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Google Cloud Security Tips #4 - Workload Identity Federation

January 24, 2023
Written by
Joshua Jebaraj

Table of Contents:

  1. How Does Workload Identity Federation Work?
  2. Benefits of Workload Identity Federation
  3. Conclusion

What is Workload Identity Federation?

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.

How Does Workload Identity Federation Work?

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.

Benefits of Workload Identity Federation

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:

  • Improved Security: Workload Identity Federation provides a secure way to authenticate applications and services to resources in the cloud. By federating identities, users can access resources in the cloud without managing multiple sets of credentials. This reduces the risk of potential security breaches and malicious activity.
  • Enhanced User Experience: Workload Identity Federation allows users to access cloud resources with a single set of credentials. This reduces the amount of time and effort required to authenticate.
  • Reduced Maintenance Costs: Because users only need to manage one set of credentials, fewer resources are required to manage authentication. This reduces the cost of managing authentication and enables organizations to focus on more critical tasks.
  • Improved Scalability: Workload Identity Federation enables organizations to scale their authentication infrastructure more efficiently. This makes it easier to add new users, applications, services, and resources to the cloud.
  • Improved Compliance: By using a federated identity system, organizations can more easily meet compliance requirements by providing more control over authentication and authorization. This helps organizations ensure that only authorized users have access to cloud resources.

How to learn Google Cloud security

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.

Source for article
Joshua Jebaraj

Joshua Jebaraj

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.

Joshua Jebaraj


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