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What is Secret Management? Definition & Best Practices

Nowadays, almost every digital enterprise in the world relies on some sort of application, tools, script, and automation to run their business. Even though the application, tool, and IT environment may vary from enterprise to enterprise, every entity requires digital credentials to access them. 

So, it has become paramount for organizations to protect sensitive information such as passwords, API keys, and tokens. Whether it is secretly storing the access credentials or safeguarding the API keys, managing these “secrets” is part of the security strategy. 

If these secrets fall into the wrong hands, they can severely jeopardize the workflow. Secret management has emerged as a practical solution that allows digital enterprises to keep all sensitive information confidential. In this post, we will discuss what is secret management and how your organization can benefit from it. 

Let’s dive right in!

What Is Secret Management?

Secret management refers to the set of practices and methodologies for protecting sensitive information that is used for running daily business operations. The term “secret” refers to the password, access credentials, API keys, SSH Keys, tokens, and certificates that are used daily to access certain parts of an application infrastructure. 

Traditionally, organizations store their secrets coded into scripts or source code, but hackers could easily exploit them. But secret management solved this issue as they never saved secrets in code or plaintext. 

All the secrets are stored in a centralized repository with robust security measures and access controls so that no malicious users can access them. It has become a fundamental aspect of modern security because it helps strengthen overall security posture across development and production environments without hampering the business workflow. 

From code to devices, it enables enterprises to implement security control at every infrastructure layer and maintain secrecy throughout. 

Secret management tools allow you to control how the digital authentication credentials should be stored, transmitted, used, usage frequency, and rotation, and how they should be revoked. Implementing this tool will ensure resources, functionalities, platforms, and cloud infrastructure will be only accessed by authorized entities and no one else. 

Secret management comprises numerous security layers like authentication of access requests, RBAC, POLP, audit of access, automated implementation of access policy, and together, they make sure secrets are appropriately managed.

Why Are Secrets Management Important?

Why Are Secrets Management Important

Secret management plays a pivotal security role in today’s security realm as it can solve traditional complexities of securely storing passwords and prevent hackers from sprawling secretly. 

However, it is not only about keeping secrets securely. Many make it essential for modern organizations; 

Data Security

One of the key reasons that make secret management for modern digital enterprises is its ability to provide optimum security for passwords, encryption keys, SSH keys, API keys, tokens, and others. 

It can not only securely store all the sensitive digital credentials but also securely transmit and manage them in the IT ecosystem. This tool utilizes a system security approach by minimizing human involvement and preventing unauthorized access to sensitive credentials. 

Mitigates Risks

By proactively managing all the secrets across the IT environment, secret management can reduce exploitation, unauthorized access, and data breaches by a large margin. 

It enables organizations to deploy best security practices that minimize the chance for malicious actors to exploit the access credentials. Secret management through auditing also allows organizations to prevent the alteration of credentials and PII. 

Enhances Overall Cybersecurity Posture

Secret management solutions serve as a vital component of modern cybersecurity, where they allow digital enterprises to form comprehensive security strategies. 

By proactively securing sensitive digital credentials and maintaining security policies throughout the infrastructure, it enhances the overall cybersecurity posture and minimizes any potential damage. 

Centralized Management

Secret management allows you to manage all the secrets in your IT ecosystem from one place and ensure all the secret policies are applied consistently. 

Through its centralized management, it provides complete visibility and also helps in monitoring how secrets are managed across an organization. Due to this, the risk associated with manual and complexities of constant monitoring has been eliminated. 

Prevent Secret Sprawl

Secret sprawl is a serious issue faced by many organizations where these entities, with time, were unable to keep track of all the digital credentials, and they resort to a patchwork of management systems. 

Secret management helps break these silos and facilitates the organization to manage secrets properly by applying a consistent security policy. It defines policies that guide how secrets will be handled in every life cycle. 

Adhering To Regulations

Secret management has been instrumental for organizations that have to follow stringent data regulations like GDPR and HIPAA

It allows digital enterprises to securely store all their digital credentials and implement robust security measures for adhering to regulatory requirements. It also helps in implementing consistent security policies, which is crucial for averting any legal consequences.

