HomeOperationsSecurity9 challenges and solutions for secrets management in cloud-native and containerized environments

9 challenges and solutions for secrets management in cloud-native and containerized environments

You wouldn’t leave the keys to your house in the keyhole when leaving for work, do you? The same goes for your secrets like passwords, certifications, credentials, and other confidential information. Yet most organizations are either struggling or overlooking secrets management. As per the State of Secrets Management 2024 report, 96% of organizations are at risk of security breaches due to improper handling of secrets. 

The threat arises from secrets stored in vulnerable areas like repositories and infrastructure tools. Securing secrets effectively is a complicated process due to the expanse of cloud computing. Developers today have a comprehensive stack of tools and techniques at their disposal. However, only some secret management solutions are built equally and must be adopted based on individual organization (or team) requirements.

In this blog post, we will discuss the top challenges that security teams face when handling secrets in a cloud-native setup and the solutions available to mitigate them.

Challenges of Secrets Management 

Managing secrets is the heart of securing your systems, applications, and sensitive data from unauthorized access and breaches. Protecting them across different cloud platforms and environments is a complex process. We can summarize these challenges in the categories below.

Secure Storage

When you move your workloads and applications to the cloud, you store your secrets and distribute them across multiple servers. Since you can’t possibly protect the secrets via physical security, you must rely on encryption and similar strategies.

Access Control

Cloud platform providers offer IAM (Identity and Access Management) tools to help you control who can access what seamlessly. But when your workloads are spread across different platforms, implementing access control strategies can get complex, leading to half-baked measures.


You must distribute your secrets to respective containers when building an application using containers or microservices architecture. However, embedding secrets in code is not only insecure but also vulnerable. You can sort this issue by using secrets management tools that allow dynamic provisioning of secrets.


One major appeal of cloud computing is the possibility of seamlessly scaling applications. But every new container or microservice you add to your software will require access to secrets, which is impossible without compromising secrets. The only way you can manage access matching the scale of your application is through automation and centralization of your secrets tools.

Auditing and Monitoring

Keeping track of who is accessing your secrets and when is critical in ensuring your passwords or keys aren’t corrupted or could cause a breach. With your services scattered across multiple cloud ecosystems, it is challenging to maintain audit logs diligently. You will need a centralized method of logging access, monitoring usage, and sending alerts during irregularities.


With DevOps requiring developers to automate deployment for agility and enhanced security, secrets management must also be automated. This means you should be able to provision secrets dynamically and securely during deployments.


Modern governmental regulations pressure companies to improve their secret management processes. Standards like PCI-DSS and HIPAA mandate that you implement specific controls for efficient secret storage and access. You must turn to secrets management tools for capabilities like audit trails and access controls.


One key best practice for managing secrets efficiently is rotating secrets to minimize the time hackers have to utilize compromised secrets. You can use secrets management tools to ensure secrets are rotated regularly and are less vulnerable.


Managing secrets properly will require centralization of everything secrets management. It is only through streamlined integration with tools like IAM and SIEM that you can eliminate default silos across tools and teams.

To secure your system effectively, simplify secret management by following a list of best practices, such as secure and centralized storage of secrets, encryption, and access control. Implementing these practices will require efficient and scalable third-party solutions.

Solutions & Strategies for Effective Secret Management

Kubernetes Secrets

Kubernetes Secrets is a secure method of encrypting sensitive information at rest and when moving. It involves implementing best practices like continuous monitoring and auditing of Kubernetes clusters for security risks. You must ensure that Kubernetes Secrets are only available to vet and authorized users through RBAC (Role-based Access Control) or ABAC (Attribute-based Access Control) controls. 

You must also ensure secrets are tagged with metadata comprising their purpose and expiry details. It must also be rotated and updated at regular intervals to avoid leakages.

HashiCorp Vault

Vault by HashiCorp is a secret management solution that secures confidential data in low-trust environments. It stores secrets and creates dynamic access to credentials. It authenticates users by passwords or by generating temporary tokens to allow path access.

AWS Secrets Manager

AWS Secrets Manager allows you to centralize secret management, enabling easy rotation and retrieval of sensitive details. It eliminates the need to hardcode credentials in the source code. Instead, it will be replaced with a runtime call to the tool to access credentials dynamically.

At A Glance

Challenge Solution
Secure Storage All three tools offer encryption for secrets at rest.

Kubernetes Secrets can leverage the cloud provider’s KMS for encryption, while Vault and AWS Secrets Manager have their own built-in encryption mechanisms.

Access Control Kubernetes Secrets: Utilize Kubernetes Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) to grant access to secrets based on roles and service accounts. HashiCorp Vault: Define granular access policies within Vault to control who can access what secret and how (read-only, lease time). 

AWS Secrets Manager: Leverage AWS IAM policies to restrict secret access based on user roles and permissions.

Distribution Kubernetes Secrets: Distribute secrets to pods using volume mounts or environment variables within container definitions. Kubernetes itself doesn’t handle dynamic secret retrieval, requiring manual updates.

HashiCorp Vault: Use the Vault agent injector to automatically inject secrets into pods as environment variables at runtime. 

AWS Secrets Manager: Integrate the AWS SDK within your application to retrieve secrets from Secrets Manager at runtime.

Scale All three tools are designed to manage secrets at scale. They can efficiently handle a large number of secrets and access requests.
Auditing and Monitoring Kubernetes Secrets: Limited built-in auditing. Consider external tools or cloud provider integrations for detailed auditing. 

HashiCorp Vault: Provides comprehensive audit logs detailing secret access and changes.

AWS Secrets Manager: Integrates with AWS CloudTrail to log API calls to access and manage secrets.

Automation Kubernetes Secrets: Integrate with CI/CD pipelines to inject secrets securely during deployments. Leverage tools like Helm or Kustomize to manage secrets without embedding them in code.

HashiCorp Vault: Automate secret management through its API. Integrate it with CI/CD pipelines to provision and rotate secrets dynamically.

AWS Secrets Manager: Utilize the AWS SDK to automate secret retrieval and management within your application code.

Compliance All three tools offer features that can help meet compliance requirements. They provide audit trails, access controls, and encryption, which are essential for compliance with regulations like PCI-DSS or HIPAA.
Rotation Kubernetes Secrets: Manual rotation is required, which can be cumbersome at scale. 

HashiCorp Vault: Use lease functionality to enforce automatic rotation. Leases expire after a set time, forcing applications to retrieve fresh secrets. 

AWS Secrets Manager: Configure rotation policies to automatically generate new versions of secrets on a scheduled basis.

Integration All three tools offer APIs and integrations with other security tools. 

Kubernetes Secrets: Integrate with IAM solutions from cloud providers for unified access control. 

HashiCorp Vault: Integrates with various IAM providers and security tools to ensure a comprehensive security posture. 

AWS Secrets Manager: Designed to work seamlessly with other AWS security services like IAM and CloudTrail.

Secrets Management is a Culture Beyond Strategy

For a long time, organizations have gotten away with improper secret management. However, with the popularity of cloud-native applications soaring, it has become a primary target for cyberattacks. Hostile actors find it increasingly easy to breach applications and systems by retrieving credentials and keys. In most cases, recovering hardcoded secrets has become a cakewalk by inspecting your application or components. Secrets are better managed by security solutions, enabling you to overcome the everyday challenges of secrets management, as discussed. We have summarized the challenges and which security solution is ideal to counter them.


Receive our top stories directly in your inbox!

Sign up for our Newsletters