How Flotta project proofs identity on the far edge

Published on Apr 12, 2022 by Eloy Coto on authentication flotta

When speaking about the edge the most problematic thing is the security. At the edge, you cannot assume there is security at all, so we assume that all your devices are compromised by default and we adopt a Zero trust approach.

Edge Authentication is getting traction, and at the moment, there are multiple projects out there that take care of it. The most promising one to us is FDO, protocol-driven Device Onboarding project by FIDO alliance.That protocol is to onboard new devices to the fleet of devices, but making sure that it’s taking place at manufacturer level with the approval of the edge-administrator. To get more information, we highly recommend this presentation.

Flotta will use FDO for initialization, but regarding edge security there are more steps than that, like TLS Certificate renewals, certificates expiration and much more, for that Flotta has some flows in place.

Device Onboarding

Right now, Flotta uses Mutual TLS certificates to onboard new devices to the Operator. That certificate will be injected into the ISO creation using kickstart files where Manufacturer or Edge administrator can initialise the device. That ISO is managed by the Flotta OS lifecycle.

When the device boots on the final destination, it uses that Register certificate to register (the only action that can do with that certificate); such API call also contains a Certificate signed Request, needed to get the device public key to be able to sign it and returned to the device. That certificate can only be obtained if the Edge-administrator approves the device to register first.

To avoid security issues with that certificates, Flotta will implement TPM keys for that certificates, even if someone has access to the certificate, it cannot be used outside of the device. At the same time, in the API a new security check will be added so that only devices with a Key TPM based can be registered.


When designing the authentication system in Flotta we knew that there are some special cases: Edge network is not reliable, devices can be turned off for a long period of time, the API Server should scale horizontally to be able to server to millions of devices. Because of all of this, we implement an MTLS certificate where API should only get the CA certificate and validate that the client certificate is correctly signed.

Those client certificates have a short expiration because Flotta also implements a way to renew those certificates, to make sure that a edge device is able to run a workload if a certificate is expired.


To continue our work at scale, where Flotta wants to achieve millions of devices, the authorization is made on client certificate. Because the Certificate signing is made by Flotta, so the API is scaling horizontally and validation can happen on any API server.

All information needed to make any authorization is provided by metadata stored in the certificate subject - there is no need to reach to any RBAC server.

To try the device onboarding connection, you can follow the getting started guide that is available here.

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