SPIFFE (Secure Production Identity Framework For Everyone) is an open-source framework that aims to provide a secure identity (and a means to prove that identity) to every workload in a modern production environment, no matter where it is running.

Distributed design patterns and practices such as microservices, container orchestrators, and cloud computing have led to production environments that are increasingly dynamic and heterogenous. Conventional security practices (such as network policies that only allow traffic between particular IP addresses) struggle to scale under this complexity. A first-class identity framework for workloads in an organization becomes necessary.

Further, modern developers are expected to understand and play a role in how applications are deployed and managed in production environments. Operations teams require deeper visibility into the applications they are managing. As we move to a more evolved security stance, we must offer better tools to both teams so they can play an active role in building secure, distributed applications.

The SPIFFE project will provide both a specification for, and open-source reference implementation of a framework for bootstraping and issuing identity to services accross a heterogeneous hosting environment.

SPIFFE's design goals include:
  • Flexible bootstrap. Identity is about trust, and that trust must be bootstrapped. The system should support multiple mechanisms as they make sense, including hooking into hardware security mechanisms (such as trusted platform modules (TPMs)).

  • Easy to use. Cryptography is difficult to use and even more difficult to use correctly. SPIFFE will provide automated, API-driven mechanisms for automatically issuing, verifying, and rotating identity documents.

  • Broad integration. The more frameworks and tools that build in support for SPIFFE, the more useful it will be. Built-in support in RPC/micro-service frameworks, storage systems, and orchestrators will multiply its usefulness.

  • Reliable. The single points of failure (SPOF) in the system will be minimized, and the system will degrade gracefully when any SPOF is down. All “steady state” operations should not have requirements from a specific node. This precludes any centralized signing/verification service.

  • Scoped trust roots. While public key infrastructure may used as part of the solution, there will be no hardcoded, global trust roots as we see in the web browser world. Users must explicitly decide which roots to trust for which identities. Typically, these roots will be set per organization.

  • Federatable. Identity mechansims can be used across organizations. However, federation trust must be explicitly configured. The nitty gritty of how to establish this trust may be out of scope for the first cut of these specifications.

  • Legacy friendly. SPIFFE can be applied without re-writing applications or moving them to a new management system. It will be possible to adapt this system as separable infrastructure to secure existing systems with little or no code change.

  • Container friendly. The system should work well in dynamically orchestrated container environments.

  • Minimal knowledge. A compromised host will only expose secrets for workloads running only on that host.

SPIFFE allows organizations to employ more robust secuity tooling by ensuring all running workloads within an organization are issued an identity and the means to prove that identity to other running workloads.

SPIFFE's initial release focuses on issuing SPIFFE Verifiable Identity Documents (SVID). In practice SVIDs are specially-formatted X.509 leaf certificates that allow a workload to assert identity, and set of root or intermediate certificates to allow for third-party verification.

Examples of how SVIDs can be used:
  • Enable two (2) workloads to establish a mTLS connection

  • Provide PKI certificates to be consumed by service proxies such as Envoy, Linkerd, and nginx

  • Provide PKI certificates to allow a service to communicate with a central secret store (such as HashiCorp Vault)

  • Audit exactly what systems are running on which nodes in a production infrastructure

SPIFFE's specification and reference implementation are being developed by engineers from organizations such as Docker, Dropbox, Google, and Twillio. Read more on current docs and designs, and learn how to get involved.