The Secret Life of Secrets: Why Vaults Aren't Enough

Adam Cheriki, Co-founder & CTO, Entro
May 16, 2023

In the digital age, secrets like access tokens and API keys are no longer confined to a shared doc or intranet file. Instead, cloud applications and services often store sensitive information ranging from API keys to confidential customer data that must be kept secure. That’s where vaults come in. Vaults are like digital lockboxes, storing secrets in a secure location. 

But here’s the thing: vaults only store secrets. They don’t manage or monitor them end-to-end. In this post, we discuss the uses and limitations of a vault in secrets management.

What is secrets management?

Secrets management securely stores and manages sensitive information, such as connection-strings, tokens, API keys, and other confidential data. This is typically done in a centralized location to ensure that the sensitive data is only accessible to authorized personnel and applications.


Secrets management systems provide a way to encrypt and store secrets securely and authenticate and authorize access. They often include access controls, auditing, and secret rotation features to ensure they remain secure over time.


Effective secrets management is crucial for organizations to protect their data from unauthorized access or disclosure and comply with various security and data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Organizations need to have guidelines and policies in place to ensure the proper handling and protection of sensitive data globally.

What is a vault?

Vaults have become increasingly popular lately to store secrets. Whether it’s tokens, API keys, or other sensitive information, a vault can provide a way to keep confidential information safe from prying eyes.

So, how does a vault work? Think of it like managing a bunch of keys. Some keys are more important than others, some need multiple people to have copies of them, and some need more rigid security protocols – keys come in all shapes and sizes. Secrets are like keys in the cloud. Managing secrets means having a way to access and distribute them across different applications and systems securely.

Vaults act as a database for secrets, and as such, they store, and control access to secrets. Vaults may seem like the ultimate solution for securing secrets. This is where things get tricky because there’s more to secrets management than just storage.

Why vaults are not enough

Vaults are just one piece of the puzzle. While vaults can be an essential part of a security strategy, they are not the end-all for securing secrets.

In 2022, BleepingComputer reported that Okta, a leading authentication company, had its source code stolen following a security breach of its GitHub repositories. This incident highlights the importance of implementing a comprehensive security strategy for managing sensitive information, including secure storage in a vault and proper authentication, authorization, and other measures to protect secrets from cyberattacks. Such measures are essential to prevent data breaches and safeguard sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

Vaults store secrets that are used by a team within an organization, and often, a typical organization uses at least 5 vaults. As the number of vaults increases, so does the challenge of managing these vaults. You also end up with secrets sprawl as the number of secrets in these vaults can easily proliferate. The big challenge becomes keeping track of the total number of secrets in your organization. Most organizations are unsure about how many secrets they possess. 

Another issue with vaults is that they give you no information about how the secrets are used once they are accessed by an authenticated user or service. They merely serve a secret to an authenticated requester. They provide no additional insight or intelligence about the usage of a secret.


Even if a secret key is stored in a vault, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s secure. For instance, if a hacker manages to intercept a secret key while it’s being transmitted between an application and a cloud service, storing it in a vault won’t make a difference as the attacker already has access to the secret key.

Solution: Holistic secrets management platform

Unlike vaults that only store secrets, what you need is a holistic secrets management platform that can protect secrets against a range of threats, including cyberattacks, insider threats, and accidental data leaks. Such platforms are designed to provide end-to-end visibility into all aspects of an organization’s secrets, from storage to access to exposure and more.

In addition to these measures, a secrets management solution should also include advanced threat detection capabilities. This includes real-time monitoring of all activity on the platform and the ability to detect and respond to suspicious behavior. The platform should automatically rotate secrets if a threat is detected.

Advantages of using a holistic secrets management platform

  1. Comprehensive Secrets Identification and management of all secrets across an organization, including passwords, tokens, API keys, certificates, and other sensitive information. It starts with knowing exactly how many secrets are active in your organizations. It should then ensure that no secrets are left unmanaged and unprotected. 
  2. Continuous Monitoring and Protection in Real-Time, ensuring that any suspicious activity is immediately detected and responded to. This helps to prevent potential breaches and minimize damage in the event of an attack.
  3. Thorough Visibility into Secrets Management helps monitor who has access to sensitive information, when it was accessed, and what actions were taken. This provides a detailed audit trail and helps organizations stay protected and compliant with regulations.
  4. Detection of Abnormalities and Threats using advanced algorithms and machine learning. The platform can detect unauthorized access attempts, unusual login patterns, and other suspicious activity.
  5. Identification of Dark Web Leaks with the platform. Identify if any of an organization’s secrets have been leaked on the dark web, allowing the organization to take immediate action to prevent further damage.
  6. Detection and Resolution of Misconfigurations: Misconfigurations can be a major security risk, but the platform can detect and resolve these issues before attackers exploit them.
  7. Enforcement of Least Privilege Access Control, ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive information. This minimizes the risk of accidental or intentional data leaks.
  8. Enforcing least privilege with secrets: As mentioned earlier, with secrets, you choose their permissions during the time of creation. This leads users to overprovision permissions for a secret just to be on the safe side. This should be avoided, and secrets should have as few permissions as possible.

Entro’s advanced secrets management platform  

Secrets are among the weakest links in any organization’s security infrastructure. Without a proper security solution, organizations risk being compromised by attackers. That’s where Entro comes in – an advanced secrets protection platform explicitly designed for security teams. Entro offers a comprehensive solution for governing secrets from a single pane of glass. It allows security teams to proactively identify, prioritize, remediate, and prevent secret exposures and risks. 


With Entro, organizations can gain in-depth visibility into their secrets and save time with automated remediation. The platform includes consolidated secret security, anomaly detection, dark web leakage detection, misconfiguration uncovering, and least privilege enforcement. Entro is an essential investment for any organization looking to ensure the highest level of security for their sensitive information and programmatic keys.

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