How Does Secrets Management Work?

Secrets management works in a simple yet complicated way where it implements various security measures, policies, and best practices designed to protect sensitive data at different stages of the DevSecOps lifecycle. 

The working of secret management can also be defined as a process of automating all the vital processes to manage secrets securely. Unlike traditional password management, secret management stores all the secrets in a secured environment that is completely separated from the application code. 

The working of secret management is also about adhering to all the security frameworks and regulations that are intended for the protection of data. Like other management software, secret management software first looks for the type of secrets that it needs to secure and then considers storing them in a secured location. 

Implementing encryption and access control are essential aspects of secret management working where data is encrypted throughout, and access control restricts the usage to authorized entities only. 

Managing secrets also involves regulation rotation and revocation of access to digital credentials and frequently updating the access control. This solution also involves constant monitoring and auditing of accesses to minimize any unauthorized attempts.

Secrets Management Challenges

While secret management serves as a core component of modern security strategy, the increasing complexity of the IT ecosystem with an expanding number of secrets is raising many challenges. The challenges that organizations are facing; 

Manual Sharing

Not every developer will have massive expertise in managing secret management solutions, and this causes them to share all the required secrets across the development team. 

This not only leaves a poor audit trail of sharing but also puts the secrets in an unsecured environment where hackers can exploit them. 

Secret Sprawl

In modern times, developers use hundreds of secrets daily for accessing machines, tools, or functionalities. With the evolving multi-cloud environment, the number of secrets developers use is also increasing, and it causes developers to lose track of many digital credentials. 

The lack of a centralized system for the increasing variety of IT ecosystems is making it difficult for organizations to enforce consistent policies. When these secrets are left unrevoked or in code, it allows hackers to exploit them and gain entry into the infrastructure. 

Hardcored Secrets

Whether developers are going for application to database access or any other type of communication, they will require privileged passwords and other secrets to get authentication. 

However, on many occasions, IoT devices and applications are deployed while the default credentials are embedded into them. 

This leaves the whole infrastructure vulnerable as malicious actors can utilize various techniques to extract the hardcoded credentials. Besides, DevOps tools often have secrets embedded in the files or scripts, allowing hackers to exploit them. 

External Access To Database

In many scenarios, organizations often give APIs and database access to third-party vendors who utilize them for various kinds of services. 

Since these third-party vendors are separate from the organization, it becomes daunting for organizations to enforce secret management of the digital credentials utilized by them. This makes the infrastructure vulnerable, as a leakage can jeopardize the whole system. 

Cloud Computing Access

Various cloud administrators offer superuser privileges that allow users from different places to utilize resources and create VM instances

However, every VM instance that is created during the spin-up of VMs leads to the creation of separate secrets used for accessing them. The increasing number of secrets and privileges that are created makes it difficult for secret management to secure them. 

DevOps Environment

The DevOps environment also poses a severe challenge in secret management. Usually, DevOps teams use different configuration management, numerous orchestration, various tools, and automation that require distinctive secrets for working. 

So managing these secrets by employing credential rotation, limiting access, and best practices puts a lot of burden on secret management. 

Silos In Secrets Management

Every renowned cloud provider and DevOps platform offers their proprietary secret management tool to users to effectively manage a large number of digital credentials. 

However, in many instances, there is a compatibility issue between the native secret management tools. This creates a silo in how secrets are managed in an organization, making it challenging for teams to manage secrets.

Secrets Management Best Practices

Secrets Management Best Practices

Managing secrets in an IT ecosystem is a possible task, but it has many shortcomings, like human error, inefficiency, and losing track of privileges. 

Employing secret management best practices helps organizations manage all types of secrets while maintaining data security securely. Here are some best practices you can consider; 

Identifying All Types of Credentials

While managing secrets in an IT ecosystem, it would be best to utilize any relevant automation to identify all the secrets, keys, passwords, API keys, SSH keys, and other credentials. 

All the discovered secrets should be routed to a secret vault where, along with traditional secrets, various JSON files, XML files, tokes, and other secrets should be stored. The identification should be a continuous process as every day; many secrets are created. 

