6 Best practices for maintaining development stage secrets security

Itzik Alvas. Co-founder & CEO, Entro
March 7, 2024

In the whirlwind of modern software development, teams race against time, constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation and efficiency. This relentless pace is fueled by an ever-evolving tech landscape, where SaaS domination, the proliferation of microservices, and the ubiquity of CI/CD pipelines are not just trends but the new norm.

Amidst this backdrop, a critical aspect subtly weaves into the narrative — the handling of secrets. The need to manage API keys, passwords, and other sensitive data becomes more than a checklist item yet is often overshadowed by the sprint toward quicker releases and cutting-edge features. The challenge is clear: How do software teams maintain the sanctity of secrets without slowing down their stride?

Challenges in development stage secrets security

The pressure to deliver rapidly in modern organizations can lead developers to take shortcuts, compromising security. Some standard practices like hard-coding secrets or reusing them across environments are quite well known. But while expedient, they open up significant vulnerabilities. Let’s discuss these further:

    • Hard-coded secrets: Embedding secrets directly into source code is a prevalent yet risky practice. It not only makes secrets easily accessible in the event of a code leak but also creates a real challenge to keep track of that secret and complicates the process of secret rotation and management. When secrets are hard-coded, updating them becomes a cumbersome task, often overlooked in the rush of development.

    • Scalability challenges: As systems grow, so does the complexity of managing secrets security. Large-scale infrastructures and cloud-native environments exacerbate the difficulty of tracking and securing an increasing number of secrets spread across various systems and platforms.

    • Compliance and auditing difficulties: Ensuring compliance with various regulations becomes arduous in the face of sprawling secrets. In dynamic development environments, keeping a vigilant eye on how secrets are used and preventing misuse is essential but can be challenging.

    • Integration with IAM systems: Any robust secrets management system ideally integrates effortlessly with IAM systems to enhance security and streamline processes. However, aligning these systems to work cohesively often presents a significant challenge.

The Toyota Motor Corp.’s T-Connect application incident is a stark reminder of the pitfalls of not managing secrets effectively. A contractor inadvertently published source code containing a Toyota database access token to a public GitHub repository. This lapse went undetected for five years, exposing information on nearly 300,000 users.

Why is secret security usually neglected during software development?

For software developers, the relentless pursuit of speed often eclipses the equally critical need for security, particularly when managing secrets. This oversight is partly rooted in the mindset that governs the development process. Security concerns tend to take the back seat in a landscape where delivering new features, fixing bugs, and meeting product launch deadlines are paramount.

For many developers, the immediacy of functional requirements and user experience enhancements takes precedence. The idea that a security breach could occur due to mishandled secrets often seems abstract, especially when there are no immediate consequences or feedback loops in the development process to highlight the risks. This mindset is further reinforced in environments lacking security culture or training, leading developers to treat secrets management as an afterthought inadvertently.

This skewed balance between development stage security and speed creates a risky blind spot. While rapid development yields tangible and immediate rewards, the benefits of proper, end-to-end secrets management — preventing potential breaches and safeguarding sensitive data — are more subtle and long-term.

Why is the shift-left security approach no longer enough?

The shift-left security approach in software security, emphasizing security integration early in the development lifecycle, is undoubtedly a step forward. However, it’s not a panacea. This methodology primarily focuses on catching vulnerabilities at the earliest stages, which, while crucial, overlooks the continuous nature of security challenges throughout the software development lifecycle. During the shift left process, building may fail if expired secrets are not addressed. In addition, the development process slows down significantly

In contrast, a developer-first security strategy acknowledges that security needs to be a pervasive, ongoing concern. More than introducing security at the beginning is needed; it must be a thread that runs consistently through all stages of development. This demands a cultural shift within security and engineering teams as we realize security is no longer the sole domain of security professionals but becomes a shared responsibility.

6 Best practices for secrets security during development 

Organizations need to grow out of the mindset that development stage secrets security is just another checkpoint and accept it as the art that it is that blends into the canvas of coding. Here are some best practices to help materialize this image:

    1. Centralized secrets management: Imagine managing all your secrets in one place, easy to monitor and manage. Using a centralized approach for secret vault management simplifies tracking and control. A single, secure secrets vault is not feasible nowadays, since you will have one per environment and probably are using different kinds of vaults such as Kubernetes secrets, GitHub secrets, main vault, and more. A centralized secrets management and security platform that connects to all secrets vaults is the only way to manage your secrets.
    2. Access control: Access to secrets should be as tight as the security at a top-secret facility. Employing stringent authentication practices, like multi-factor authentication, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding sensitive data, ensuring access is reserved exclusively for authorized users.
    3. CI/CD pipeline security: The CI/CD pipeline forms the critical infrastructure of the software development cycle. Integrating continuous security scanning within the pipeline helps identify vulnerabilities in real time, ensuring that every build is efficient,secure and secrets free.
    4. Threat modeling and code reviews: Identifying potential threats early in the development stage and thoroughly reviewing code for exposed secrets is like having a quality check at every step.
    5. Incident response plan: When the unexpected hits, this plan is your go-to guide for a cool, collected response. It’s all about quick containment, slick investigation, and clear communication. Post-breach, it’s your chance to turn hindsight into foresight, fine-tuning your defenses for the next round.
    6. Secure coding frameworks and server configuration: Utilizing secure coding frameworks and libraries and ensuring servers are configured with security in mindsets is a strong foundation for development stage secrets security.

Incorporating these practices into the daily workflow makes secret security a natural part of the development process.

Entro: a case study in efficient secrets management

Wrapping up our deep dive into secrets security during development, it’s evident that with the right secrets management tools and strategies, you can go a long way in your cybersecurity journey — which brings us to Entro.

Entro slides in with a cool, low-key approach to enhance your development stage secrets security without stepping on your R&D team’s toes. It’s almost like the backstage crew at a concert, making sure everything runs without the audience ever noticing. It works completely out of band, through APIs and reading logs, ensuring your secrets are safe without demanding any spotlight or code changes.

Furthermore, Entro differentiates itself in the development stage security arena with features that make managing secrets safer and smarter. One of its standout features is secrets enrichment, where Entro adds layers of context to secrets, giving them their own profile – who owns that secret, who created it, its rotation history, and the privileges it holds.

With Entro, you get to know exactly who’s using what secret and for what, keeping everything tight and right. Click here to know more.

Reclaim control over your secrets

Get updates

All secret security right in your inbox

Want full security oversight?

See the Entro platform in action