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Non-GCP applications usually access Google Cloud resources through a service account that uses access keys to authenticate the application. But this creates a new problem: securely storing the access keys for every account.
But Google Cloud offers an alternative that totally forgoes long-lived credentials. Workload Identity Federation is an access management feature that enables secure authentication of applications running on GCP. Federation does away with access keys and lets the external application authenticate with identity providers like SAML 2.0, AWS, and Azure.
Workload Identity Federation eliminates the need for manual provisioning and rotation of service account keys. It also enables applications to access Google Cloud resources without hardcoded credentials.
GCP offers a short-lived access token (OAuth 2.0 token exchange specification) that impersonates a service account. It has all the necessary permissions for the service account, allowing you to manage access by configuring permissions for that account. As and when the time limit for the short-lived token runs out, the GCP revokes access.
This way, even if an attacker compromises a user account, they will only get temporary access to your cloud environment. This makes Federation far more secure than using long-lived credentials that, if compromised, would be extremely difficult to detect.
Workload Identity Federation is used by organizations who want to leverage their existing identity management solutions and resources while providing a secure and streamlined way to grant access to cloud resources to their users.
Here are some benefits offered by Workload Identity Federation:
There’s way more to Google Cloud security than Identity & Access Management (IAM). From cloud storage security, to logging and monitoring, you have a whole host of controls you can tweak for optimal results.
But the best way to learn anything in cloud security is with hands-on exercises. AppSecEngineer’s courses feature labs in real-world GCP environments and security scenarios.
If you want to dive deeper into IAM in GCP, check out our Google Cloud IAM Essentials course. It’s packed with video lessons, hands-on labs, and more.
For even more courses on Google Cloud security, check out our full learning path.
Joshua Jebaraj is the Creator of GCP-Goat. He works as Security Researcher at we45 focusing on cloud and cloud-native security. He has 3+ years of experience working related to containers and Kubernetes. He has also spoken at conferences like Defcon, Owasp-Seasides, Bsides-Delhi, and Eko-party. When AFK, he can be found watching movies and making memes.