How to choose a secret Vault for your organization

Itzik Alvas. Co-founder & CEO, Entro
August 16, 2023

A secrets vault is your organization’s Fort Knox. It’s the secure digital stronghold where your most sensitive data — API keys, passwords, certificates, and other credentials — are stored and managed. But here’s the kicker: not all secrets vaults are created equal. Choosing the right one for your organization is a decision that can make or break your security posture and operational efficiency. So, how do you navigate this complex decision? What factors should you consider when selecting a secrets vault, and how can you make the best choice for your needs?


This article will dive deep into choosing the correct secrets vault for your organization.

Source: Wikipedia

Let’s explore the key considerations, unpack the challenges, and highlight the features that a reliable secrets vault should offer. Whether you’re a fledgling startup taking your first steps in the cybersecurity landscape or a seasoned enterprise looking to optimize your vault secrets management paradigm, this guide will provide the insights you need to make an informed decision. So, buckle up, and let’s get started.


Understanding your needs

Before selecting the right secrets vault, you need to look hard at your organization’s specific needs.

Start by assessing your current secrets landscape. These are useful questions to ask yourself:

  • Where are your secrets currently stored, tracked and managed?
  • What percentage of your infrastructure is cloud-based vs on-prem?
  • What kind of challenges does your organization face because of bad secrets management?
  • What types of secrets do you need to manage? Are they related to applications, infrastructure, databases, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, containers, or all of them?
  • Which workloads use these secrets, and how do they access them?
  • Do these workloads fetch secrets? Do they use a direct API call? Are they part of the CI/CD pipeline?


Also, take a moment to evaluate your strategy for managing secrets from multi-cloud and multi-infrastructure tools. Is your aim to manage all these secrets in one place? Having at least one vault per environment (production, dev, test, etc) is ideal. Remember that separating environments is very recommended.

Also, ask yourself how you can verify that other vaults, such as Kubernetes secrets are not being leveraged by developers who are not security-aware or do not have security approval.

Finally, think about the policies you want to enforce for your secrets. These could include versioning, revoking, and rotating secrets, ensuring backups, and using time-based policies.

In addition to these considerations, monitoring is another key factor you should consider. Monitoring involves closely tracking the usage of your secrets to detect any unusual or suspicious activity quickly. This is crucial to identify and mitigate potential security threats before they escalate.

Understanding these requirements will give you a clearer picture of what you need from a secrets vault. Although, while a vault can store and manage secrets, it often lacks the ability to discover all secrets across various platforms. This requires a purpose-built secrets management solution like Entro to fill in the gaps. Entro’s BYOV solution provides a true layer of management and control over your secrets by discovering them across the ecosystem and enriching them with metadata.

Hold your keys

Securely storing secrets necessitates robust cryptography, yet this encryption procedure introduces another pivotal component: the master key, which must be safeguarded diligently. Traditionally, cloud vaults mandate that customers surrender their master encryption keys, relinquishing ownership and granting the cloud provider unrestricted access to data. Consequently, this exposes organizations to vulnerabilities, especially in light of governmental directives like the CLOUD Act, which obliges Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) to disclose both keys and data upon government request.

Don’t forget about rotations

To mitigate the risk of compromised secrets and comply with regulations, it’s imperative to regularly rotate them. Automation is crucial for ensuring this process occurs seamlessly and streamlining auditing procedures. Additionally, organizations can enhance their security posture by implementing Just-In-Time (JIT) Access mechanisms. These mechanisms utilize dynamic secrets that are generated on-demand, expire automatically, and are revoked promptly, effectively reducing the window of opportunity for attackers.

Regrettably, cloud vaults lack features for both secret rotation and dynamic JIT secret creation. These tasks require continuous connectivity with external services or third-party services within the cloud platform, posing significant challenges for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).

Additional considerations in choosing a secrets vault

Beyond understanding your needs, several other factors should influence your choice of vault secrets management. Consider the size of your team and how geographically distributed they are. Securing remote access cannot be overstated, especially in today’s increasingly remote and distributed work environment.

Consider the role of partner applications and services that access your organization’s vault secrets. Do you use Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) or other types of access management to authorize their access to your secrets? RBAC can help ensure that external services only have access to the necessary secrets, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

Source: Unsplash

Integration with your current CI/CD, Git, and DevOps tooling is another crucial factor. A secrets vault that integrates seamlessly with your existing tools can significantly streamline your workflows.

