Dynamic Secrets Definition

Almost everyone is familiar with password management nowadays. From Facebook to YouTube, we use a variety of online accounts and authentication methods to keep ourselves secure on the Internet.

Businesses are no different. They use third-party services, cloud applications, and internal servers constantly, and each one requires some kind of password to ensure that only authorized parties have access to sensitive company resources.

Business-grade authentication credentials are known as “secrets,” and secrets management is a very important part of DevOps and IT teams everywhere.

What Are Secrets?

Secrets are the “passwords” organizations use to authenticate users and applications wanting access to sensitive company services or apps. You will need a secret whenever you use a database, a third-party service, or a cloud application.

Those “passwords” can include anything from usernames and passwords to API tokens and TLS certificates. Business-grade security includes many types of complex authentication methods, making secret management an essential responsibility.

The Issue of “Standing Access”

A major security flaw for many companies is having a few accounts that have permanent administrator privileges even if they don’t need them. Many business owners keep accounts like this in case they need it for something in the future.

However, standing accounts increases the threat of data exposure, and it becomes more difficult to manage privileged access with so many accounts, some of which may belong to machines rather than human users.

Standing access is an issue specific to static secrets. The solution here is a different type of secret: the dynamic secret.

What Are Dynamic Secrets?

Static secrets are the passwords you are most familiar with. You decide on a single authentication code when you create your account and use that same code every time you want to login.

Dynamic secrets, in contrast, involve generating a new password on the fly every time you wish to login. This temporary password expires quickly, requiring you to generate a new code if you want to login at a later time.

Dynamic secrets are also known as “just-in-time” (JIT) codes, a moniker that comes from the manufacturing industry when plant managers found ways to reduce industrial waste by ordering only the materials they needed when they needed them.

The just in time access philosophy has practical applications in business-grade security, as dynamic secrets give you only a window of access when you need it. The result is a significantly lower chance of access leaking into non-authorized users.

The Vault of Just-in-Time Secrets

What do you use to generate dynamic secrets? You don’t want these codes scattered everywhere, so companies use a centralized location known as a dynamic secrets vault.

This vault plays an important role in dynamic secrets management, providing encryption, access control, and comprehensive audit logging. DevOps teams have insight into whoever has permissions and whether access should be revoked.

When a user requests a login, the vault and the service to be accessed communicate and generate a common password that expires quickly. Think about it like the 2-factor authentication you use for some of your online accounts.

Both human users, like developers, and machines, like automation tools and containers, use secret vaults. Those users can be from inside the company or sourced externally whenever you use third-party vendors. Working with secrets management vaults helps DevOps teams handle all these tools easily and efficiently.

Why Are Dynamic Secrets Necessary?

We’ve been using regular passwords all the time, so why do businesses add complexity to the process with dynamic credentials and vaults?

It turns out that most applications and third-party services don’t handle vital secrets well. A static secret usually ends up being stored on the application itself. The more applications your business uses, the less secure that code becomes.

As more users must access these apps, a static secret gets passed around the company often, raising the chance of a data leak causing catastrophic consequences for your DevSecOps department.

With dynamic secrets, even if a credential is stolen, it will be out of date by the time a cybercriminal attempts to use it.

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