What Is Secrets Management?
Secrets management is the use of tools and methods to securely store, access and centrally manage the lifecycle of digital authentication credentials. This includes sensitive data such as passwords, keys, APIs, tokens, and certificates. These secrets are used to authenticate a user or machine in order to access applications or services within an organization’s IT ecosystem.
There will always be data that must be kept confidential. Secrets are the credentials companies use to perform digital authentication whenever privileged users must access vital internal data or sensitive applications and services.
Secrets can take multiple forms including:
- API Keys
- SSH keys
- Private certificates
- Encryption keys
Securing secrets is essential to the overall security of any business, with IT groups often utilizing secrets management tools in their DevOps environments.
Why Is Secrets Management Important?
Users need to use authentication methods to access sensitive information or company resources. Whenever these secrets or credentials are transmitted across the company, there is a risk of data leakage or lost passwords. Because of this risk, there is a critical need for organizations to protect secrets.
What Are Secrets Management Tools?
Much like other cloud services, secrets management services can now be outsourced to a third-party provider. Many cloud platforms give you a vault-as-a-service, providing access to secrets 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. Secrets management tools minimize friction and provide you with a best-in-class security tool in a cost-effective package while providing access to secrets.
What Are the Challenges of Secrets Management?
DevSecOps and IT are complicated fields. The many types of secrets you have to control makes transmitting and storing them difficult. Keeping up a secure secrets store comes with many challenges.
- Secret sprawl. With the proliferation of multi-cloud and microservices, organizations have hundreds, or even thousands, of secrets their developers use for accessing machines. These secrets can be shared or left in code or just left unrevoked and leave your organization open to a breach.
- Fragmented control. In many companies, individual departments and teams handle their own secrets separately from others. The result is a decentralized platform for secrets management, which can lead to security gaps and challenges when it comes to auditing.
- Working with DevOps. DevOps teams rely heavily on secrets for their tasks, which include configuration management, orchestration, and others.
- Remote access. We’ve been seeing a trend of employees working from home and thus requiring authorization via remote access. How can you ensure that secrets remain secure during the transfer?
- Bad practices. Most new applications and IoT devices come pre-installed with default credentials, which are easy to crack. Even professional DevOps tools sometimes come with pre-made credentials that are risky to the organization if not changed.
- Cloud-based services. Your company likely uses online services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Office 365. If so, you probably work with multiple virtual machines too, all of which require their own secrets.
So how do you handle a secrets vault properly with so many factors and data points to keep track of?
What Are Some Best Practices?
While it is possible to manually perform secrets management, doing so introduces the possibility of human error and can be incredibly inefficient. Generally, a password management tool is a first step. However, you should consider a more holistic approach for a large organization.
Some secrets management tools go beyond handling standard user accounts and will also support other types of secrets such as the ones listed previously. Having a secure, centralized place to store your secrets is the only way to achieve a truly streamlined experience.
Other secrets management best practices include:
- General password strategies. Employee passwords are often a weak point in the security of a business. Encourage passwords with high enough length and complexity. Try to change passwords regularly as well, especially for sensitive accounts. Avoid common and easily guessed passwords.
- Centralized management. With so many different types of secrets, having them all in one place for your IT department to manage is the best way to avoid leaks and mitigate risks.
- Privileged session monitoring. Software that helps manage a secrets vault can also integrate well with privileged access management (PAM) platforms, adding an extra layer of security and ensuring that access is restricted to only the users who need it. DevOps teams should be able to monitor privileged user activity and terminate sessions if necessary.
- Threat analytics. An effect of centralized secret management is the ability to analyze your secrets easily. Finding and reporting on risks is faster and more comprehensive this way.
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