Kubernetes Secrets: Best Practices CI/CD Workflow

Time to read
March 7, 2024

Key Takeaways

Kubernetes secrets play a pivotal role in securely managing and storing sensitive data. They achieve this by isolating sensitive data from code and configuration, thereby preventing unintended exposure and unauthorised access.

To enhance both application security and ecosystem integrity, the integration of Secure Secrets Management Solutions into Kubernetes CI/CD deployments becomes imperative. By adhering to best practices throughout the CI/CD pipeline, one ensures the meticulous handling of sensitive data, preemptively mitigating potential vulnerabilities that could compromise system defences.

Furthermore, software solutions are available for creating Kubernetes application deployment manifests and intelligently referencing secrets during deployment. This streamlines secrets management, seamlessly integrating them into applications while upholding robust security measures.

Let's delve into each of these considerations and the significance they bring to the forefront.

  • Kubernetes secrets are vital for securely managing and storing sensitive data, isolating it from code and configuration to prevent unintended exposure and unauthorised access.
  • Integration of Secure Secrets Management Solutions into Kubernetes CI/CD deployments is crucial to enhance application security and ecosystem integrity, preemptively mitigating potential vulnerabilities.
  • Software solutions streamline Kubernetes secrets management and seamlessly integrate them into applications while upholding robust security measures.
  • Kubernetes secrets serve the fundamental purpose of securely managing and storing sensitive information, enhancing application security through encryption, access control, and automated management.
  • Best practices for integrating Kubernetes secrets and Secure Secrets Management Solutions into CI/CD workflows include avoiding hardcoding secrets, limiting access, ensuring secure transmission, and automating secret rotation.
  • Products like Wayfinder understand the vital importance of securely managing and isolating workloads, which is why its design is centred around this core function.

Purpose of Kubernetes Secrets

Secrets in Kubernetes serve the fundamental role of securely managing and storing sensitive information, encompassing passwords, API keys, tokens, and various credentials essential for the optimal functioning of applications and services within Kubernetes clusters. These secrets establish a distinct repository for safeguarding confidential data, detached from the application code or configuration. This separation significantly minimises the potential for inadvertent disclosure and unauthorised entry.

The primary objectives of Kubernetes secrets encompass the following:

  • Enhanced Security: Secrets serve as a protective shield, preventing the exposure of sensitive information in plain text or within application code and configuration files. By maintaining a separate storage for secrets, the overall security of applications is bolstered, minimising the potential for security breaches.
  • Effective Isolation: Secrets are stored in a dedicated resource in Kubernetes, separate from other application components. This isolation ensures that only authorised pods (containers) within the same namespace can access the secrets, providing a level of isolation and access control.
  • Automated Encryption: Kubernetes automatically encrypts secrets at rest. This means that even if someone gains access to the underlying storage, they won't be able to read the secrets without the proper decryption keys.
  • Streamlined Management: Kubernetes provides a straightforward way to create, update, and manage secrets using its API or command-line tools. This makes it convenient for developers and administrators to handle sensitive information securely.
  • Avoiding Hardcoding: Secrets can be referenced directly in the application code or deployment configurations without exposing the actual values. This approach allows developers to avoid hardcoding sensitive data and facilitates easy changes or rotations of secrets when needed.
  • Support for Different Types of Data: Kubernetes secrets are not limited to passwords or simple key-value pairs. They can store any type of binary or text data, accommodating a wide range of use cases.
  • Seamless Application Integration: Containers running in Kubernetes can easily access secrets through environment variables or mounted files, making it simple for applications to retrieve and use sensitive information when required.

By using secrets in Kubernetes, organisations can enhance the security posture of their applications and maintain better control over access to sensitive data. This is particularly important in modern application deployments, where microservices and containerization demand more robust and scalable solutions for managing sensitive information securely.

Secure Secrets Management Solutions

In a CI/CD deployment workflow, developers often push code changes to a version control system, triggering automated build, test, and deployment processes. These processes often require access to sensitive information to authenticate with external services, access databases, or communicate securely.

The purpose of Secure Secrets Management Solutions in Kubernetes CI/CD deployments can be summarised as follows:

  • Centralised Management: Secure Secrets Management Solutions provide a centralised platform to store, manage, and control access to secrets. This ensures that sensitive information is not scattered across different repositories, environments, or configuration files, reducing the risk of accidental exposure.
  • Encryption and Protection: These solutions employ encryption techniques to secure the storage of secrets, ensuring that even if unauthorised access occurs, the sensitive information remains unreadable without proper decryption.
  • Access Control and Auditing: Secure Secrets Management Solutions allow administrators to define fine-grained access controls. They can determine who can access, modify, or view specific secrets. Additionally, these platforms often provide auditing features, tracking all activities related to secrets management for compliance and security purposes.
  • Dynamic Secrets Generation: Some solutions can generate dynamic secrets on-demand, providing temporary credentials for specific operations. This minimises the exposure window and enhances security.
  • Rotation and Expiration: Regularly rotating secrets (e.g., passwords, API keys) is a security best practice. Secure Secrets Management Solutions can automate this process, ensuring that credentials are regularly updated, reducing the risk of potential security breaches due to long-lived secrets.
  • Integration with CI/CD Pipelines: These solutions seamlessly integrate with CI/CD tools and platforms, allowing developers and pipelines to access secrets securely during the build, test, and deployment stages.
  • Avoiding Hardcoding: Secrets are stored securely in the Secrets Management Solution, avoiding the need to hardcode credentials directly into the application code or configuration files. This practice significantly reduces the risk of exposing sensitive information accidentally via source code repositories.
  • Support for Multiple Environments: CI/CD deployments often target multiple environments (e.g., development, staging, production). Secure Secrets Management Solutions enable the management of environment-specific secrets, ensuring that the right credentials are used in each environment.

