VMware Secrets Manager

Using VSecM Sidecar

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Situation Analysis

There might be times you don’t have direct control over the application code to integrate VMware Secrets Manager SDK. In such cases, you can use VSecM Sidecar to inject secrets into your application.

VSceM Sidecar is a container that runs alongside your application container and injects secrets into a shared in-memory volume. Your application can then read the secrets from that volume.


Use VSecM Sidecar to inject secrets into your application container.

High-Level Diagram

Open the image in a new tab to see its full-size version:

High-Level Diagram


Let’s deploy our demo workload that will use VSecM Sidecar.

You can find the deployment manifests inside the ./examples/workload-using-sidecar/k8s folder of your cloned VMware Secrets Manager project.

Deploying the Example Workload

To deploy our workload using that manifest, execute the following:

# Switch to the VSecM repo:
cd $WORKSPACE/secrets-manager
# Install the workload:
make example-sidecar-deploy
# If you are building from the source, 
# use `make example-sidecar-deploy-local` instead.

And that’s it. You have your demo workload up and running.

Read the Source

Make sure you examine the manifests to gain an understanding of what kinds of entities you’ve deployed to your cluster.

You’ll see that there are two images in the Deployment object declared inside that folder:

  • vsecm/example: This is the container that has the business logic.
  • vsecm/vsecm-ist-sidecar: This VMware Secrets Manager-managed container injects secrets to a place that our demo container can consume.

The Demo App

Here is the source code of the demo container’s app for the sake of completeness.

When you check the source code, you’ll see that our demo app tries to read a secret file every 5 seconds forever:

for {
    dat, err := os.ReadFile(sidecarSecretsPath())
    if err != nil {
        println("Failed to read. Will retry in 5 seconds...")
    } else {
        println("secret: '", string(dat), "'")

    time.Sleep(5 * time.Second)


Yet, how do we tell VMware Secrets Manager about our app so that it can identify it to deliver secrets?

For this, there is an identity file that defines a ClusterSPIFFEID for the workload:

# ./examples/using_sidecar/k8s/Identity.yaml

kind: ClusterSPIFFEID
  name: example
  # SPIFFE ID `MUST` start with 
  # "spiffe://vsecm.com/workload/$workloadName/ns/"
  # for `safe` to recognize the workload and 
  # dispatch secrets to it.
  spiffeIDTemplate: "spiffe://vsecm.com\
    /ns/{{ .PodMeta.Namespace }}\
    /sa/{{ .PodSpec.ServiceAccountName }}\
    /n/{{ .PodMeta.Name }}"
      app.kubernetes.io/name: example
    - "k8s:ns:default"
    - "k8s:sa:example"

This identity descriptor, tells VMware Secrets Manager that the workload:

  • Lives under a certain namespace,
  • Is bound to a certain service account,
  • And as a certain name.

When the time comes, VMware Secrets Manager will read this identity and learn about which workload is requesting secrets. Then it can decide to deliver the secrets (because the workload is registered) or deny dispatching them (because the workload is unknown/unregistered).

ClusterSPIFFEID is an Abstraction

Please note that Identity.yaml is not a random YAML file: It is a binding contract and abstracts a host of operations behind the scenes.

For every ClusterSPIFFEID created this way, SPIRE (VSecM identity control plane) will deliver an X.509 SVID bundle to the workload.

Therefore, creating a ClusterSPIFFEID is a way to irrefutably, securely, and cryptographically identify a workload.

Verifying the Deployment

If you have been following along so far, when you execute kubectl get po will give you something like this:

kubectl get po

NAME                              STATUS    AGE
example-5d564458b6-vsmtm  2/2     Running   9s

Let’s check the logs of our pod:

kubectl logs example-5d564458b6-vsmtm -f

The output will be something like this:

Failed to read the secrets file. Will retry in 5 seconds...
open /opt/vsecm/secrets.json: no such file or directory
Failed to read the secrets file. Will retry in 5 seconds...
open /opt/vsecm/secrets.json: no such file or directory
Failed to read the secrets file. Will retry in 5 seconds...

