What are secrets management tools and platforms?

Adam Cheriki, Co-founder & CTO, Entro
October 22, 2023

In cybersecurity, “secrets” does not refer to hushed conversations or confidential memos. Instead, it’s all about the digital keys to the kingdom: API keys, tokens, programmatic access and other sensitive pieces of information that grant access to critical systems and data.They are the cornerstones of your tech stack, and if mishandled, they can become the Achilles’ heel of your cybersecurity posture. So, how do you keep these secrets truly secret?

Source: Unsplash

Enter the world of secrets management tools. These platforms are designed to securely store, manage, and control access to secrets, ensuring they don’t become the weak link in your security chain. While secrets vaults offer a centralized repository where all secrets are encrypted and stored, modern secrets management tools go beyond mere storage, offering nifty features like automated rotation, real-time alerts, and even dark web scanning to ensure your secrets are as secure as Fort Knox.

So, without any further ado, let’s dive into the intricacies of these secret management platforms and just how practical their features are. But first, let’s answer…

How exactly do secret managers & vaults work?

When it comes to managing secrets, the first thing that might come to mind is a vault — a secure place where you can stash away your passwords, API keys, and other sensitive information. While that’s part of the equation, secrets lifecycle management platforms of today offer much more than just a digital lockbox. An ideal secrets management solution should provide a comprehensive suite of services aimed at not just storing but also securing, monitoring, and managing the lifecycle of your secrets.

Unlike a vault, primarily a storage unit for secrets, a higher-order secrets management platform like Entro offers a more comprehensive approach. It integrates with your existing vaults, whether on AWS, Azure, GCP, or any other cloud service, and enhances their capabilities.

The secrets management platform ensures that whenever an application needs to access secrets, its queries to the vault are secure, monitored, and logged. It can enforce policies, provide real-time alerts, and even automate the rotation of secrets to ensure they remain secure.

Now that we understand what you can expect from secrets management software, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of what makes it the most valuable weapon in your security arsenal.

Secrets scanning

Scanning is the cornerstone of any robust secrets management tool. It’s the equivalent of a security guard patrolling a building, ensuring no unauthorized personnel can gain access. The primary function of secret scanning is to comb through your entire tech stack — code repositories, CI/CD pipelines, libraries, container images, and ideally even collaboration tools like Slack and Jira — to identify any exposed or vulnerable secrets. This includes the notorious hardcoded plaintext secrets that developers leave in code repositories.

Ideally, the secrets management tool at hand should elevate this process by not just identifying secrets but also offering real-time alerts. The moment secrets are committed or exposed, you’re notified, allowing for immediate remediation — much like a security guard not just spotting an intruder but also instantly communicating with the authorities.

But let’s be clear: while essential, secret scanning alone isn’t the be-all and end-all of secrets management. It’s a starting point, a necessary but not sufficient condition for robust security. Many secret scanning tools fall short beyond boilerplate scanning. They often rely on known patterns and signatures. This means they might miss newly crafted secrets that don’t match any known patterns, leaving your system vulnerable. Moreover, these tools might generate false positives, leading to alert fatigue and making it difficult for teams to focus on genuine threats.

Entro addresses these limitations by prioritizing real threats and offering automated, ML-based mitigation strategies. It’s not just about finding secrets; it’s about understanding their context, and their risk level, and offering actionable insights for remediation. Entro’s approach ensures that you’re not just collecting data but are equipped to act on it effectively.

Azure, AWS, and GCP Secrets management

For Azure, Microsoft offers Azure Key Vault, a centralized cloud service for securely storing and managing cryptographic keys, secrets, and certificates used by cloud applications and services. Azure Key Vault integrates seamlessly with other Azure services and provides extensive access controls, auditing, and monitoring capabilities to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive data.

In the AWS ecosystem, AWS Secrets Manager provides a fully managed service for securely storing, managing, and rotating secrets such as database credentials, API keys, and OAuth tokens. AWS Secrets Manager offers seamless integration with other AWS services, automates the management of secrets’ lifecycle, and provides robust access controls and audit logging for enhanced security and compliance.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) offers Google Cloud Secret Manager, a fully managed secret management service that allows users to securely store and manage API keys, passwords, certificates, and other sensitive data. Google Cloud Secret Manager provides fine-grained access controls, versioning, and auditing capabilities, and integrates seamlessly with other GCP services to facilitate secure and efficient application development and deployment workflows.

Visibility and analysis in secrets management

Visibility and analysis are two critical pillars in the architecture of a solid secrets management platform. Visibility is your dashboard, providing a real-time snapshot of where your secrets are and who’s accessing them. It’s essential for keeping tabs on the overall health of your secret environment.

Analysis takes it a step further by diving into the details. It answers questions like, “Why is this API key accessed more frequently?” or “Are secrets being used in a way that complies with the prescribed security policies?”

Key features to consider:

    • Risk assessment: Categorizes secrets based on their risk levels, helping you prioritize your security measures.

    • Usage analytics: Tracks how each secret is used over time, offering insights into behavioral patterns and potential vulnerabilities.

Together, visibility and analysis offer a comprehensive view of your secret landscape. They enable you to identify potential issues and understand the context behind them, making your security measures more targeted and effective.

