Securing secrets in Hashicorp Vault using AWS IAM Roles for Service Accounts (IRSA)

Vault supports AWS IAM roles for authentication, offering a choice between hard-coded long-lived credentials and automated AWS IAM Roles for Service Accounts (IRSA).

AWS IAM Roles for Service Accounts (IRSA) enable you to associate IAM roles with Kubernetes Service Accounts, allowing automatic retrieval and use of temporary AWS credentials. This integration enhances security and operational efficiency, ensuring Kubernetes applications securely access Vault secrets while following AWS IAM best practices.


Start by creating the necessary permissions in AWS.

Step 1: Create a cluster with OIDC

To configure IRSA, create or use an EKS cluster with an associated OpenID Provider (OIDC). For setup instructions, follow Creating an IAM OIDC provider for your cluster in the AWS docs. Only the first page of the linked guide is neccessary.

These environment variables may be set before you setup your cluster. Use a CLUSTER_NAME that is not already in use.

export NAMESPACE=gloo-system
# use the cluster name created above
export CLUSTER_NAME="gloo-ee-vault-integration"
export AWS_REGION="us-east-1"
export ACCOUNT_ID=$(aws sts get-caller-identity --query "Account" --output text)

This environment variable can only be set after setup

export OIDC_PROVIDER=$(aws eks describe-cluster --name $CLUSTER_NAME --region $AWS_REGION --query "cluster.identity.oidc.issuer" --output text | sed -e "s/^https:\/\///")

At this point double check that you have OIDC provider associated with the cluster. The output should be either match created IAM Open ID Connect provider for cluster or IAM Open ID Connect provider is already associated with cluster

eksctl utils associate-iam-oidc-provider --cluster $CLUSTER_NAME --approve

Step 2: Set up a Role

Create an AWS Role with a trust relationship to your OIDC provider. This allows the provider to assume the AWS IAM role, specifically for the service accounts in gloo and discovery.

cat <<EOF > trust-relationship.json
	"Version": "2012-10-17",
	"Statement": [
			"Effect": "Allow",
			"Principal": {
				"Federated": "arn:aws:iam::${ACCOUNT_ID}:oidc-provider/${OIDC_PROVIDER}"
			"Action": "sts:AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity",
			"Condition": {
				"StringEqualsIfExists": {
					"${OIDC_PROVIDER}:aud": "",
					"${OIDC_PROVIDER}:sub": [

export VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME="dev-role-iam-${CLUSTER_NAME}"
export VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_ARN=$([[ $(aws iam list-roles --query "Roles[?RoleName=='${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME}'].Arn" --output text) == "" ]] \
	&& aws iam create-role \
		--role-name $VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME \
		--assume-role-policy-document file://trust-relationship.json \
		--description "Vault auth role" | jq -r .Role.Arn || aws iam list-roles --query "Roles[?RoleName=='${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME}'].Arn" --output text)

# remove the created file
rm -f trust-relationship.json

Step 3: Set a Policy

Create an AWS Policy to grant the necessary permissions for Vault to perform actions, such as assuming the IAM role and getting instance and user information. This is a lighter version of Vault’s Recommended Vault IAM Policy.

export VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_NAME=gloo-vault-auth-policy-${CLUSTER_NAME}
cat <<EOF > gloo-vault-auth-policy.json
	"Version": "2012-10-17",
	"Statement": [
			"Sid": "",
			"Effect": "Allow",
			"Action": [
			"Resource": "*"
			"Effect": "Allow",
			"Action": ["sts:AssumeRole"],
			"Resource": ["${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_ARN}"]

export VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_ARN=$([[ $(aws iam list-policies --query "Policies[?PolicyName=='${VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_NAME}'].Arn" --output text) == "" ]] \
    && aws iam create-policy \
        --region=${AWS_REGION} \
        --policy-name="${VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_NAME}" \
        --description="Policy used by the Vault user to check instance identity" \
        --policy-document file://gloo-vault-auth-policy.json | jq -r .Policy.Arn || aws iam list-policies --query "Policies[?PolicyName=='${VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_NAME}'].Arn" --output text)

rm -f gloo-vault-auth-policy.json

Finally, attach the newly-created policy to the role that you created earlier.

aws iam attach-role-policy --role-name $VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME --policy-arn=${VAULT_AUTH_POLICY_ARN}


After you set up your AWS resources, you can configure Vault with AWS authentication. This guide has only been verfied with Vault installed in the same EKS cluster we created in the AWS section.

Step 1: Set up Vault

Install Vault by choosing one of the installation methods in Vault’s Installing Vault documentation.

