AWS Private CA Integration

Instead of using a self-signed root certificate, here we get an intermediary Istio certificate authority (CA) from AWS ACM (Amazon Certificate Manager) Private CA service to sign the workload certificates.

This approach enables the same root of trust for the root CA’s workloads in ACM Private CA. As Istio signs the workload certs, the latency for getting workload certs issued is far less than directly getting the certs signed by ACM Private CA itself.

The getmesh gen-ca command furnishes the options to connect to ACM Private CA and get the intermediary CA cert signed. It uses the certificate details thus obtained to create the cacerts Kubernetes secret for Istio to use to sign workload certs. Istio, at startup, checks for the presence of the secret cacerts to decide if it needs to use this cert for signing workload certificates.


To follow this tutorial, you will need an AWS account and a Kubernetes cluster with Istio installed as well as the following:

  • A CA set up in AWS ACM Private CA and the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the CA
  • AWS credentials with the AWSCertificateManagerPrivateCAFullAccess and AWSCertificateManagerFullAccess policy attached. Refer to the Configuring the AWS CLI documentation on how to set up the credentials.

You can follow the prerequisites for instructions on how to install and setup Istio.

Click here, if you need to set up ACM Private CA

Setting up ACM Private CA

The first thing we need is to set up the ACM Private CA in AWS Console. Log in to your AWS account and follow the steps below to create an ACM Private CA instance.

  1. From the services dropdown, select Certificate Manager under Security, Identity, & Compliance.
  2. Click Get started button under Private certificate authority.
  3. Select the Root CA on the certificate authority (CA) type step, and click Next.
  4. Configure the CA name (you can use your values here):
    1. For Organization (O), enter Istio.
    2. For Organization unit (OU), enter engineering.
    3. For Country name (C), select United States (US).
    4. For Locality name, enter Sunnyvale.
    5. For CA Common name (CN), enter
    6. Click Next.
  5. Configure the CA key size and algorithm:
    1. Click Advanced to expand the options.
    2. Select RSA 2048.
    3. Click Next.
  6. On the “Configure certificate revocation” step, click Next.
  7. On the “Add tags” step, click Next.
  8. On the “Configure CA permissions” step, click Next.
  9. On the “Review” step, select the confirmation check box, and click Confirm and create button to create ACM Private CA.
  10. Click the Create button to create the CAS.

Before ACM Private CA can start issuing certificates, you need to activate by installing a CA certificate.

  1. From the “Private CAs” page, click the Install a CA certificate to active your CA link.
  2. Change the validity to 365 days.
  3. Select SHA256WITHRSA from the Signature algorithm list.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Click the Confirm and install button to generate, and install the root CA certificate.

The figure below shows the Private CA page. Note that yours might look different if you configured your own CA subject name.

Private CA Page

Configure AWS credentials

Ensure you have AWS credentials set up with the AWSCertificateManagerPrivateCAFullAccess and AWSCertificateManagerFullAccess policy attached on a machine you’re accessing the Kubernetes cluster from. Alternatively, if you installed Tetrate Istio Distro on AWS Cloud Shell, the credentials are already set up.

Creating ACM configuration

We will use a YAML configuration to configure ACM Private CA. Use the YAML below as a template, and enter the ACM Private CA information from the AWS console:

providerName: "aws"
    # This will hold the ARN value from the Details page of ACM Private CA 
    signingCAArn: "  arn:aws:acm-pca:us-east-2:859085711342:certificate-authority/097162cc-6a9e-47ab-b5e0-fecf32556d6d"
    templateArn: "arn:aws:acm-pca:::template/SubordinateCACertificate_PathLen0/V1"
    signingAlgorithm: SHA256WITHRSA
    istioCANamespace: "istio-system" # namespace where `cacerts` secrets live
    overrideExistingCACertsSecret: true # overwrites the existing `cacerts` secret and replaces it with this new one
    validityDays: 365 # validity days before the CA expires
    keyLength: 2048 # length (bits) of Key to be created
    certSigningRequestParams: # x509.CertificateRequest; most fields omitted
        commonname: ""
          - "US"
          - "Sunnyvale"
          - "Istio"
          - "engineering"
        - ""

Save the above file to aws-acm-config.yaml and use gen-ca command to create the cacert:

getmesh gen-ca --config-file aws-acm-config.yaml

The command output should look similar to this:

Kubernetes Secret YAML created successfully in /home/user/.getmesh/secret/getmesh-740905469.yaml
Kubernetes Secret created successfully with name: cacerts, in namespace: istio-system

Before continuing, make sure to delete the istiod Pod in the istio-system namespace to force it to use the created cacerts.

Try it out

If you’ve labeled the default namespace for automatic sidecar injection (see Prerequisites), we can then deploy a sample Hello world application:

kubectl create deploy helloworld

Wait for the Pod to start and then get the certificate chain and CA root certificate proxies use for mTLS. We will save them in the proxy_secret file:

getmesh istioctl pc secret [pod-name] -o json > proxy_secret

The CA root certificate is base64 encoded in the trustedCA field. For example:

            "name": "ROOTCA",
            "versionInfo": "2021-02-08 22:42:32.301677034 +0000 UTC m=+0.917666618",
            "lastUpdated": "2021-02-08T22:42:32.310Z",
            "secret": {
                "@type": "",
                "name": "ROOTCA",
                "validationContext": {
                    "trustedCa": {
                        "inlineBytes": "<base64 encoded value>"

Store the decoded value to the encodedCA.crt file and then use openssl to decrypt the certificate into a more readable form:

openssl x509 -text -noout -in  encodedCA.crt

The output will include the common name, organization and other values we set in the CAS:

        Version: 3 (0x2)
        Serial Number:
        Signature Algorithm: sha256WithRSAEncryption
        Issuer: C = US, L = Sunnyvale, O = Istio, OU = engineering, CN =
            Not Before: Feb  8 22:23:59 2021 GMT
            Not After : Jan 27 22:23:59 2031 GMT
        Subject: C = US, L = Sunnyvale, O = Istio, OU = engineering, CN =
        Subject Public Key Info:
            Public Key Algorithm: rsaEncryption
                RSA Public-Key: (2048 bit)