Best Secrets Management Tools For Application Security
04 Mar

Best Secrets Management Tools For Application Security

Mahipal Nehra

Best Secrets Management Tools For Application Security. With the booming use of microservices, containers, and cloud computing, managing secrets has become more complex and challenging. To ensure proper protection of critically sensitive data, businesses should pay attention to the processes they use for managing privileges, identities, and secrets. So, in this article, you will get a comprehensive overview of what are secrets, how we can manage them and what are its tools that can be used for enhancing application security. Let’s get started!

What is a Secret?

A secret is a piece of sensitive information for an organization. It includes passwords, API keys, encryption keys, certificate, SSH keys, and other digital credentials that might be needed to access a confidential system. These secrets enable the authentication of protected resources while developing an application. Secrets can be classified based on the way they are created and stored, i.e, static secrets and dynamic secrets. Static secrets are created and stored before their requirement and then they should be deleted manually when no longer needed. On the other hand, dynamic secrets are generated while accessing and have configured time-to-live (TTL) that determine how long they will exist.

However, a non-human user with secrets can automatically gain access to any resource belonging to the secret’s owner, making it an easier target for cyber attackers to acquire unauthorised access to confidential resources.

But how can one manage and protect these secrets?

Secret Management: What, Why & How?

Anyone can make a mistake and get their secrets exposed. Even social media giant Facebook has unintentionally stored hundreds of millions of passwords in plain text format. If you do not store your secrets in a secured and encrypted manner, they can be easily compromised. That’s why it is important to pay attention to encrypting the secrets.

Secret management is the method and tool that are used to manage digital authentication credentials or secrets like keys, passwords, and APIs needed to access the application, services, sensitive parts, and privileged account. Secret Manager grants a central space to manage, access, and audit secrets. It enables a programmer to replace hardcoded credentials with an API call to the Secret manager to retrieve the secret programmatically. Needless to say, secret management assures that the resources available on different platforms, clouds, and tool stacks can only be accessed by authorized and authenticated users.

Not only that, but Secret Management tools can easily replace long term secrets with the short term while decreasing the risk of exposure. And enables the automatic rotation of credentials according to a specified schedule. Some of the best practices for managing secrets include:

  • Never committing secrets in Git repositories,

  • Always encrypt the secret at rest and in transit, and

  • Inject secrets through an environment variable into your project.

However, secrets management can be efficiently done through secret management tools that offer better protection to your application or software. But, which one should you use?

Top-Rated Secrets Management Tools For Better Security

There is a surplus of secret management tools to choose from. Yet opting for the ideal one can be difficult. So, here is the list of top 10 secrets management tools that can match your specific requirements.

1. HashiCorp Vault

HashiCorp Vault is a centralized secret management tool specially designed to control access to encryption keys and secrets by authentication of identity via trusted sources like LDAP, Cloud Platforms, Kubernetes, and Cloud Foundry. A big benefit of the vault is that it can run anywhere, be it, your laptop, on-premises data centres, and the cloud. You can easily replicate the data from the vault in other data centres or cloud providers. It helps in storing, accessing, and distributing dynamic secrets like passwords, tokens, certificates, and tokens, centrally to reduce the secrets sprawl. Also, it provides detailed audit logs having a summary of the client’s interaction that can be used to identify data breaches and attempted access to the system. Some of the database supported by Vault are PostgreSQL, MySQL, MariaDB, MSSQL, MongoDB, Cassandra, Couchbase, Influxdb, ElasticSearch, Oracle, Redshift, HanaDB, and MongoDB Atlas.

2. AWS Secret Manager

AWS secret manager assists the complete lifecycle of secrets management that includes securely encrypting through KMS key, storing, rotating, and auditing credentials for the database and other services. It entails support for Amazon RDS/Aurora. Rather than implementing hardcore credentials into the app, you can make API calls to Secret Manager to retrieve the required credentials. AWS Secret Manager can also be indulged in other credentials sources like application credentials with rotation function developed on AWS Lambda. It uses IAM (Identity and Access Management) permission policies to ensure only authorised users can modify or retrieve the secret. In AWS Secret Manager, you get the flexibility by storing secrets as text string’s key-value pairs based on the needs of the rotation function for the database. It formats the pair as JSON text. It supports Amazon relational database services like Amazon Aurora, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server on Amazon RDS. Apart from that, it supports Amazon DocumentDB and Amazon RedShift.

