The Elastisys Tech Blog


Elastisys Engineering: How to use Dex with Google accounts to manage access in Kubernetes


In this blog post, we will go through everything needed to use Google as your identity provider in a Kubernetes cluster. If you have an organization that uses Google cloud and you want to use this to set group permissions in Kubernetes then this post is perfect for you.

When working in any sector where compliance regulations exist, one essential part is managing who is allowed to do what and audit logging. For these regulations using a generic kubeconfig file shared between operators is not an option.

Handling permissions in one place such as an LDAP, Active Directory, or in this case Google groups is usually the best approach when dealing with larger organizations. In this way, you can have the entire development team in one group with shared permissions. The rest of this tutorial will be about how to transfer these groups into a Kubernetes cluster and how to use these groups to authenticate towards the Kubernetes API server.


Dex is an identity Provider that uses OpenID Connect to drive authentication for other apps. Dex is open source and is a CNCF sandbox project. We will use Dex installed inside the cluster to connect the Google identity provider with the Kubernetes API server. Dex can then also be used to connect other applications with OIDC.


  • kubectl cli
  • helm cli
  • A running Kubernetes cluster with control over the API server, managed services such as GKE will generally not give you control over this. If you don’t have a cluster running we would recommend using kubespray.
  • A Google organization with some groups enabled. If you don’t have this set up yet please go to Google’s documenataion

Clone the repo

All of the code examples used are available on GitHub The easiest way forward is to clone or fork the repo and then modify the files as we go. Another solution is to just use it as inspiration and create your own files.

git clone

API server OIDC flags

If you already have a cluster you will need to set some flags in the Kubernetes API server to allow OIDC to be used for authentication. You will need to set the following flags. For more information on the flags.


If you are using kubespray these options are set in this configuration file

Google service accounts

For dex to be able to fetch groups from Google you will need to create a Google Service Account. Follow these steps:

  • Go to Google console -> IAM & Admin -> Service Accounts -> Create new service Account
  • Fill out Service account name and ID. You can skip Grant this service account access to the project and Grant users access to this service account, as they are both optional.
  • After creating the account find it in the list of Service Accounts and go to its details page.
  • Enable G Suite domain-wide delegation
  • Go to keys and create a new key of type JSON. This key needs to be saved for later.

For these next steps, you will need to have admin rights to your Google organization.

  • Delegate API scopes to the service account. delegate the scope and only this scope. If you delegate more scopes to the service account, it will not be able to access the API.
  • Enable the Admin SDK

Entire documentation of this is available in the Dex documentation

Set up Google ClientID for oauth2.0

Go to API & services -> credentials and create new credentials for OAuth Client ID and Application type Web application.
Google OAuth 2.0 settings for Dex

Ingress controller

There are many options for getting traffic into your cluster. We prefer using an ingress controller and then use ingress objects for host based routing. In this example, the Nginx-ingress controller is used. It is set up as a DaemonSet with hostNetwork enabled. This will let the ingress controller handle all incoming traffic to the worker nodes at ports 80 and 443. If you are using a cloud provider with native Kubernetes LoadBalancer support this is not needed and you can simply expose the ingress controller as a Service of type LoadBalancer.

We install the ingress controller using this helm chart.

First, modify the nginx-values.yml file in the repo then run these commands to install the helm chart.

helm repo add ingress-nginx
helm repo update
helm install --values nginx-values.yml ingress-nginx ingress-nginx/ingress-nginx

Dex installation

In order for Dex to read the Google groups, it needs access to the service account we created earlier. To do this we will insert the service account into a Kubernetes Secret. First, get the base64 encoded version of the service account key saved from the Google service accounts section:

cat  | base64 -w0

Then copy the output to the data field in google-sa-secret.yml and run:

kubectl apply -f google-sa-secret.yml

To install dex we will use the official Dex helm chart. To install modify the code in dex-values.yml and run the commands:

helm repo add dex
helm repo update
helm install --values dex-values.yml dex dex/dex

Information about the config options in Dex can be found at

Cert manager

To authenticate to the Kubernetes API server Dex need to be running valid certificates. When dealing with certificates in Kubernetes it is usually a good idea to use cert-manager. cert-manager handles creating, validating, and rotating certificates for you.

To install cert-manager in the cluster we have to first install the CRDs with:

kubectl apply -f

Then we have to create an issuer using the issuer.yml. Change the email field in the manifest then run:

kubectl apply -f issuer.yml

Finally, we create a namespace for cert-manager and install the helm chart.

kubectl create ns certmanager
helm repo add jetstack
helm repo update
helm install cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager


Kubelogin(also called oidc-login) is a kubectl plugin for Kubernetes OpenID Connect (OIDC) authentication. You can install Kubelogin using:

kubectl krew install oidc-login

For installation guide or help with Kubelogin go to its official repo

We need to modify the kubeconfig and add a user with oidc flags for authentication through OpenID Connect. The finished user config looks like this:

- name: oidc
     - oidc-login
     - get-token
     - --oidc-issuer-url=
     - --oidc-client-id=kubelogin
     - --oidc-client-secret=dex-test
     - --oidc-extra-scope=email
     - --oidc-extra-scope=groups

Add this as a user in your kubeconfig to use oidc as the authentication method. Here is a sample kubeconfig

Role-based Access Control (RBAC) rules

We will demonstrate how to set the RBAC rules with two groups, a dev group and an admin group.

Users in the dev group are given admin access to the dev namespace and view access of nodes and namespaces while the users in the admin group will have access as an admin of the cluster.

The example below show an RBAC example of how to bind the group to the cluster admin role.

kind: ClusterRoleBinding
  name: user-admin
  kind: ClusterRole
  name: cluster-admin
- apiGroup:
  kind: Group

To deploy the example RBAC edit the files dev-role.yml and admin-role.yml to match the groups in your organization then run:

kubectl apply -f dev-role.yml 
kubectl apply -f admin-role.yml

Testing the new user

First, be sure that you are actually using the new user. You can change the user in the current context with:

kubectl config set-context --current --user=oidc

Then we can run some tests to make sure the user has the correct privileges. Let’s say your user is in the dev group then we can use kubectl auth can-i for validation.

$ kubectl auth can-i get pods
$ kubectl auth can-i get nodes
$ kubectl auth can-i get namespaces
$ kubectl auth can-i create pods -n dev
$ kubectl auth can-i create secrets -n kube-system


In this blog post, we have done everything needed for using Google accounts as an identity provider for Kubernetes access. We have done this by.

  • Setting the OIDC flags in the Kubernetes API server.
  • Creating Groups in Google accounts.
  • Creating a service account with access to those groups.
  • Creating an OAuth Client ID in Google.
  • Installing the Nginx-ingress controller for routing traffic in the cluster.
  • Installing cert-manager to handle certificates in the cluster.
  • Installing Dex with the Google connector.
  • Installing and setting up Kubelogin.
  • Creating some simple RBAC rules for two different groups.
  • And finally testing the access using kubectl auth can-i

Hopefully, this tutorial was helpful and can help with your journey of running a Kubernetes cluster with Dex as identity provider according to best practices.