Every organization relies on secrets. Applications depend on hundreds of thousands of API tokens, database credentials, and private/public keys to operate smoothly. Secrets must be stored and protected from any unauthorized access. In the ongoing pandemic, companies are migrating their applications to the cloud, and as a result, maintenance is becoming increasingly complex. Secrets reside in publicly accessible storage in the cloud architectures, making companies highly vulnerable to security threats.
What is a Secret?
In the software industry, secrets refer to authentication using passwords, encryption keys, tokens, API keys, SSH keys, digital certificates, databases, system-to-system passwords, etc. Secrets identify who is trying to access which service from which machine.
What is Secrets Management?
Sensitive data, critical assets, and services can become accessible to users and applications using secrets. Therefore, safekeeping and managing secrets, both at rest and in motion, has become imperative to every organization. Secrets management, in other words, is an enhanced version of password management with the same goal – to protect sensitive assets from unauthorized access.
Challenges with Managing Secrets in Modern Architecture
With the increasing scale and complexity of the applications, secret management becomes more challenging due to the lack of centralized architecture. Other challenges include:
- Remote Access: Due to work from home trend, employees require to authorize remotely.
- Cloud-based Services: Since applications are becoming cloud-native, multiple virtual machines come into the picture with their secrets.
- DevOps Strategy: DevOps teams depend heavily on the secrets for their tasks comprising configuration management, orchestration, and others.
- Bad Practices: Professional tools, IoT devices come with pre-made credentials that are risky if not changed by the organization.
How to Manage Secrets Securely?
Securely dealing with secrets requires centralized management of the secrets across all environments. Secrets can be managed and secured by following a few simple measures:
- Ensure authentication of all access requests.
- Apply the principle of minimal privilege.
- Enforce role-based access control (RBAC).
- Enforce secret rotation at regular intervals.
- Keep track of audit trails to trace access requests.
- Store secrets in protected locations.
- Use secret management tools.
Protecting Secrets in On-premises and Cloud
Alongside having some common approaches to managing secrets, most cloud providers offer custom products and services for secure secret management in the cloud. Some of the most used tools used in secrets management in cloud and on-premises are as follows:
AWS Secrets Manager
AWS secrets manager helps protect secrets needed to access applications, services, and infrastructure across the AWS platform. It enables them to easily rotate, retrieve, and manage secrets throughout their life cycle using simple calls to Secrets Manager APIs.
GCP’s Secrets Manager
Secrets Manager in GCP provides a centralized service and single source to access various secrets across Google Cloud. These include – automatic replication policy, versioning, Cloud IAM integration, extensive audit logging, and default encryption.
Azure Key Vault
Microsoft Azure Key Vault service is designed to encrypt keys, store and retrieve secrets securely, control intricate secret management activities such as providing new patching, configuration, vaults and keys, and HSM maintenance.
CyberArk Secrets Manager
CyberArk Secrets Manager enables organizations to secure and manage secrets and credentials used by a broad range of services such as COTS, BOTS, DevOps, and containerized environments by centralization, reducing operational complexity at the enterprise level.
Secrets are vital for every business. With more and more systems getting migrated to the cloud, secret management is becoming more challenging, critical, and increasingly complex. Secrets across the enterprise should be handled in a centralized, transparent, and automated way to avoid common challenges like storing hard-coded credentials or occasional password revisions.