"Sealed Secrets" for Kubernetes
Problem: "I can manage all my K8s config in git, except Secrets."
Solution: Encrypt your Secret into a SealedSecret, which is safe to store - even to a public repository. The SealedSecret can be decrypted only by the controller running in the target cluster and nobody else (not even the original author) is able to obtain the original Secret from the SealedSecret.
- Secret Rotation
- Details (advanced)
- Will you still be able to decrypt if you no longer have access to your cluster?
- How can I do a backup of my SealedSecrets?
- Can I decrypt my secrets offline with a backup key?
- What flags are available for kubeseal?
- How do I update parts of JSON/YAML/TOML/.. file encrypted with sealed secrets?
- Can I bring my own (pre-generated) certificates?
- How to use kubeseal if the controller is not running within the
- How to verify the images?
Sealed Secrets is composed of two parts:
- A cluster-side controller / operator
- A client-side utility:
kubeseal utility uses asymmetric crypto to encrypt secrets that only the controller can decrypt.
These encrypted secrets are encoded in a
SealedSecret resource, which you can see as a recipe for creating
a secret. Here is how it looks:
apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1 kind: SealedSecret metadata: name: mysecret namespace: mynamespace spec: encryptedData: foo: AgBy3i4OJSWK+PiTySYZZA9rO43cGDEq.....
Once unsealed this will produce a secret equivalent to this:
apiVersion: v1 kind: Secret metadata: name: mysecret namespace: mynamespace data: foo: bar # <- base64 encoded "bar"
This normal kubernetes secret will appear in the cluster
after a few seconds you can use it as you would use any secret that you would have created directly (e.g. reference it from a
Jump to the Installation section to get up and running.
The Usage section explores in more detail how you craft
SealedSecrets as templates for secrets
The previous example only focused on the encrypted secret items themselves, but the relationship between a
SealedSecret custom resource and the
Secret it unseals into is similar in many ways (but not in all of them) to the familiar
In particular, the annotations and labels of a
SealedSecret resource are not the same as the annotations of the
Secret that gets generated out of it.
To capture this distinction, the
SealedSecret object has a
template section which encodes all the fields you want the controller to put in the unsealed
This includes metadata such as labels or annotations, but also things like the
type of the secret.
apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1 kind: SealedSecret metadata: name: mysecret namespace: mynamespace annotations: "kubectl.kubernetes.io/last-applied-configuration": .... spec: encryptedData: .dockerconfigjson: AgBy3i4OJSWK+PiTySYZZA9rO43cGDEq..... template: type: kubernetes.io/dockerconfigjson # this is an example of labels and annotations that will be added to the output secret metadata: labels: "jenkins.io/credentials-type": usernamePassword annotations: "jenkins.io/credentials-description": credentials from Kubernetes
The controller would unseal that into something like:
apiVersion: v1 kind: Secret metadata: name: mysecret namespace: mynamespace labels: "jenkins.io/credentials-type": usernamePassword annotations: "jenkins.io/credentials-description": credentials from Kubernetes ownerReferences: - apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1 controller: true kind: SealedSecret name: mysecret uid: 5caff6a0-c9ac-11e9-881e-42010aac003e type: kubernetes.io/dockerconfigjson data: .dockerconfigjson: ewogICJjcmVk...
As you can see, the generated
Secret resource is a "dependent object" of the
SealedSecret and as such
it will be updated and deleted whenever the
SealedSecret object gets updated or deleted.
Public key / Certificate
The key certificate (public key portion) is used for sealing secrets,
and needs to be available wherever
kubeseal is going to be
used. The certificate is not secret information, although you need to
ensure you are using the correct one.
kubeseal will fetch the certificate from the controller at runtime
(requires secure access to the Kubernetes API server), which is
convenient for interactive use, but it's known to be brittle when users
have clusters with special configurations such as private GKE clusters that have
firewalls between master and nodes.
An alternative workflow
is to store the certificate somewhere (e.g. local disk) with
kubeseal --fetch-cert >mycert.pem,
and use it offline with
kubeseal --cert mycert.pem.
The certificate is also printed to the controller log on startup.
Since v0.9.x certificates get automatically renewed every 30 days. It's good practice that you and your team
update your offline certificate periodically. To help you with that, since v0.9.2
kubeseal accepts URLs too. You can set up your internal automation to publish certificates somewhere you trust.
kubeseal --cert https://your.intranet.company.com/sealed-secrets/your-cluster.cert
It also recognizes the
SEALED_SECRETS_CERT env var. (pro-tip: see also direnv).
NOTE: we are working on providing key management mechanisms that offload the encryption to HSM based modules or managed cloud crypto solutions such as KMS.