Examples of popular Secure Secrets Management Solutions that integrate well with Kubernetes and CI/CD workflows include Kubernetes Secrets (native Kubernetes secrets), AWS (Amazon Web Services) Secrets Manager, Azure Key Vault, Google Cloud Secret Manager and more.

By employing a robust Secure Secrets Management Solution in a Kubernetes CI/CD deployment, organisations can enhance the security of their applications, protect sensitive data, and improve overall compliance with security standards.

Best Practices for Integrating Kubernetes Secrets and Secure Secrets Management Solutions into CI/CD workflows

Integrating secrets and secure secrets management solutions into CI/CD workflows is crucial for maintaining the security and integrity of applications. Following best practices ensures that sensitive information is handled securely throughout the CI/CD pipeline. Here are some best practices for CI/CD integration with secrets and secure secrets management solutions:

  • Use Secure Secrets Management Solutions: Employ a dedicated and reliable Secure Secrets Management Solution to centralise the storage and management of secrets. These solutions offer robust security features like encryption, access control, auditing, and secret rotation.
  • Avoid Hardcoding Secrets: Never hardcode sensitive information directly into application code or configuration files. Instead, reference secrets from the secrets management solution or Kubernetes Secrets during the CI/CD process.
  • Limit Access: Set up granular access controls for secrets within the secrets management solution. Follow the principle of least privilege, ensuring that only authorised users, containers, or CI/CD pipelines have access to specific secrets.
  • Secure Secret Transmission: Ensure that secrets are transmitted securely between the CI/CD system and the target environments. Use secure channels (e.g., HTTPS) and avoid exposing secrets in logs, error messages, or other insecure mediums.
  • Use Temporary Credentials: In certain scenarios, use short-lived temporary credentials generated by the secrets management solution. These credentials can be used for specific operations and are automatically rotated or expired, reducing the exposure window.
  • Encrypt CI/CD Pipeline: Encrypt the CI/CD pipeline and its components, including configurations, scripts, and variables, to protect against unauthorised access.
  • Version Control Protection: Handle sensitive information carefully in version control systems. Use gitignore or similar mechanisms to prevent secrets from being committed accidentally. Instead, store placeholders or references to the secrets.
  • Secret Scanning and Auditing: Regularly scan repositories and CI/CD pipeline scripts for potential exposure of secrets. Implement auditing and monitoring to track access and usage of secrets.
  • Secret Rotation Automation: Automate the rotation of secrets to ensure that credentials are regularly updated. This reduces the risk of exploitation due to long-lived credentials.
  • Secure Container Registry: Use a secure container registry to store container images that contain sensitive data or access to secrets. Restrict access to the registry and ensure images are scanned for vulnerabilities.
  • Test Secrets Management: Introduce tests in the CI/CD pipeline to validate the integration with the secrets management solution. Verify that secrets are being accessed and utilised correctly.
  • Secure CI/CD System: Ensure that the CI/CD system itself is properly secured. Use strong authentication, access controls, and regular security updates to protect the pipeline from unauthorised access.

By implementing these best practices, organisations can build a robust CI/CD pipeline that incorporates secrets securely, minimising the risk of unauthorised access and ensuring the confidentiality of sensitive data throughout the deployment process.

Using Secrets in Kubernetes Deployment Manifests

In the previous sections, you read about the secure management of Kubernetes secrets with Secure Secrets Management Solutions and the importance of best practices. Now, let's delve into remarkable examples that highlight the diverse ways secrets are referenced in Kubernetes deployment manifests:

  • Appvia Wayfinder: Appvia Wayfinder is a powerful tool that empowers developers to configure their application's container components via a user-friendly web interface or CLI. Supporting a range of settings, including application runtime configurations and environment variables, Appvia Wayfinder seamlessly references Kubernetes secrets. It automatically generates deployment manifests while securely handling the incorporation of secrets. Developers can subsequently use these manifests securely with their CI/CD integrations and Secure Secrets Management Solutions.
  • Kubernetes Secrets as Environment Variables: When deploying applications directly using Kubernetes manifests (e.g., Deployments, Pods), you can reference secrets as environment variables. This is a standard Kubernetes feature, and you can use the env field with valueFrom and secretKeyRef to reference the secret in your Pod or Deployment YAML.
  • Helm: Helm is a package manager for Kubernetes that allows you to define, install, and upgrade applications on Kubernetes using charts. Helm charts can reference Kubernetes Secrets directly, allowing you to inject secret values into your application pods as environment variables or files. Helm supports different methods for injecting secrets, and you can use the values.yaml file or external secrets providers like AWS Parameter Store or HashiCorp Vault to manage secrets.
  • Kustomize: Kustomize is a Kubernetes native configuration management tool that allows you to customise and manage Kubernetes manifests. Kustomize provides a built-in way to reference and use Kubernetes Secrets directly in your customisations. You can use the secretGenerator feature to create or import secrets and then reference them in your deployment manifests or overlays.


As we conclude this journey, we have seen the pivotal role secrets play, safeguarding the integrity of Kubernetes applications and upholding the highest standards of security. Armed with the knowledge of best practices and innovative tools, developers are poised to navigate the intricate realm of CI/CD with unparalleled confidence and resilience. Let us forge ahead, armed with these insights, to create a world where secrets remain steadfast guardians of our most sensitive data.

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