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    Introduction to AWS Secrets Manager

    30 Apr 2021

    Introduction to AWS Secrets Manager

    Read Time: 7 min

    In today’s world, protecting your data is the most critical job at hand for any security expert. Once the data is protected with the help of some data protection tool and passphrases or passwords, then the next challenge is how to protect the passphrases or passwords or secrets itself. That’s when you need a software or hardware tool which can help you manage the secrets effectively and efficiently. AWS Secrets Manager is one such tool that can manage, retrieve, and rotate the passwords, database credentials, API keys, and other secrets throughout their lifecycle. It provides the central credential management with security at its best, resulting in avoidance of hard coding of credentials in the code.

    Today, we will discuss the AWS Secrets Manager and its role in credential management facilitating some of the critical security use cases.

    Characteristics of AWS Secrets Manager

    AWS Secrets Manager provides various characteristics with respect to credentials management, such as:

    1. Integration with AWS KMS: AWS Secrets Manager is fully integrated with AWS KMS service and encrypts secrets as data-at-rest encryption with the Customer managed KMS keys. While retrieving the secrets, it decrypts the secrets using the same CMK KMS keys used earlier for encryption and transmits the secrets to your local environment securely.
    2. Secret Rotation: AWS Secrets Manager enables you to meet security and compliance requirements as per your organization’s goal. It provides you the secret rotation functionality on-demand or on a scheduled basis through the AWS management console, AWS SDK, or AWS CLI. 
    3. Integrating with AWS Database services: AWS Secrets Manager supports native AWS database services such as Amazon RDS, Amazon DocumentDB, and Amazon Redshift. It also provides you the capability to rotate other types of secrets such as API Keys, OAuth tokens, and other credentials with the help of customized lambda functions.
    4. Contains multiple versions of secrets: AWS Secrets Manager can contain multiple versions of secrets with the help of staging labels attached with the version while rotating the secrets. Each secrets’ version contains a copy of the encrypted secret value.
    5. Manage access with fine-grained policies:  AWS Secrets Manager provides you flexible access management using IAM policies and resource-based policies. For e.g., you can retrieve secrets from your custom application running on EC2 to connect to a specific database instance (on-prem or cloud). 
    6. Secure and audit secrets centrally: AWS Secrets Manager is fully integrated with AWS CloudTrail service for logging and audit purposes. For e.g., AWS CloudTrail will show the API calls related to creating the secret, retrieving the secret, deleting the secret, etc.

    We have discussed some of the characteristics of the Secrets Manager. Now, below are the key points to be kept in mind while working with Secrets Manager:

    1. You can manage secrets for databases, resources in On-prem & AWS cloud, SaaS applications, third-party API keys, and SSH keys, etc.
    2. AWS Secrets Manager provides compliance with all the major industry standards such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, ISO, FedRAMP, SOC, etc.
    3. Secrets Manager doesn’t store the secrets in plaintext in persistent storage.
    4. Since the Secrets Manager provides the secrets over the secure channel, it doesn’t allow any request from any host in an unsecure fashion.
    5. Secrets Manager supports the AWS tags feature, so you can implement tag-based access control on secrets managed by the secrets manager.
    6. To keep the traffic secured and without passing through the open internet, you can configure a private endpoint within your VPC to allow communication between your VPC and Secrets Manager.
    7. Secrets Manager doesn’t delete the secrets immediately; rather, it schedules the deletion for a minimum period of 7 days. Within those 7 days, you may recover the secrets depending upon your requirements and post the scheduled period; the secrets are deleted permanently. However, through the AWS CLI, you may delete any secrets on an immediate basis. 
    8. The AWS Secrets Manager offers a cost-effective pricing model where it charges $0.40 per secret per month or $0.05 per 10K API calls.

    Use cases for AWS Secrets Manager

    1.  Secrets Manager avoids the need for hard-coding the credentials or sensitive information in your application code. It serves the purpose of having an API call to the secrets manager to retrieve the secret programmatically. Having this mechanism in place restricts anyone from compromising sensitive information or credentials as secret information doesn’t exist in the plaintext in the code.
    2. Secrets Manager provides centralized credential management, which reduces the operational burden resulting in the active rotation of credentials at regular intervals to improve the security posture of the organization.

    Conclusion:

    Secret management plays a critical role in data protection for any organization in any environment (On-prem or Cloud). AWS Secrets Manager provides a rich feature set when it comes to secret management solutions. It supports a wide variety of secrets such as database credentials, credentials for On-prem resources, SaaS application credentials, API keys, and SSH keys, etc. In today’s security world, there are a number of secret management solutions available; however, considering the fact that AWS Secrets Manager works seamlessly in the AWS environment, it also provides great compatibility with other environments (On-prem) as well.

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