This is a basic approach that may work for you. Note that is uses dev mode and is intended for use with this guide only. (

helm repo add hashicorp
helm repo update

helm install vault hashicorp/vault --set "" --namespace vault --create-namespace

When the following command returns a table of key-value pairs, vault is up and running and ready to use.

kubectl exec -n vault  vault-0 -- vault status

Step 2: Enable AWS authentication on Vault

Open a shell on the vault pod for steps 2-4:

kubectl exec -n vault -it vault-0 -- sh


vault auth enable aws

Step 3: Enable a secrets engine

vault secrets enable -path="dev" -version=2 kv

Step 4: Create a Vault Policy

cat <<EOF > policy.hcl
# Access to dev path
path "dev/*" {
	capabilities = ["create", "read", "update", "delete", "list"]

# Additional access for UI
path "dev/" {
	capabilities = ["list"]

path "sys/mounts" {
	capabilities = ["read", "list"]

vault policy write dev policy.hcl
rm -f policy.hcl

At this point you can log out of the vault pod:


Step 5: Configure the AWS authentication method

Next, configure Vault’s AWS authentication method to point to the Security Token Service (STS) endpoint for your provider. We will run these steps from outside the pod using kubectl because we rely on environment variables we have set above.

In later steps, you add an iam_server_id_header_value to secure the authN/authZ process and ensure that it matches with your configuration in Gloo For more information on the IAM Server ID header, see the Vault API docs.

kubectl -n vault exec vault-0 -- vault write auth/aws/config/client \
	iam_server_id_header_value=${IAM_SERVER_ID_HEADER_VALUE} \
	sts_endpoint=https://sts.${AWS_REGION} \

Step 6: Associate the Vault Policy with AWS Role

Finally, bind the Vault authentication and policy to your role in AWS. To use IAM roles, the following command sets the auth_type to iam.

kubectl -n vault exec vault-0 -- vault write auth/aws/role/${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_NAME} \
	auth_type=iam \
    bound_iam_principal_arn="${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_ARN}" \
    policies=dev \

If this fails see Access denied due to identity-based policies – implicit denial

Gloo Edge

Lastly, install Gloo Edge by using a configuration that allows Vault and IRSA credential fetching. This guide has only been verfied with Vault installed in the same EKS cluster we created in the AWS section.

Step 1: Prepare Helm overrides

Override the default settings to use Vault as a source for managing secrets. To allow for IRSA, add the annotations, which reference the roles to assume, to the gloo and discovery service accounts.

Note that you must adjust the pathPrefix options when you use a custom kv secrets engine. The value of root_key is gloo by default and is the correct value for this example. Update VAULT_ADDRESS if appropriate.

export VAULT_ADDRESS=http://vault-internal.vault:8200
cat <<EOF > helm-overrides.yaml
      - vault:
          # set to address for the Vault instance
          address: ${VAULT_ADDRESS}
            iamServerIdHeader: ${IAM_SERVER_ID_HEADER_VALUE}
            mountPath: aws
            region:  ${AWS_REGION}
          # assumes kv store is mounted on 'dev'
          pathPrefix: dev
      - kubernetes: {}
    extraAnnotations: ${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_ARN}
    extraAnnotations: ${VAULT_AUTH_ROLE_ARN}

If you use Gloo Edge Enterprise, nest these Helm settings within the gloo section.

Step 2: Install Gloo using Helm

export EDGE_VERSION=v1.16.0

helm repo add gloo
helm repo update
helm install gloo gloo/gloo --namespace gloo-system --create-namespace --version $EDGE_VERSION --values helm-overrides.yaml


Access denied due to identity-based policies – implicit denial

When you register the role in Vault by running vault write auth/aws/role/<role name>, you might encounter the following error due to insufficient action with the identity-based policy.

Error writing data to auth/aws/role/dev-role-iam: Error making API request.

URL: PUT http://localhost:8200/v1/auth/aws/role/dev-role-iam
Code: 400. Errors:

* unable to resolve ARN "arn:aws:iam::account-id:role/dev-role-iam" to internal ID: AccessDenied: User: arn:aws:sts::account-id:assumed-role/foo-role/bar is not authorized to perform: iam:GetRole on resource: role dev-role-iam because no identity-based policy allows the iam:GetRole action
	status code: 403, request id: e348ee87-6d44-493b-8763-14fff6aea689

To resolve this issue, add the iam:GetRole action to a policy attached to the assumed-role identity. In the previous example, you would add the iam:GetRole action to the identity arn:aws:sts::account-id:assumed-role/foo-role/bar.

One way to do this is via the console:


Now, Gloo Edge securely accesses Vault secrets using temporary credentials obtained through AWS IAM Roles for Service Accounts (IRSA). This enhances security, streamlines access control, and simplifies authorization within your Kubernetes environment.