Verifiable Supply Chain Metadata for Tekton

Copy paste programmers

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all lately, you’ve probably noticed that software supply chain attacks are rapidly becoming a big problem. Whether you’re trying to prevent these attacks, responding to an ongoing one or recovering from one, you understand that knowing what is happening in your CI/CD pipeline is critical.

Fortunately, the Kubernetes-native Tekton project – an open-source framework for creating CI/CD systems – was designed with security in mind from Day One, and the new Tekton Chains project is here to help take it to the next level. Tekton Chains securely captures metadata for CI/CD pipeline executions. We made two really important design decisions early on in Tekton that make supply chain security easy: declarative pipeline definitions and explicit state transitions. This next section will explain what these mean in practice and how they make it easy to build a secure delivery pipeline.

Definitions or “boxes and arrows”
Just like everything in your high school physics class, a CI/CD pipeline can be modeled as a series of boxes. Each box has some inputs, some outputs, and some steps that happen in the middle. Even if you have one big complicated bash script that fetches dependencies, builds programs, runs tests, downloads the internet and deploys to production, you can draw boxes and arrows to represent this flow. The boxes might be really big, but you can do it.

Since the initial whiteboard sketches, the Pipeline and Task CRDs in Tekton were designed to allow users to define each step of their pipeline at a granular level. These types include support for mandatory declared inputs, outputs, and build environments. This means you can track exactly what sources went into a build, what tools were used during the build itself and what artifacts came out at the end. By breaking up a large monolithic pipeline into a series of smaller, reusable steps, you can increase visibility into the overall system. This makes it easier to understand your exposure to supply chain attacks, detect issues when they do happen and recover from them after.

Explicit transitions
After a pipeline is defined, there are a few approaches to orchestrating it: level-triggered and edge-triggered. Like most of the Kubernetes ecosystem, Tekton is designed to operate in a level-triggered fashion. This means steps are executed explicitly by a central orchestrator which runs one task, waits for completion, then decides what to do next. In edge-based systems, a pipeline definition would be translated into a set of events and listeners. Each step fires off events when it completes, and these events are then picked up by listeners which run the next set of steps.

Event-based or edge-triggered systems are easy to reason about, but can be tricky to manage at scale. They also make it much harder to track an artifact as it flows through the entire system. Each step in the pipeline only knows about the one immediately before it; no step is responsible for tracking the entire execution. This can become problematic when you try to understand the security posture of your delivery pipeline.

Tekton was designed with the opposite approach in mind – level-triggered. Instead of a Rube-Goldberg machine tied together with duct tape and clothespins, Tekton is more like an explicit assembly-line. Level-triggered systems like Tekton move from state-to-state in a calculated manner by a central orchestrator. They require more explicit-design up front, but they are easier to observe and reason about after. Supply chains that use systems like Tekton are more secure.

Secure delivery pipeline through chains and provenance
So how do these two design decisions combine to make supply chain security easier? Enter Tekton Chains.

By observing the execution of a Task or a Pipeline and paying careful attention to the inputs, outputs, and steps along the way, we can make it easier to track down what happened and why later on. This “observer” can be run in a separate trust domain and cryptographically sign all of this captured metadata as it’s stored, leaving a tamper-proof activity ledger. This technique is called “verifiable builds.” This securely generated metadata can be used in a number of ways, from audit logging to recovering from security breaches to pre-deployment policy enforcement.

You can install Chains into any Tekton-enabled cluster and configure it to generate this cryptographically-signed supply chain metadata for your builds. Chains supports pluggable signature systems like PGP, x509 and Cloud KMS’s. Payloads can be generated in a few different industry-standard formats like the RedHat Simple-Signing and the In-Toto Provenance specifications. The full documentation is available here, but you can get started quickly with something like this:

For this tutorial, you’ll need access to a GKE Kubernetes cluster and a GCR registry with push credentials. The cluster should already have Tekton Pipelines installed.

Install Tekton Chains into your cluster:

$ kubectl apply –filename

Next, you’ll set up registry authentication for the Tekton Chains controller, so that it can push OCI image signatures to your registry. To set up authentication, you’ll create a Service Account and download credentials:

$ export PROJECT_ID=<GCP Project ID>

$ gcloud iam service-accounts create tekton-chains

$ gcloud iam service-accounts keys create credentials.json –iam-account=tekton-chains@${PROJECT_ID}

Now, create a Kubernetes Secret from your credentials file so the Chains controller can access it:

$ kubectl create secret docker-registry registry-credentials




  –docker-password=”$(cat credentials.json)”

  -n tekton-chains

$ kubectl patch serviceaccount tekton-chains-controller

  -p “{“imagePullSecrets”: [{“name”: “registry-credentials”}]}” -n tekton-chains

We can use cosign to generate a keypair as a Kubernetes secret, which the Chains controller will use for signing. Cosign will ask for a password, which will be stored in the secret:

$ cosign generate-key-pair -k8s tekton-chains/signing-secrets

Next, you’ll need to set up authentication to your GCR registry for the kaniko task as another Kubernetes Secret.

$ export CREDENTIALS_SECRET=kaniko-credentials

$ kubectl create secret generic $CREDENTIALS_SECRET –from-file credentials.json

Now, we’ll create a kaniko-chains task which will build and push a container image to your registry. Tekton Chains will recognize that an image has been built, and sign it automatically.

$ kubectl apply -f

$ cat <<EOF | kubectl apply -f –


kind: TaskRun


  name: kaniko-run



    name: kaniko-gcp


  – name: IMAGE



  – name: source

    emptyDir: {}

  – name: credentials


      secretName: ${CREDENTIALS_SECRET} 


Wait for the TaskRun to complete, and give the Tekton Chains controller a few seconds to sign the image and store the signature. You should be able to verify the signature with cosign and your public key:

$ cosign verify -key${PROJECT_ID}/kaniko-chains

Congratulations! You’ve successfully signed and verified an OCI image with Tekton Chains and cosign.

What’s Next
Within Chains, we’ll be improving integration with other supply-chain security projects. This includes support for Binary Transparency and Verifiable Builds through integrations with the Sigstore and In-Toto projects. We’ll also be improving and providing a set of well-designed, highly secure Tasks and Pipeline definitions in the TektonCD Catalog.

In Tekton Pipelines, we plan on finishing up TEP-0025 (Hermekton) to enable the support for hermetic build execution. If you want to play around with it now, hermekton can be run as an alpha feature in experimental mode. When hermekton is enabled, a build runs in a locked-down environment without network connectivity. Hermetic builds guarantee all inputs have been explicitly declared ahead-of-time, providing for a more auditable supply-chain. Hermetic builds and Chains align well, because the hermeticity build property is contained in the full build provenance captured by Chains. Chains can generate and attest to metadata specifying exactly which sections of a build had network access.

This means policy can be defined around exactly which build tools are allowed to access the network and which ones are not. This metadata can be used in policies at build time (banning compilers with security vulnerabilities) or stored and used by policy engines at deploy time (only code-reviewed and verifiably built containers are allowed to run).

We believe supply-chain security must be built-in and by default. No task orchestrator can promise perfect supply-chain security, but TektonCD was designed with unique features in mind that make it easier to do the right thing. We’re always looking for feedback on the design, goals and requirements. You can reach out on GitHub or the #chains Slack channel.