SealedSecrets are from the POV of an end user a "write only" device.
The idea is that the SealedSecret can be decrypted only by the controller running in the target cluster and nobody else (not even the original author) is able to obtain the original Secret from the SealedSecret.
The user may or may not have direct access to the target cluster. More specifically, the user might or might not have access to the Secret unsealed by the controller.
There are many ways to configure RBAC on k8s, but it's quite common to forbid low-privilege users from reading Secrets. It's also common to give users one or more namespaces where they have higher privileges, which would allow them to create and read secrets (and/or create deployments that can reference those secrets).
Encrypted SealedSecret resources are designed to be safe to be looked at without gaining any knowledge about the secrets it conceals. This implies that we cannot allow users to read a SealedSecret meant for a namespace they wouldn't have access to and just push a copy of it in a namespace where they can read secrets from.
Sealed-secrets thus behaves as if each namespace had its own independent encryption key and thus once you seal a secret for a namespace, it cannot be moved in another namespace and decrypted there.
We don't technically use an independent private key for each namespace, but instead we include the namespace name during the encryption process, effectively achieving the same result.
Furthermore, namespaces are not the only level at which RBAC configurations can decide who can see which secret. In fact, it's possible that users can access a secret called
foo in a given namespace but not any other secret in the same namespace. We cannot thus by default let users freely rename SealedSecret resources otherwise a malicious user would be able to decrypt any SealedSecret for that namespace by just renaming it to overwrite the one secret she does have access to. We use the same mechanism used to include the namespace in the encryption key to also include the secret name.
That said, there are many scenarios where you might not care about this level of protection. For example, the only people who have access to your clusters are either admins or they cannot read any secret resource at all. You might have a use case for moving a sealed secret to other namespaces (e.g. you might not know the namespace name upfront), or you might not know the name of the secret (e.g. it could contain a unique suffix based on the hash of the contents etc).
These are the possible scopes:
strict(default): the secret must be sealed with exactly the same name and namespace. These attributes become part of the encrypted data and thus changing name and/or namespace would lead to "decryption error".
namespace-wide: you can freely rename the sealed secret within a given namespace.
cluster-wide: the secret can be unsealed in any namespace and can be given any name.
In contrast to the restrictions of name and namespace, secret items (i.e. JSON object keys like
spec.encryptedData.my-key) can be renamed at will without losing the ability to decrypt the sealed secret.
The scope is selected with the
kubeseal --scope cluster-wide <secret.yaml >sealed-secret.json
It's also possible to request a scope via annotations in the input secret you pass to
sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/namespace-wide: "true"-> for
sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/cluster-wide: "true"-> for
The lack of any of such annotations means
strict mode. If both are set,
cluster-wide takes precedence.
NOTE: next release will consolidate this into a single
See https://github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/releases for the latest release and detailed installation instructions.
Cloud platform specific notes and instructions:
Once you deploy the manifest it will create the
and install the controller into
kube-system namespace, create a service
account and necessary RBAC roles.
After a few moments, the controller will start, generate a key pair, and be ready for operation. If it does not, check the controller logs.
The official controller manifest installation mechanism is just a YAML file.
In some cases you might need to apply your own customizations, like set a custom namespace or set some env variables.
kubectl has native support for that, see kustomize.
The Sealed Secrets helm chart is now official supported and hosted in this GitHub repo.
helm repo add sealed-secrets https://bitnami-labs.github.io/sealed-secrets
NOTE: The versioning scheme of the helm chart differs from the versioning scheme of the sealed secrets project itself.
Originally the helm chart was maintained by the community and the first version adopted a major version of 1 while the sealed secrets project itself is still at major 0. This is ok because the version of the helm chart itself is not meant to be necessarily the version of the app itself. However this is confusing, so our current versioning rule is:
- The sealed secret controller version scheme: 0.X.Y
- The helm chart version scheme: 1.X.Y-rZ
There can be thus multiple revisions of the helm chart, with fixes that apply only to the helm chart without affecting the static YAML manifests or the controller image itself.
NOTE: the helm chart readme still contains a deprecation notice, but it's no longer reflects reality and will be removed upon next release.
NOTE: the helm chart by default installs the controller with the name
sealed-secrets, while the
kubeseal command line interface (CLI) tries to access the controller with the name
sealed-secrets-controller. You can explicitly pass
--controller-name to the CLI:
kubeseal --controller-name sealed-secrets <args>
Alternatively, you can override
fullnameOverride on the helm chart install.
kubeseal client is also available on homebrew:
brew install kubeseal
kubeseal client is also available on MacPorts:
port install kubeseal
Installation from source
If you just want the latest client tool, it can be installed into
(cd /; GO111MODULE=on go get github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/cmd/kubeseal@main)
You can specify a release tag or a commit SHA instead of
Don't forget to check the release notes for guidance about possible breaking changes when you upgrade the client tool and/or the controller.
