When we talk about digital security, as an individual it might only refer to remembering your passwords for different sites and accounts. However, the scale extends substantially when that perspective shifts from individuals to organizations or enterprises. Let’s focus on just one real-life example. Your banking information might be safe with you. But what happens if a person or a group retrieves that information right from the bank?
And when you think of software architecture, sharing passwords was simple when you had just one server. But when you go through SSL private keys, multiple servers, and developers, matters get more complicated. Sharing passwords in plain text or hardcoded manner is no longer an option. And that’s where the concept of secret management comes into the picture. Secret management is a comprehensive solution that helps to protect your enterprise’s secret. Let’s read on to find out more about secret management.
What Is Secret Management?
Secret management is a process for storing, managing, and retrieving “secrets” in binary or text forms. And by “secret” only refers to digital authentication credentials. For instance, a password can be a secret. In layman’s terms, the information that is confidential or you don’t want to be in publics’ reach is secret. These are some good examples of secrets-
- SSH keys
- API keys
- Encryption Keys
- Account credentials
- One time password device
Most modern applications are designed based on the interconnection of many components and most of them are dynamic. Besides the use of those applications, there are many types of secrets that vary on accessibility or processes. To manage, store or access these data, a secret management system brings all those information or secrets under one control.
Secret Management Platforms
There is a myriad of secret management tools and platforms out there. HashiCorp Vault, Microsoft Azure Key, Amazon AWS secret manager, HashiCorp Consul are some renowned secret management tools. CloudEnv is also a suitable option when it comes to end-to-end encryption.
These tools provide different layers of protection; some are dedicated to one type of protection while others provide more comprehensive service. Just like real life, there might be many threats in a virtual world and you need different policies to manage them.
To manage your data properly these tools focus on three different factors-
- Deciding which secrets (passwords, certificate, or keys) are to be managed
- Which entity should use them (database, web app, machine, or human)
- What purpose the entity will use that data
Secret Management Best Practices
There are different ways to ensure your secrets are safe and only accessed by the authorized entities- be it an application, machine, or individual. Here are some basic secret management strategies that can minimize the risk of system attack or secret sprawl in your enterprise.
Centralizing Your Secrets
Centralizing your digital authentication credential is the first part of managing your secrets. Imagine you have several passwords in post-it notes, kept in different places; it will be a tough job to keep track of all these passwords. At one point you might even lose some of them. Besides, without centralization, your enterprise runs the risk of secret sprawl and undetected attack on the system.
Similarly, if you have authentication credentials in GitHub, BitBucket, or even on an excel sheet you need to gather and centralize them all. Without Centralizing your information you can’t expect to authorize, audit, or manage them properly. You can manage this centralization in several ways -you can put them in a Database or in a KV store. No matter what method you choose, you need to design access to these centralized secrets.
Proper Access Control List (ACL)
After centralization, the access control list should be your priority. You need to control the accessibility to your secrets and the extent they have that authority. If you don’t control the access to sensitive information, your system can be attacked. There can be machines, applications, or humans in your access control list.
For instance, in Amazon’s web service (AWS), identity and access management policies will help you determine what API, CLI, or other procedures can be performed by those who have access to your secrets. You can even allow only a fraction of the total database to be accessed by adding filters to your data.
When you prepare a static database with a password and keep it in the vault, and share this with many applications, after some time your secrets will no longer be safe. You need a dynamic solution, that enables the vault to process temporary access – from creating a password and setting up a TTL by the administrator.
In these cases, you need to allow temporary access to your secrets to individuals, applications, or machines. In dynamic secrets, the individual will be able to retrieve the data from the central place with a temporary credential, and the credentials will be automatically revoked when the time expires.
Dynamic secrets and encryption are often used in the same context in secret management. Encryption is a system of layering or hiding the true meaning of your secrets. When your data is encrypted, you can rest assured that even if your data is accessed by an unauthorized individual your secrets are still undecipherable.
The encryption key needs to be in the centralized database and you need to determine its access only to the individuals who have authorized that access.
The whole purpose of managing your secrets will be meaningless if you can’t monitor who accessed your secrets. Auditing is the best way to keep track of these issues. From audit logs, you can see who used the dynamic credentials and accessed the encryption operation. It gives you complete visibility for the whole process and becomes easier for you to control your secrets.
The Bottom Line
Today the world has around 40 zettabytes (40 trillion gigabytes)of data stored and almost 90% of them were created within the last two years. This is just an indicator of how fast we are moving forward in terms of technology and innovation. And with this advancement, it also becomes relevant to keep these data secured; especially in a cloud-native environment. And the best way to manage these data is to use some automated secret management tools.