Secrets Management Tools

Digital security is a hot topic. Business owners everywhere fear being the next big headline about a major company suffering a data breach where consumer personal information and sensitive internal documents get leaked.

So what’s the response? It’s time to develop and implement a secrets management strategy for protecting sensitive IT resources using digital authentication and authorization methods. For that purpose, you need a specialized tool for the job.

What Are Secrets Management Tools?

Much like other cloud services, secrets management can now be outsourced to a third-party service provider. Many cloud platforms give you a vault-as-a-service and other features without compromising your own security.

It can be expensive to support your own server architecture for the job, so get a pre-made solution that works out of the box. This process minimizes friction and gives you the best-in-class security tools in a cost-effective package.

Options include the Kubernetes vault as well as some vault alternatives like AWS Secrets Manager from Amazon and Azure Key Vault from Microsoft.

But let’s back up a little first. What can we say about secrets management best practices?

What Is Secrets Management?

Secrets are the tools used to authenticate users and authorize access to sensitive company services, databases, and other resources. Secrets come in many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Passwords
  • API keys
  • SSH keys
  • TLS/SSL certificates
  • RSA key encryption

Because thousands of secrets are shared across departments in an enterprise-level environment, it can be difficult to track the security of each individual secret. That’s where the DevOps secrets vault come in; they keep everything in a central location for easy management and minimization of risk.

Common Challenges

The days of relying on a firewall and a book of passwords are over. Secret management has increased in complexity as organizations have become more interconnected. Your IT teams need to keep up with certain challenges most face:

  • Easily compromised credentials. Weak passwords are the bane of any IT administrator, so automatic password generation is often preferred. Going further, a similar problem is the use of hardcoded credentials. Many applications and IoT devices are shipped with default passwords that are easy to break into using standard textbook attacks.
  • Low security awareness. How do you keep track of all security events that happen in a workplace? There are multiple tools, applications, containers, accounts, services, and servers sharing passwords and keys every day. This problem is where centralized management really shines. Without it, you’ll have problems performing audits and patching random holes in security.
  • New demands for secrets. New technologies have recently spurred the use of even more secrets than ever before. For instance, cloud tools like Office 365 and AWS require certain privileges to work properly. DevOps tools typically ask for plenty of automation and scripts that need special privileges. Working with third-party companies often involves giving them remote access. All these new sources of privileged access mean a bigger burden on secrets management teams.

It’s clear that a decentralized, manual approach is not sufficient today. You can’t rely on the passwords created by employees or provided by default in IoT devices, and you need a way to keep everything together.

Secrets Management Best Practices

At this point, you might ask what successful security initiatives do. Some of the most popular steps to take are:

  • Requiring better passwords. Length, complexity, and uniqueness all matter for the ideal password that cannot be quickly cracked. You also want to rotate them every now and again and avoid sharing as much as possible. Don’t forget to avoid using the default passwords on any of your devices or DevOps tools. There are tools available now to automate this process.
  • Implementing session monitoring. To make logging activities and auditing easier, have all privileged sessions monitored to improve visibility. This way, IT teams can find exactly where suspicious activity occurs and terminate sessions accordingly.
  • Enforcing principle of least privilege. Any extraneous permissions you give out are just adding to the attack surface of your network. The principle of least privilege states that each user should never receive more than the minimal amount of access necessary to do the job.
  • Enforcing role-based access control (RBAC). To that end, each group of users in a business network needs its own role to determine the level of privileged access allowed. Administrators would have more access than a standard user, for example.
  • Collecting analytics. Another benefit to centralizing secrets management is the ability to analyze usage across the board. Detect strange behaviors and potential threats this way by checking to see which accounts or systems are at risk of compromise.
  • Building the culture. Security is more than just a consideration for the IT department; it needs to be built into the corporate culture. DevOps, for instance, involves all the designing, creation, testing, and support of software applications. Its security-focused sibling, DevSecOps, should be just as important to align cybersecurity and development.

Vault secrets management makes all of these best practices easy to follow. You want to aim for a centralized solution from a third-party cloud service provider to maximize the flexibility and efficiency of your secrets management program.

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