# Create a json/yaml-encoded Secret somehow: # (note use of `--dry-run` - this is just a local file!) echo -n bar | kubectl create secret generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json >mysecret.json # This is the important bit: # (note default format is json!) kubeseal <mysecret.json >mysealedsecret.json # mysealedsecret.json is safe to upload to github, post to twitter, # etc. Eventually: kubectl create -f mysealedsecret.json # Profit! kubectl get secret mysecret
Secret must have the same namespace and
name. This is a feature to prevent other users on the same cluster
from re-using your sealed secrets. See the Scopes section for more info.
kubeseal reads the namespace from the input secret, accepts an explicit
--namespace arg, and uses
kubectl default namespace (in that order). Any labels,
annotations, etc on the original
Secret are preserved, but not
automatically reflected in the
By design, this scheme does not authenticate the user. In other
words, anyone can create a
SealedSecret containing any
they like (provided the namespace/name matches). It is up to your
existing config management workflow, cluster RBAC rules, etc to ensure
that only the intended
SealedSecret is uploaded to the cluster. The
only change from existing Kubernetes is that the contents of the
Secret are now hidden while outside the cluster.
Managing existing secrets
If you want
SealedSecret controller to take management of an existing
Secret (i.e. overwrite it when unsealing a
SealedSecret with the same name and namespace), then you have to annotate that
Secret with the annotation
sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/managed: "true" ahead applying the Usage steps.
Update existing secrets
If you want to add or update existing sealed secrets without having the cleartext for the other items, you can just copy&paste the new encrypted data items and merge it into an existing sealed secret.
You must take care of sealing the updated items with a compatible name and namespace (see note about scopes above).
You can use the
--merge-into command to update an existing sealed secrets if you don't want to copy&paste:
echo -n bar | kubectl create secret generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json \ | kubeseal > mysealedsecret.json echo -n baz | kubectl create secret generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=bar=/dev/stdin -o json \ | kubeseal --merge-into mysealedsecret.json
Raw mode (experimental)
Creating temporary Secret with the
kubectl command, only to throw it away once piped to
be a quite unfriendly user experience. We're working on an overhaul of the CLI experience. In the meantime,
we offer an alternative mode where kubeseal only cares about encrypting a value to stdout, and it's your responsibility to put it inside a
SealedSecret resource (not unlike any of the other k8s resources).
It can also be useful as a building block for editor/IDE integrations.
The downside is that you have to be careful to be consistent with the sealing scope, the namespace and the name.
strict scope (default):
$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --namespace bar --name mysecret AgBChHUWLMx...
$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --namespace bar --scope namespace-wide AgAbbFNkM54...
sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/namespace-wide annotation in the
metadata: annotations: sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/namespace-wide: "true"
$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --scope cluster-wide AgAjLKpIYV+...
sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/cluster-wide annotation in the
metadata: annotations: sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/cluster-wide: "true"
You should always rotate your secrets. But since your secrets are encrypted with another secret, you need to understand how these two layers relate in order to take the right decisions.
If a sealing private key is compromised, you need to follow the instructions below in "Early key renewal" section before rotating any of your actual secret values.
SealedSecret key renewal and re-encryption features are not a substitute for periodical rotation of your actual secret values.
Sealing key renewal
Sealing keys are automatically renewed every 30 days. Which means a new sealing key is created and appended to the set of active sealing keys the controller can use to unseal Sealed Secret resources.
The most recently created sealing key is the one used to seal new secrets when you use
kubeseal and it's the one whose certificate is downloaded when you use
The renewal time of 30d is a reasonable default, but it can be tweaked as needed
--key-renew-period=<value> flag for the command in the pod template of the sealed secret controller. The
value field can be given as golang
duration flag (eg:
A value of
0 will disable automatic key renewal. Of course, it's possible you have a valid use case for disabling automatic sealing key renewal; but experience has shown that new users often tend to jump to conclusions that they want control over key renewal, before fully understanding how sealed secrets work. Read more about this in the common misconceptions section below.
Unfortunately you cannot use e.g. "d" as a unit for days because that's not supported by the Go stdlib. Instead of hitting your face with a palm, take this as an opportunity to meditate on the falsehoods programmers believe about time.
A common misunderstanding is that key renewal is often thought of as a form of key rotation, where the old key is not only obsolete but actually bad and that you thus want to get rid of it. It doesn't help that this feature has been historically called "key rotation", which can add to the confusion.
