Secrets Management Definition

We live in an age where corporate data breaches occur with worrying frequency. It seems that every week, a new business accidentally leaks one of its vital passwords or keys, resulting in costly damage control and a loss of trust from clients.

What can you do to prevent these incidents? DevOps secrets management is the answer, and not enough businesses are handling it properly. Learn more about secrets and some best practices for dealing with them.

What Is Secrets Management?

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:

  • Passwords
  • APIs
  • Tokens
  • SSH keys
  • Private certificates
  • Encryption keys

Managing these secrets is essential to the overall security of the entire business. IT groups often work with secrets management tools in DevOps environments.

Why is a working secrets manager so important? Users need to use authentication methods to access sensitive company resources. Whenever these secrets are transmitted across the company, there’s always a risk of data leakage or lost passwords.

What Are Some 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 Secrets Management Best Practices?

While it is possible to manage secrets manually, doing so introduces the possibility of human error and can be incredibly inefficient. A password management tool is a first step, but you probably want a more holistic approach for a large organization.

Some 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 best way to achieve a streamlined experience. Other 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.