
  - fromEndpoints:
    - matchLabels:
        io.cilium.k8s.policy.serviceaccount: luke
    - ports:
      - port: '80'
        protocol: TCP
        - method: GET
          path: "/public$"

Upgrade Notes

Changed Behavior: External traffic no longer classified as host

In Cilium 1.0, all traffic from the host, including from local processes and traffic that is masqueraded from the outside world to the host IP, was classified as from the host entity (reserved:host label).

Cilium 1.1 introduces the capability to differentiate between traffic emitted from local processes and traffic that was merely masqueraded on the host. This provides additional security control in environments where masquerading cannot be disabled for one reason or another.

In order to not break any existing deployments, the following migration step is required:

  • An existing Kubernetes DaemonSet with an existing ConfigMap will preserve the behavior. The user is required to edit the ConfigMap cilium-config and add the option: legacy-host-allows-world: "false".

  • New deployments will automatically opt into the new behavior as the default ConfigMap already contains the option legacy-host-allows-world: "false".

Changed Behavior: MTU

Cilium 1.0 by default configured the MTU of all Cilium-related devices and endpoint devices to 1450 bytes, to guarantee that packets sent from an endpoint would remain below the MTU of a tunnel. This had the side-effect that when a Cilium-managed pod made a request to an outside (world) IP, if the response came back in 1500B chunks, then it would be fragmented when transmitted to the cilium_host device. These fragments then pass through the Cilium policy logic. Latter IP fragments would not contain L4 ports, so if any L4 or L4+L7 policy was applied to the destination endpoint, then the fragments would be dropped. This could cause disruption to network traffic.

Cilium 1.1 fixes the above issue by increasing the MTU of the Cilium-related devices and endpoint devices to 1500B (or larger based on container runtime settings), then, given Cilium is configured to run in tunneling mode, configures a route within the endpoint at a lower MTU to ensure that transmitted packets will fit within tunnel encapsulation. This addresses the above issue for all new pods.

Upgrading to Cilium 1.1 will not automatically adjust the MTU of existing pods. Pods must be restarted in order for them to receive the new MTU setting. New pods will automatically be configured with the improved MTU settings.

Upgrade Instructions

As usual, follow the upgrade guide to upgrade your Cilium deployment. Feel free to ping us on Slack.


  • Container image: docker.io/cilium/cilium:v1.1.0