What we see here that our workload checks for the secrets file and cannot find it for a while, and displays a failure message.

Registering a Secret

Let’s register a secret and see how the logs change:

# Find the name of the VSecM Sentinel pod.
kubectl get po -n vsecm-system

# register a secret to our workload using VSecM Sentinel
kubectl exec vsecm-sentinel-778b7fdc78-86v6d -n vsecm-system \
  -- safe \
  -w "example" \
  -s "VSecMRocks!"
# Response: 
# OK

Now let’s check the logs again:

kubectl logs example-5d564458b6-vsmtm -f

secret: ' VSecMRocks! '
secret: ' VSecMRocks! '
secret: ' VSecMRocks! '
secret: ' VSecMRocks! '


So we registered our first secret to a workload using VSecM Sentinel. The secret is stored in VSecM Safe and dispatched to the workload through VSecM Sidecar behind the scenes.

What Is VSecM Sentinel?

For all practical purposes, you can think of VSecM Sentinel as the “bastion host” you log in and execute sensitive operations.

In our case, we will register secrets to workloads using it.

Registering Multiple Secrets

If needed, you can associate more than one secret to a workload, for this, you’ll need to use the -a (for “append”) flag.

kubectl exec vsecm-sentinel-778b7fdc78-86v6d -n vsecm-system \
  -- safe \
  -w "example" \
  -s "VSecMRocks!" \
# Response:
# OK
kubectl exec vsecm-sentinel-778b7fdc78-86v6d -n vsecm-system \
  -- safe \
  -w "example" \
  -s "YouRockToo!" \
# Response: 
# OK

Now, let’s check our logs:

k logs example-5d564458b6-sx9sj -f

secret: ' ["YouRockToo!","VSecMRocks!"] '
secret: ' ["YouRockToo!","VSecMRocks!"] '
secret: ' ["YouRockToo!","VSecMRocks!"] '
secret: ' ["YouRockToo!","VSecMRocks!"] '

Yes, we have two secrets in an array.

VSecM Safe returns a single string if there is a single secret associated with the workload, and a JSON Array of strings if the workload has more than one secret registered.

More About ClusterSPIFFEIDs

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

ClusterSPIFFEID is a Kubernetes Custom Resource that enables distributing SPIRE identities to workloads in a cloud-native and declarative way.

Assuming you’ve had a chance to review the deployment manifests as recommended at the start of this tutorial, you might have noticed something similar to what’s presented below in the Identity.yaml.

spiffeIDTemplate: "spiffe://vsecm.com\
  /ns/{{ .PodMeta.Namespace }}\
  /sa/{{ .PodSpec.ServiceAccountName }}\
  /n/{{ .PodMeta.Name }}"

The example part from that template is the name that VMware Secrets Manager will identify this workload as. That is the name we used when we registered the secret to our workload.

VSecM Sentinel Commands

You can execute kubectl exec -it $sentinelPod -n vsecm-system -- safe --help for a list of all available commands and command-line flags that VSecM Sentinel has.

Also, Check out VSecM Sentinel CLI Reference for more information and usage examples on VSecM Sentinel.


VSecM Sidecar presents a robust solution for securely managing and injecting secrets into application containers without directly modifying the application code. This approach leverages the sidecar pattern, effectively decoupling the secret management from the application’s business logic, thereby enhancing security and maintainability.

This approach not only simplifies the integration of secret management into existing Kubernetes deployments but also strengthens security protocols by minimizing direct access to sensitive information.

As observed, the seamless functionality of registering and appending multiple secrets highlights the flexibility and scalability of the VMware Secrets Manager ecosystem.

By utilizing VSecM Sidecar, organizations can achieve a higher level of security assurance and operational efficiency in managing secrets, which is crucial for maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of application data in dynamic and complex cloud environments.

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