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ADR-0006: Be Secure by Default

{{ /* | Protect your secrets, protect your sensitive data. : Explore VMware Secrets Manager docs at </ <>/ keep your secrets… secret >/ <>/’ Copyright 2023-present VMware Secrets Manager contributors. >/’ SPDX-License-Identifier: BSD-2-Clause */ }}

  • Status: accepted
  • Date: 2024-05-11
  • Tags: security, guidelines

Link Context and Problem Statement

VMware Secrets Manager stores your sensitive data in memory. None of your secrets are stored as plain text on disk. Any secret thatVMware Secrets Manager saves to any other medium is encrypted.

Yes, that brings up resource limitations, since the amount of secrets you can store per VSecM instance, is limited by the amount of memory you can allocate to the VSecM Safe Kubernetes Pod. You cannot store a gorilla holding a banana and the entire jungle in your store; however, a couple of gigabytes of RAM can store a lot of plain text secrets, so it’s good enough for most practical purposes.

More importantly, almost all modern instruction set architectures and operating systems implement memory protection. The primary purpose of memory protection is to prevent a process from accessing memory that has not been allocated to it. This prevents a bug or malware within a process from affecting other processes or the operating system itself.

Therefore, reading a variable’s value from a process’s memory is practically impossible unless you attach a debugger to it. And that makes keeping plain text secrets in memory (and nowhere else than memory) crucial.

For disaster recovery, VMware Secrets Manager (by default) backs up encrypted version of its state on the file system; however, the plain text secrets that VSecM Safe dispatches to workloads will always be stored in memory.

The above line of thought should be applied to any and every architectural decision we make in VMware Secrets Manager. If a decision is not secure by default, it MUST be revisited.

Link Decision Drivers

  • Security is a primary concern.
  • Users will be inclined to trust VMware Secrets Manager more if it is secure by default.
  • People will typically use the defaults, so the defaults should be secure.
  • Not everyone reads the documentation, so the defaults should be secure.

Link Considered Options

  1. Be secure by default.
  2. Be secure by configuration.

Link Decision Outcome

Chosen option: “option 1”, because we want to make it easy for users to trust VMware Secrets Manager. Hope is not a strategy, and we cannot hope that users will configure VSecM securely.

Link Positive Consequences

  • Users will trust VMware Secrets Manager more.
  • Users will not have to worry about configuring VSecM securely.
  • Users will not have to worry about the defaults being insecure.

Link Negative Consequences

  • If we make a mistake in the defaults, it will affect everyone.
  • Users still shall trust, but verify; and file issues if they find something that is not secure by default.
  • We will have to be extra careful when making changes to the defaults.
  • This approach requires additional effort upfront and ongoing.



Link ADRs

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