Context, lifecycle, and enrichment in secrets management

Imagine each secret in your tech stack as a character in a gripping novel. You wouldn’t be satisfied just knowing their name; you’d want to dive into their backstory, understand their motivations, and follow their journey from start to finish. That’s precisely what we mean by context, lifecycle management, and metadata enrichment regarding secrets management tools.

The backstory: contextual understanding

What’s the reason behind the creation of these secrets? What function do they fulfill? Understanding the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind each secret is like flipping through the early chapters of a character’s biography. It sets the stage for all the actions that follow.

The journey: lifecycle management

From their creation to their eventual retirement or rotation, tracking the lifecycle of secrets is just like following the critical arcs in a character’s story. You’ll know when it’s actively contributing and when it’s time for a graceful exit.

The footnotes: metadata enrichment

Just like the footnotes that add depth to a biography, metadata enrichment provides additional layers of information to each secret. Who accessed it last? From where? And for what purpose? These details turn a two-dimensional figure into a fully fleshed-out character.

Source: Freepik

By weaving these elements together, a secrets management platform doesn’t just secure your data; it tells a compelling story about each secret, complete with context, arcs, and intricate details.

Automation, anomaly detection, and real-time alerts

Speed and accuracy carry immense weight when it comes to secrets management. Imagine you’re a detective in a crime thriller, and you’ve got multiple suspects to track, clues to piece together, and a ticking clock. You can’t afford to do everything manually; you need a team and some serious tech to back you up. This brings us to the 3 key features of a secrets management platform:

    • Automation: This takes care of repetitive tasks, freeing up human resources for more complex decision-making. It can scan for exposed secrets automatically, apply security policies, and even initiate predefined corrective actions.

    • Anomaly detection: This adds another layer of security (ideally with machine learning algorithms backing it) and identifies unusual patterns or behaviors that could indicate a security risk. This helps proactively identify potential threats, rather than reacting to them after the fact.

    • Real-time alerts: Real-time alerts complete the trifecta. Immediate notifications mean that action can be taken when a secret is exposed or an anomaly is detected. This narrows the time frame for potential attackers and reduces the potential damage they can do.

Together, these features create a robust, responsive secrets management platform that identifies, protects, and empowers teams to act decisively and quickly.

Compliance — a non-negotiable

Compliance isn’t a mere formality but a critical governance layer in secrets tools. Adhering to industry-specific regulations such as PCI-DSS for payment processing or HIPAA for healthcare data is not just about avoiding penalties; it’s about establishing a trust framework for both internal stakeholders and external partners.

A sophisticated secrets management platform should offer features that facilitate real-time compliance monitoring and automated reporting. This ensures that you’re not just meeting the minimum regulatory requirements but are also equipped for any surprise audits. It’s about proactive compliance management, where the system alerts you of deviations or potential breaches, allowing immediate remediation.

Dark web scanning: the undercover operative in secrets management

Dark web scanning is like your undercover agent, navigating the murky waters of the internet’s underbelly to ensure your secrets haven’t fallen into the wrong hands. While your internal mechanisms are designed to prevent leaks, dark web scanning is an external validation point. It’s the equivalent of a background check for your secrets, ensuring they haven’t been compromised and are not up for sale in some hidden corner of the internet.

A top-tier secrets management platform should extend its capabilities to dark web scanning and add an extra layer of security by actively searching for your organization’s sensitive data across forums, marketplaces, and other dark web locations. If a secret is found, immediate action can be taken to rotate the compromised keys, thereby neutralizing the threat.

The Entro difference

What sets Entro apart from the crowd is its holistic approach to tackling the multifaceted challenges in cybersecurity. While most platforms fall short beyond secret detection, Entro goes several steps further. Here’s how:

    • Comprehensive scanning: Entro doesn’t just scan your codebase; it extends its reach to CI/CD pipelines, collaboration tools, and even your cloud configurations.

    • Contextual intelligence: Entro enriches each discovered secret with metadata, providing a fuller picture of its risk profile. This context-driven approach allows for more effective remediation strategies. The exact context provides fast risk mitigation capabilities and protects from secret targeted attacks.

    • Automated mitigation: In a world where time is of the essence, Entro’s automated responses ensure you’re always one step ahead of potential threats.

    • Compliance assurance: Entro helps you stay in line with industry regulations like PCI-DSS and HIPAA, not just as a checkbox but as an integrated part of your secrets management strategy.

    • Dark web vigilance: Entro’s dark web scanning ensures that your secrets are safe, both internally and externally.

The future of intelligent secrets management

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, secrets management is a necessity and a strategic asset. A robust secrets management platform should detect and offer actionable insights, ensure compliance, and provide real-time, automated responses. Entro embodies these principles, offering a comprehensive solution that addresses the complexities of modern-day secrets management.

So why wait? Elevate your organization’s cybersecurity posture with Entro and step into the future of intelligent secrets management. Click here to know more.

Normally, this would be a great deal, right? Well, yeah, but Entro takes it a step further by not just monitoring but also enriching the secrets with contextual metadata. It’s like having a security analyst keeping tabs on every secret, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.

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