Enterprises today increasingly rely on automated processes and systems, however the way this automation manifests itself is different for each organization. For example, automated DevOps container environments help to decrease the time to market for development. Connected IoT devices continuously optimize controls for everything within a business from an assembly line to the air conditioning, and automated workflows keep many aspects of operations running smoothly. The fact is, all departments stand to benefit from streamlined operations through the growing number of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) initiatives.
As the number of automated systems increases, so too comes the inevitable challenge of managing growing numbers of credentials and permissions for the many different applications across today’s complex IT ecosystems. Credential management for these automated systems can become a daunting task for even the most seasoned of IT teams, due to the significant risk of credentials being forgotten, falling out of policy, or even being stolen.
One popular solution to this challenge is to use a credential vault. In simple terms, a credential vault is a secured system used to store authentication credentials in a single place. This sensitive information is stored behind an API instead of being hardcoded, which adds another abstraction layer to authentication.
Credential Vault Benefits
There are three primary benefits of using these secure systems to store credentials, including:
- Protecting Data From Hackers: Credential vaults provide protection for systems and data. When credentials are hard-coded into applications or devices, they are more easily found by hackers and are very vulnerable to being stolen. Once hackers find them, they can gain access to the corresponding systems and steal valuable data. Credential vaults provide a layer of abstraction that both eases the authentication process and eliminates hard-coded credential exposure. This helps to ensure data remains safe and secure.
Vaults can be secured with a variety of different authentication methods such as a username and password, two-factor authentication (2FA), or a mixture of methods. However, public key infrastructure (PKI)-based digital certificates are the safest and most secure form of master authentication and encryption for credential vaults. In general, any time something is automated, it is best practice to use a certificate to secure it because the private key never leaves its secure place.
- Automating Authentication Processes: Credential vaults help to automate authentication processes that would otherwise be time-consuming, and even risky to manage manually. The reality is that a modern enterprise will have different credential methods for different systems. For example, a system that was built five years ago may use username and password authentication, while a system that was built more recently may use 2FA or certificate-based authentication. A credential vault provides a single, consistent API interface amidst these differences. Plus, the authentication credentials are stored securely behind an API, rather than hardcoded. This way, the authentication process can be easily automated, and the risk of exposing the credentials is minimized.
- Future-proofing Business: Vaults can be created and keyed using the current standards for secrets storage. Naturally, standards evolve over time, and the vault can be re-keyed to keep pace with the evolving standards. This ensures that CIOs and CISOs can easily mandate and enforce acceptable secrets storage standards across the vault and the organization
These key benefits alone provide peace of mind for IT experts grappling with the identity security challenges of an increasingly automated world. Whether purpose-built for specific applications, such as DevOps or RPA, or broader networked infrastructure use, credential vaults are a fundamental element of an effective identity management strategy.
To learn more about the importance behind credential vaults, listen to Root Causes, episode 203, "What is a Credential Vault?"