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Sign and verify an image with Notation, Ratify, and OPA Gatekeeper

· 6 min read
Feynman Zhou

The signed container images enable users to assure deployments are built from a trusted entity and verify images haven't been tampered with since their creation. The signed image ensures integrity and authenticity before the user pulls an image into any environment and avoid attacks.

Notation is a standards-based tool and library for signing and verifying OCI artifacts. It generates signatures and associates them with OCI artifacts to ensure integrity for the supply chain.

Ratify is a verification engine as a binary executable and on Kubernetes which enables verification of artifact security metadata and admits for deployment only those that comply with policies you create. It works with OPA Gatekeeper to provide fine-grained admission policy control capabilities for application deployment on Kubernetes.

This article walks you through the following end-to-end workflow:

  • Build and sign an image in GHCR as a software publisher
  • Verify the signed image as a software consumer
  • Validating and enforcing only signed images are allowed to be deployed on Kubernetes

The typical scenario is when you want to secure your containerized package for a GitHub repository, you can apply this workflow to your project to ensure image integrity between software publisher and consumer.


  • Kubernetes v1.20 or higher (You can use minikube if you are new to Kubernetes)
  • Helm v3

Create an OCI-compatible registry

Create and run an OCI-compatible registry on your development computer using the distribution/distribution with the image deletion enabled. The following command creates a registry that is accessible at localhost:5001.

docker run -d -p 5001:5000 -e REGISTRY_STORAGE_DELETE_ENABLED=true --name registry registry

Add an image to the registry

The following commands build and push the wabbit-networks/net-monitor container image to your container registry. Notation supports OCI v1.1 and v1.0 compliant registries. In this article, we use as a sample registry.

docker build -t localhost:5001/net-monitor:v1

Log in to with Docker. You can follow this guide to get the your personal GitHub Token.

echo $CR_PAT | docker login -u $YOUR_USER_NAME --password-stdin

Push the image to You can record the image digest from the output.

docker push$namespace/net-monitor:v1

You can record the image digest from the output. For example, the image digest is Set the environment variable for this image digest.$namespace/net-monitor@sha256:27c0290c485140c3c998e92c6ef23fba2bd9f09c8a1c7adb24a1d2d274ce3e8e

Change the package visibility from private to public on GitHub Package settings. It will allow Notation and Ratify to pull the images from the GHCR registry without authentication configuration. See Configuring a package's access control and visibility for details.

Install Notation CLI

Install the latest version on Linux. Follow the installation guide for other platforms.

curl -LO$NOTATION_VERSION/notation_$NOTATION_VERSION\_linux_amd64.tar.gz

tar xvzf -C /usr/bin/ notation

Generate a test key and self-signed certificate

Use notation cert generate-test to generate a test RSA key for signing artifacts, and a self-signed X.509 test certificate for verifying artifacts. Please note the self-signed certificate should be used for testing or development purposes only.

The following command generates a test key and a self-signed X.509 certificate. With the --default flag, the test key is set as a default signing key.

notation cert generate-test --default ""

Use notation cert ls to confirm the certificate is stored in the trust store.

notation cert ls

Sign the image

Sign the sample image with the flag --signature-format to use COSE signature format. in

notation sign --signature-format cose $IMAGE

The generated signature is pushed to the registry and the digest of the container image returned.

Use notation ls to show the signature associated with the container image.

$ notation ls $IMAGE
└── application/vnd.cncf.notary.signature
└── sha256:f4c1e923d1f2a7b76513c889a0db548a093f422d06ac6b83ce7243e0c8fa7805

You can find the signature has also been pushed to the GHCR registry associated with the signed image.

Create a trust policy

To verify the container image, configure the trust policy to specify trusted identities that sign the artifacts, and level of signature verification to use. For more details, see trust policy spec.

Create a JSON file with the following trust policy, for example:

cat <<EOF > ./trustpolicy.json
"version": "1.0",
"trustPolicies": [
"name": "ratify-sample-images",
"registryScopes": [ "*" ],
"signatureVerification": {
"level" : "strict"
"trustStores": [ "" ],
"trustedIdentities": [

Import the trust policy configuration from a JSON file.

notation policy import ./trustpolicy.json

Verify the image signature as a software consumer

As a consumer, verify the signed image before using it.

notation verify $IMAGE

You can also check the signature digest and inspect the signature and its certificate information to make sure the image is produced from a trusted identity.

notation inspect $IMAGE

Verify the containe image before deploying to Kubernetes

Try out Ratify in Kubernetes through OPA Gatekeeper as the admission controller. It will enforce only signed images can be deployed to Kubernetes.

Set up Gatekeeper with external data.

helm repo add gatekeeper

helm install gatekeeper/gatekeeper \
--name-template=gatekeeper \
--namespace gatekeeper-system --create-namespace \
--set enableExternalData=true \
--set validatingWebhookTimeoutSeconds=5 \
--set mutatingWebhookTimeoutSeconds=2

Install the lastest version of Ratify. Specify the certificate generated by Notation for verification purposes.

helm repo add ratify

helm install ratify \
ratify/ratify --atomic \
--namespace gatekeeper-system \

Apply the constrait to enforce Gatekeeper policy to allow only signed images can be deployed on Kubernetes:

kubectl apply -f
kubectl apply -f

Deploy the sample image signed by Notation. Ratify will verify if this image has a valid signature.

$ kubectl run ratify-signed --image=$IMAGE
pod/demo created

Check the signature associated with the image.

notation ls $IMAGE

Deploy an unsigned image to Kubernetes cluster. The deployment has been denied since the image has not been signed and doesn't meet the deployment criteria.

$ kubectl run demo
Error from server (Forbidden): admission webhook "" denied the request: [ratify-constraint] Subject failed verification:

Inspect the logs to get the detailed error message from the Ratify Pod.

$ kubectl logs ratify-xxxx -n gatekeeper-system
"subject": "",
"isSuccess": false,
"message": "verification failed: no referrers found for this artifact"

Deploy a signed image with an expired certificate.

kubectl run sample
Error from server (Forbidden): admission webhook "" denied the request: [ratify-constraint] Subject failed verification:

Inspect the logs to get the detailed error message from the Ratify Pod. You can find that verification failed caused by an invalid signature.

"isSuccess": false,
"verifierReports": [
"isSuccess": false,
"name": "notaryv2",
"message": "an error thrown by the verifier: failed to verify signature, err: signature is not produced by a trusted signer",