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No, seriously. STOP!

This README is not yet accurate! That is, do not assume any of this documentation is true until this notice is removed!

idkfa: Share Sensitive Information Securely

Storing sensitive information (API keys, passwords, etc) in your repository is generally considered A Bad Idea™. That leaves us with the problem of sharing this information out-of-band, which is an error-prone, arduous process. With idkfa, you can seamlessly store and use your credentials from within the repository using the magic of encryption.

There are two interfaces to idkfa: from the command line and as a library. From the command line, you manage the permissions and keys. Using idkfa as a ruby library, you can get access to the keys inside your application.

The name idkfa comes from the cheat code for Doom which, among other things, gives you all keys.


idkfa uses both public key (RSA, asymmetric) and block (AES, symmetric) encryption to provide a secure, scalable way of storing sensitive information.


This tool does not prevent tampering with your sensitive information. For example, if someone gets write-access to your repository and messes around with the credentials file, you could accidentally give them access at a later date.

This "hole" may be fixed in the future. Please comment on the appropriate issue if you have ideas.

Getting Started


Install idkfa as a gem:

gem install idkfa

or declare it in your Gemfile:

gem 'idkfa'


Then initialize idkfa with:

$ idkfa init

This will generate a public/private keypair in ~/.idkfa/ (if it doesn't already exist). It will also create a credentials.yml file in ./config/ (if ./config/ exists) or in the current directory. If you'd like to specify the location, use the -c flag:

$ idkfa init -c keys/credentials.yml

Sample credentials.yml:

- id: '<your-login@your-computer>'
  public_key: '<your idkfa-specific rsa public key>'
  symmetric_key: '<the aes key, encrypted with rsa public key>'
content: '<aes-encrypted, base64-encoded YAML>'

Here's an example of what a credentials.yml might look like with a couple developers and servers:

- id: ''
  public_key: '<idkfa-specific rsa public key for alice>'
  symmetric_key: '<the aes key, encrypted with rsa public key for alice>'
- id: ''
  public_key: '<idkfa-specific rsa public key for bob>'
  symmetric_key: '<the aes key, encrypted with rsa public key for bob>'
- id: staging server
  public_key: '<rsa public key for staging server>'
  symmetric_key: '<the aes key, encrypted with rsa public key for staging server>'
- id: production server
  public_key: '<rsa public key for production server>'
  symmetric_key: '<the aes key, encrypted with rsa public key for production server>'
content: '<aes-encrypted, base64-encoded YAML>'

When the value of the content key is decrypted, it is a simple YAML file. The generated file structure is in the following form:

  # twitter_consumer_key: 'insert consumer key here'
  # twitter_consumer_key: 'insert consumer key here'
  # twitter_consumer_key: 'insert consumer key here'
  # twitter_consumer_key: 'insert consumer key here'

Changing this information is covered in Managing Your Sensitive Data.

Managing Access

User Access

Creating Your Public/Private Keypair

Running idkfa init from the command line will automatically generate a public/private keypair for the current user. It will, however, also generate credentials.yml in the same directory. If you do not need to generate a credentials file, you can instead run:

$ idkfa keygen

This will simply generate a public/private keypair if one does not already exist.

Granting Access to Others

Let's say you're the initial user of idkfa on a project. That is, you were the one who ran idkfa init to generate the credentials file. That would mean you're the only one authorized to decrypt the sensitive information. A valid use case to be sure, but not great if you intend to collaborate.

If You've Never Granted Access to the Other Developer

Granting access to others is quite simple. Have the other developer run idkfa keygen from the command line. This will generate two files: ~/.idkfa/default.public.yml and ~/.idkfa/.default.private.yml. Transfer the public keyfile on a secure channel, like scp or sneaker-net. On the authorized computer, run:

$ idkfa import other_users_public_key.yml

This will authorize the other developer and remember the public key for future authorizations in ~/.idkfa/others.yml.

On the Same Network?

If you're on the same network as the other user, you can run:

$ idkfa serve

This will open a server on port 48484 (or you can pass -p PORT). The other developer can then run:

$ idkfa request <hostname[:port]>

The user running the server will be prompted to verify a fingerprint (generally done out of band, like vocally). Once verified, the requestor's credentials file will be updated to be authorized. Upon completion, the server will terminate (this can be prevented with --keep-open).

If You've Previously Granted Access to the Other Developer

If the user's key already exists in ~/.idkfa/others.yml, simply run the following:

$ idkfa authorize user@host

If you don't remember the other developer's username and host, you can use the following:

$ idkfa authorize --list

If you just want to authorize everyone in your ~/.idkfa/others.yml file, use:

$ idkfa authorize --all

Computer (eg: Server) Access

Granting a server access to the encrypted sensitive information is no different than granting a user access (see "Managing User Access"). You simply use the user who is used to run the application. idkfa, however, provides convenience plugins to grant server access in certain circumstances.


Until the heroku-idkfa gem is written, run the following to generate a new keypair:

$ idkfa keygen heroku

Then, run the following to put the keypair up on heroku:

$ heroku config:add IDKFA_KEYS="$(idkfa base64 heroku)"

Please see the heroku-idkfa gem to use idkfa seamlessly with heroku.


Until the capistrano-idkfa gem is written, simply log onto the server as the application's user and follow the standard user access instructions.

Please see the capistrano-idkfa gem to use idkfa seamlessly with capistrano.

Engine Yard

Until the ey-idkfa gem is written, simply log onto the server as the application's user and follow the standard user access instructions.

Please see the ey-idkfa gem to use idkfa seamlessly with Engine Yard Cloud.

Revoking Access

Revoking access is simple, but you must remember that the revoked user probably still has the ability to read old versions of your credentials file. In other words, once you've revoked the user, you'll want to manually reset all of your sensitive information (assuming you can reset your API keys!).

To revoke a user:

$ idkfa revoke user@host

This removes the revokee's information from the credentials file and resets the symmetric key for everyone else. Do not be surprised when your source code management tool reports that your credentials file will be almost entirely rewritten.

Managing Your Sensitive Information

Since your sensitive information is encrypted, you cannot directly manage that data. idkfa provides the ability to dump your sensitive data to a file (credentials.unencrypted.yml) in the same directory as your credentials file:

$ idkfa dump

When you're done, be sure to load the unencrypted file back into encrypted form:

$ idkfa load

If you'd rather not dump the sensitive information to disk, you can edit it in-place with:

$ idkfa edit

Usage in Code

  • Install as a gem (see "Getting Started")
  • In some initialization portion of your code, you may optionally specify a default namespace: Idkfa.default_namespace = 'production' (in the presence of Rails, this will be done automatically)
  • In your code, use Idkfa['twitter_consumer_key'] (Idkfa will autoload your credentials on first use)

Developer Notes


Written by:

Conceived with the help of:

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