3. Docker Secrets

Docker Secrets is the collection of credentials like passwords, SSL certificate, SSH private key, and other sensitive information that cannot be transferred over the network or stored unencrypted in the application source code or Dockerfile. Docker Secrets can be used to manage and securely transfer data only to the containers that need it and are authorised to access it. Secrets are encrypted during transit and at rest, it remains in Docker swarm. One thing to keep in mind is Docker Secrets only works with Swarm services, not with standalone containers.

4. Cloud Secret Manager

Cloud Secret manager is a secure and convenient storage system provided by Google for passwords, API keys, certificates, encryption keys, and other sensitive data. It offers a central area and source of authentication to manage, audit, and access secrets across Google Cloud. It follows the principles of least privilege through which one can grant permission to secrets while parting the capabilities to manage secrets from the capacity to access data. It comes with integrated Google Cloud Audit logs that can generate a log of secret management interactions making identification of compliance requirements easier.

5. IBM Cloud Secrets Manager

Built on hashiCorp Vault, IBM Cloud Secrets Manager allows you to create secrets dynamically and lease them on the application while controlling access from a certain location. It allows you to get a dedicated environment’s data isolation along with the advantages of the public cloud. When a user requests access, the secret manager validates the user database credentials using IAM policy and only allows credentials from the IBM Cloud when authorised. Some of the benefits a person can acquire from IBM Secrets Manager include centralized secrets, dynamic secret creation, customize group access, protect at rest secrets, and monitor and audit activities.

6. Akeyless

The Akeyless Vault Platform provides a SaaS-based Secrets Management solution to enable security teams with centralized oversight and control to create, manage and secure the lifecycle of secrets for both human and machine identities, across hybrid multicloud environments. The multi-tenancy feature enables different teams to manage their secret realms autonomously. It easily integrates with DevOps workflows and just as easily imports secrets from other secrets management platforms such as Kubernetes Secrets, AWS Secrets Manager, Azure Key Vault, or HashiCorp Vault. Continue using your community-created plugins: Akeyless provides API compatibility with HashiCorp Vault OSS.

7. Azure Key Vault

Azure key vault is a cloud-based service to store and access secrets, keys, and certificates securely. It has two service tiers, Standard (that encrypts with a software key) and Premium (that entails Hardware Security Module protected keys). Azure Key Vault not only offers centralized application secrets to help you control the distribution but also provides security to store keys and secrets along with monitoring access and simplified administration for applications secrets. Encrypted keys in the Azure key vault are represented by JSON Web Key objects. While vaults support RSA (provide longer encryption keys) and EC (offer shorter encryption keys) keys, managed HSMs support RSA, EC, and symmetric keys.

8. SecretHub

SecretHub is a secrets management tool designed for every developer. It secures passwords and keys of the entire project with just a few lines of code. All the secrets are end to end encrypted so you don’t have to worry about its exposure. It allows controlling the accessibility of each user of the application. With the secret hub, you can easily monitor and audit the usage of secrets. Moreover, it is open source with open security design and has an easy to work interface. Majorly it can be integrated with environment variables, key files, Golang, Python, .NET, Docker, Terraform, AWS ECS, AWS EC2, AWS EKS, Google Kubernetes, AWS, Windows Server, Linux VMs, Jenkins, ASP.NET, VS Code, Node.js, Django, and Spring Boot.

9. Confidant

Developed by Lyft, Confidant is an open-source secret management tool that offers user-friendly storage and secured access to secrets. It resolves the authentication problem using AWS KMS and IAM to generate tokens that can be authenticated through confidant. It can be used to authorise service-to-service tokens or to transfer messages between services. It stores secrets in DynamoDB while generating a unique encryption data key for revision of secrets using Fernet symmetric authentication. For the ease of managing history, and mapping the secrets, Confidant offers an AngularJS web interface to the users.

10. Knox

Knox is a Secrets as a Service (SaaS) that aims to help in managing secrets, keys, and configurations. It adds a protection layer around sensitive information. Knox stores the secrets in the cloud, grants access to the authorized users, with the generated tokens provide the secret, update the secrets after completion of the task, and revoke the permission or token. It allows you to create environments, add keys, set values, add users, and offer access to the personal token to query API for all the keys in the targeted environment. Moreover, the complete project can be set within minutes and can be used forever.


As application works with the variation of credentials, the need for secrets management tools is ever increasing. The above-mentioned list might not contain the ranking of different tools but it is there to give an idea, which one will be suitable for your application. Secret management is not only crucial for the security of data, operations, and resources but it can also be quite complex to work with. Keeping that in mind, a business owner should always hire developers who have proven experience in developing applications and indulging secrets management for its security. While for programmers it is essential to understand the concept of secret management and its tools to develop an unbeatable secured application.

Posted by Mahipal Nehra | Posted at 04 Mar, 2021 Web