Robust Password Strategies

An organization should enforce a strong password strategy that will make the employees create strong passwords with long lengths and complex character orientations. 

Organizations should encourage employees to modify their passwords at regular intervals, utilize one-time password methodologies, and avoid using common password patterns. 

Remove Hardcoded Secrets

Removing hardcoded and default digital credentials from tools and applications utilized by DevOps tools is highly useful for securing the data. 

Eliminating default credentials will mitigate any backdoor that hackers might use to gain entry into your IT environment. All the hardcoded secrets should be routed to centralized management so the organization can get complete visibility. 

Monitoring and Auditing Privileged Sessions

Secrets management tools should be integrated with privileged session management platforms as it will help IT keep track of activity sessions. 

Monitoring and auditing privileged sessions will enable DevOps to identify suspicious activities and terminate them whenever needed. 

Involving Third-Parties To Secrets Management

A great way to keep all digital credentials completely safe is by involving third parties in secret management strategies. You will have to ensure they follow the best secret management practices and follow the same policies to manage secrets. 

Deploying Threat Analytics

It would be a wise move for you to consider a centralized secret management that will constantly evaluate the secret usage and identify any vulnerability and suspicious pattern. 

When you get centralized secrets management, it will help in quick reporting on risks on accounts, applications, and containers. 

Introducing Security In DevSecOps

Introducing a robust security strategy throughout the DevSecOps lifecycle from design to maintenance will enable better management of secrets. 

Everyone should take responsibility for DevOps security, and it will ensure that everyone puts a similar effort into employing secret management best practices.

Secure Storage

Leveraging secure storage along with data encryption and access control is another best practice you should employ to safeguard the secrets. Effective data encryption and secure access control should be employed to prevent unauthorized access.

Secrets Management With CloudDefense.AI

CloudDefense.AI has come up with a hassle-free secret management solution that not only guards all your secrets across the IT environment but keeps them out of the application and source code. 

It serves as an all-in-one solution that performs real-time scanning of source code and secures all the secrets. Uncovering vulnerabilities and exposing secrets will be easier for you because CloudDefense.AI’s secret management employs cutting-edge technology to automatically scan CI/CD pipelines, codes, and files to identify exposed secrets. 

This solution not only identifies exposed secrets but also leverages real-time mitigation capability to keep all the secrets secured. CloudDefense.AI deploys multidimensional security through this solution and utilizes advanced algorithms to cover every aspect of your IT environment and offer comprehensive protection. 

The contextual code secret validation makes this solution highly effective for organizations of all sizes as it automatically assesses secrets in production code and triggers action if needed. 

This solution works towards boosting the efficiency of your development workflow through secret scanning integration and preventing vulnerability at the earliest possible. CloudDefense.AI has also offered a Code Risk Management suite through its solution that not only performs automated code scanning but also performs code risk prioritization and prevents secret exposure. 


What is the secret management lifecycle?

The secret management life cycle indicates every stage involved in the management and safeguarding of secrets in an IT ecosystem. 

The life cycle comprises different processes and practices that help protect digital credentials from exposure. Creation, storage, access control, distribution, rotation and update, monitoring, etc, are primary components of the lifecycle. 

What are the features of secret management?

A secret management service incorporates a wide range of features that help them secure sensitive data, prevent unauthorized access, and maintain development workflow. Some standard features include access control, secure storage, auditing, logging, secret rotation, encryption, policy enforcement, etc. 

What is the primary purpose of secret management?  

The primary purpose of a secret management cloud is to safeguard all the digital credentials present in an IT ecosystem that is used daily for accessing different entities. 

It helps in employing different policies and best practices to prevent malicious actors from accessing the secrets that can lead to severe data breaches.


Secret Management is currently a critical pillar of modern data security as it helps in securing all the secrets and preventing unauthorized access. CloudDefense.AI’s secret management assists organizations in implementing secret management practices and ensuring the confidentiality of all secrets. 

Centralized secret management has become an essential security solution for most organizations because it also helps them adhere to various strict data regulatory requirements and maintain trust in the market.

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
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