Kubernetes secrets management: Top 5 tools for maximum security

To build secure and reliable applications, organizations often need to ensure proper encryption and protection of sensitive data or secrets residing inside the cluster. The security issues inherent in Kubernetes have led to the development of alternative approaches that allow for more robust yet flexible security via third-party secret management tools. These solutions can help manage, share and encrypt secrets across various Kubernetes clusters. Here are some security-based secret management tools to secure sensitive data or secrets in a low-trust environment.

1. Vault by HashiCorp

HashiCorp Vault is a free and open-source tool that secures, stores, and tightly controls access to tokens, certificates, API keys, sensitive credentials, and other secrets.

HashiCorp Vault provides a unilateral interface to manage secrets across infrastructures. Users can create detailed audit logs, which can help keep an eye on who accessed what. This tool can be used to store sensitive values as well as it can help in the generation of access for specific services or applications on lease dynamically. Without hindering CI/CD workflows, it can be used to improve security.

HashiCorp Vault can also be used to authenticate users (machines/humans) either via traditional methods (like using passwords) or by using modern methods (like exchanging dynamic values) to generate temporary tokens to access a particular path. This authentication verifies users’ access to a particular file. Users can write policies using the HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL), which can be used to determine the access permissions granted to different users.

With centralized key management, HashiCorp Vault can be used for secret management, identity-based access, and data encryption. The tool utilizes both TLS for data in transit and AES 256-bit encryption for data at rest for security purposes.

2. Secret Manager

Secret Manager is a Google Cloud service for managing secrets on clusters. It offers a secure storage system for API keys, certificates, passwords, and other sensitive data. It gives a central place and single source to access, manage, and audit secrets across Google Cloud.

Secret Manager offers several features, such as secrets versioning, cloud IAM integration, and audit logging. Secret Manager manages versioning of secrets from start to end of life and matches secrets with requests. Secret Manager’s Cloud IAM can grant individual permissions to secrets and separate the ability to manage secrets from the ability to access their data. Secret Manager’s Cloud Audit Logs integration can generate an audit log and makes meeting audit and compliance requirements easy.

Additionally, users can write replication policies to handle the replication of secret data and enforce protection via VPC Service Controls support. Its operations and active secret versions are chargeable. With the Secret Managers, administrators can use attributes of secrets and secret versions to grant conditional access to the users.

kubernetes secrets management

3. Cyberark Secrets Manager

Cyberark Secrets Manager is a Kubernetes secrets and credential management solution for cloud-native hybrid and containerized environments. It can help remove the hard-coded secrets from the source code and the DevOps tools.

Cyberark Secrets Manager comprises three offerings, Conjur Secrets Manager Enterprise, Conjur Secrets Manager Open Source, and Credential Providers. These solutions provide centralized secure management of secrets and credentials for a wide range of application workloads, including automation platforms, CI/CD tools, and commercial off-the-shelf solutions (COTS). It allows developers to develop scalable applications having secure access to sensitive and high-value resources like databases.

Conjur Secrets Manager Enterprise can be tailored as per the requirements of the organization, and integrate with a wide range of environments like Container orchestration platforms and DevOps tools. It is integrated with CyberArk Identity Security Platform, providing a centralized platform for managing privileged credentials. Conjur Secrets Manager Open Source offers an interface to manage secrets via secure authentication, control, and audit of all applications and cloud-based resources. Credential Providers allows developers to manage, secure, and rotate secrets used by commercial applications or third-party tools like RPA.

These solutions can eliminate the practice of saving hard-coded credentials within the internally developed applications. It helps in applying access policies such as role-based access controls on non-human identities.

kubernetes secrets management

4. AWS Secrets Manager

AWS Secrets Manager comes from the leading cloud vendor and has many features to manage the end-to-end lifecycle of secrets, including secrets rotation, encryption, sharing, and more. Secrets Manager includes an API that doesn’t require hardcoding of secrets and, in doing so, enforces better security. It offers secret rotation with built-in integration for Amazon DocumentDB, Amazon RDS, and Amazon Redshift based on security and compliance requirements. The service is also extensible to other types of secrets such as API keys and OAuth tokens.

AWS Secrets Manager enables users to control access to secrets and audit secret rotation centrally. It can be used to manage access to resources across the AWS Cloud, third-party services, and on-premises. It also offers access management with fine-grained policies and resource-based policies, centralized security and secrets audits.

Secrets Manager enables users to follow a pay-as-you-go pricing model. As with other AWS services, Secrets Manager is fully hosted and is easy to get started with and maintain without having to maintain your own infrastructure. It can also easily replicate secrets to multiple AWS regions to support multi-region applications and disaster recovery scenarios. If you’re already deeply committed to AWS, their Secrets Manager is a no-brainer.

5. Akeyless Vault

Akeyless Vault is a hybrid and multicloud-focused secrets management service. The Vault provides safety to AES encryption keys, API keys, SSH keys, SQL credentials, TLS/SSH certificates, and various other secrets.

It offers full visibility into secrets usage, detailed analytics with various security regulations, and security controls maintenance. Users can automate secrets across DevOps tools and cloud platforms by employing a secured vault for API-Keys, credentials, tokens, and passwords. By enabling unified authentication and ephemeral just-in-time access permissions, it secures infrastructure and applications. It also applies advanced app-level encryption and tokenization services to protect sensitive business and personal data.

Akeyless Vault offers an encrypted unified secrets store and multiplatform connectivity. It also offers support for a wide range of plugins. It secures the encryption key by employing a patent-pending security technology dubbed Distributed Fragments Cryptography (DFC). It makes it virtually impossible for hackers to obtain the complete keys by preventing instances of intentionally disjoined encryption keys from existing in their whole form. It works with Ansible, Chef, Docker, Terraform, Jenkins, Kubernetes, and other platforms.

Kubernetes secrets management: Tell the world

The incorporation of security is required throughout the operations and development process of an organization. Securing the identity and access credentials utilized by applications can play a vital role as an effective strategy. These identity credentials are vulnerable to many threats, like expired certificates, lost keys, and hacked passwords. By using the above-suggested tools, organizations can make the best use of Kubernetes while providing access to secrets when required and restricting unauthorized access or usage. This minimizes or completely avoids the risk of a system being compromised due to bad secret management. Secrets management is a vital part of Kubernetes operations, and every Operator should give careful thought to how they manage secrets.

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