When evaluating a secrets vault, prioritize features that offer intuitive usability, simplified administration, and seamless maintenance to streamline operations and maximize productivity. Seek solutions that not only reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) but also deliver long-term value through efficient resource utilization and scalability. Opt for platforms that bolster your security posture by implementing robust encryption, access controls, and auditing capabilities, ensuring comprehensive protection for sensitive data. Additionally, prioritize vaults that seamlessly integrate with DevOps workflows, enabling agile development and deployment processes while maintaining security and compliance standards across the entire software development lifecycle.

Finally, consider the enterprise readiness and scalability of the tool. Can it support your organization as it grows and evolves? If you’re considering open-source tools, don’t forget to estimate the setup effort, and ongoing soft costs to maintain the solution. Remember, you’ll only have the open source community for help and support – which can be iffy when it comes to security tooling.

Logs are crucial to knowing what really happens with your secrets. The vault you pick should have logging capabilities so you’re aware of which services are accessing your secrets. Rather than on-premise options, consider a cloud-based vault service such as the ones provided by the big three cloud vendors.

Further, it’s always a good idea to go beyond a simple secrets vault and adopt a comprehensive enterprise secret management platform to fill the gaps.


Key features of a reliable secrets vault

A reliable vault secrets management platform should offer a range of features to manage secrets at scale. These include:

  • Dynamic secrets: While dynamic secrets are great in theory, they are not easy to manage and could lead to downtime. For example, imagine two workloads – workload A and workload B – using the same secret X. When workload A fetches X, it would work just fine, but when workload B fetches the same secret, it would cause the secret to get rotated dynamically, and lead to workload A failing. This will require you to invest a lot of effort to ensure that only one workload can access a secret at any given time.


  • Identity-based security: This feature allows the vault to integrate with trusted identities, automating access to secrets, data, and systems. This means that the vault can verify the admin’s or system’s identity before granting access, adding an extra layer of security.


  • Application and machine identity: A reliable secrets vault should be able to secure applications and systems with machine identity. This involves assigning unique identifiers to machines, allowing them to authenticate themselves and interact securely with other systems. The vault should also automate the issuance and rotation of credentials, reducing the risk of credentials being compromised.


  • User identity: The vault should leverage trusted identity platforms to secure, store, and access credentials and resources. This means that the vault should be able to integrate with identity providers to verify users’ identities before granting them access to secrets. Vaults, however, can’t provide misconfiguration alerts where a solution like Entro can help.


  • Database credential rotation: The vault should be able to rotate database passwords automatically. This means the vault can periodically change the passwords used to access databases, making it harder for unauthorized users to gain access. However, a word of caution, just as with dynamic secrets, this too can cause downtime and needs added management to work seamlessly.


  • Automated PKI infrastructure: The vault should be able to create X.509 certificates on demand quickly. These certificates authenticate users and systems and secure communications between them.


  • Data encryption & tokenization: The vault should be able to keep application data secure with one centralized workflow for data that resides in untrusted or semi-trusted systems outside of the vault. This involves encrypting data to make it unreadable to unauthorized users and tokenizing it to replace sensitive data with non-sensitive substitutes.


While considering all these features, remember that a vault is just one piece of the puzzle. You do need a comprehensive secrets management solution to fill in the gaps. This is where Entro, a holistic secrets security solution, comes into the picture. It supports any vault, and greatly enhances the default capabilities of vaults bringing greater visibility and control over every step of the secrets management process.


Choosing the right secrets vault for your organization is a critical decision that requires a thorough understanding of your needs, careful consideration of various factors, and a clear understanding of the features that a reliable secrets vault should offer. It’s a decision that can significantly impact your organization’s security posture, operational efficiency, and compliance with regulatory requirements.


Choosing the correct secrets vault for your organization is not a task to be taken lightly. It requires careful consideration and a thorough understanding of your organization’s specific needs and the landscape of available solutions.


At the same time, this article does not endorse a specific secret vault because we don’t believe that’s a perfect secret vault. The best thing you can do is leverage a great secrets vault out there and couple it with Entro’s secrets management solution. By implementing a holistic approach to secrets management, Entro strengthens the security posture of organizations.

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