Sealed secrets are not automatically rotated and old keys are not deleted when new keys are generated. Old sealed secrets resources can be still decrypted (that's because old sealing keys are not deleted).
User secret rotation
The sealing key renewal and SealedSecret rotation are not a substitute for rotating your actual secrets.
A core value proposition of this tool is:
Encrypt your Secret into a SealedSecret, which is safe to store - even to a public repository.
If you store anything in a version control storage, and in a public one in particular, you must assume you cannot ever delete that information.
If a sealing key somehow leaks out of the cluster you must consider all your SealedSecret resources encrypted with that key as compromised. No amount of sealing key rotation in the cluster or even re-encryption of existing SealedSecrets files can change that.
The best practice is to periodically rotate all your actual secrets (e.g. change the password) and craft new SealedSecret resource with those new secrets.
But if the sealed secrets controller were not renewing the sealing key that rotation would be moot, since the attacker could just decrypt the new secrets as well. Thus, you need to do both: periodically renew the sealing key and rotate your actual secrets!
Early key renewal
If you know or suspect a sealing key has been compromised you should renew the key ASAP before you start sealing your new rotated secrets, otherwise you'll be giving attackers access to your new secrets as well.
A key can be generated early by passing the current timestamp to the controller into a flag called
--key-cutoff-time or an env var called
SEALED_SECRETS_KEY_CUTOFF_TIME. Expected format is RFC1123, you can generate it with the
date -R unix command.
Common misconceptions about key renewal
Sealed secrets sealing keys are not access control keys (e.g. like a password); they are more like the GPG key you might use to read encrypted mail sent to you. Let's continue with the email analogy for a bit:
Imagine you have reasons to believe your private GPG key might have been compromised. You'd have more to lose than to gain if the first thing you do is to just delete your private key. All the previous emails sent with that key are no longer accessible to you (unless you have a decrypted copy of those emails), nor are new emails sent by your friends whom you have not yet managed to tell to use the new key.
Sure, the content of those encrypted emails is not secure, as an attacker might now be able to decrypt them, but what's done is done. Your sudden loss of ability to read those emails surely doesn't undo the damage; if anything, it's worse because you no longer know for sure what secret the attacker got to know. What you really want to do is to make sure that your friend stops using your old key and that from now on all further communication is encrypted with a new key pair (i.e. your friend must know about that new key).
The same logic applies to SealedSecrets. The ultimate goal is securing your actual "user" secrets. The "sealing" secrets are just a mechanism, an "envelope". If a secret is leaked there is no going back; what's done is done.
You first need to ensure that new secrets don't get encrypted with that old compromised key (in the email analogy above that's: create a new key pair and give all your friends your new public key).
The second logical step is to neutralize the damage, which depends on the nature of the secret. A simple example is a database password: if you accidentally leak your database password, the thing you're supposed to do is simply to change your database password (on the database; and revoke the old one!) and update the SealedSecret resource with the new password (i.e. running
Both steps are described in the previous sections, albeit in a less verbose way. There is no shame in reading them again, now that you have a more in-depth grasp of the underlying rationale.
Manual key management (advanced)
The sealed secrets controller and the associated workflow is designed to keep old sealing keys around and periodically add new ones. You should not delete old keys unless you know what you're doing.
That said, if you want you can manually manage (create, move, delete) sealing keys. They are just normal k8s secrets living in the same namespace where the sealed secret controller lives (usually
kube-system, but it's configurable).
There are advanced use cases that you can address by creative management of the sealing keys. For example, you can share the same sealing key among a few clusters so that you can apply exactly the same sealed secret in multiple clusters. Since sealing keys are just normal k8s secrets you can even use sealed secrets itself and use a GitOps workflow to manage your sealing keys (useful when you want to share the same key among different clusters)!
Labelling a sealing key secret with anything other than
active effectively deletes
the key from the sealed secrets controller, but it is still available in k8s for
manual encryption/decryption if need be.
NOTE Sealed secrets currently does not automatically pick up manually created, deleted or relabeled sealing keys, an admin must restart the controller before the effect will apply.
Before you can get rid of some old sealing keys you need to re-encrypt your SealedSecrets with the latest private key.
kubeseal --re-encrypt <my_sealed_secret.json >tmp.json \ && mv tmp.json my_sealed_secret.json
The invocation above will produce a new sealed secret file freshly encrypted with
the latest key, without making the secrets leave the cluster to the client. You can then save that file
in your version control system (
kubeseal --re-encrypt doesn't update the in-cluster object).
Currently, old keys are not garbage collected automatically.
It's a good idea to periodically re-encrypt your SealedSecrets. But as mentioned above, don't lull yourself in a false sense of security: you must assume the old version of the SealedSecret (the one encrypted with a key you think of as dead) is still potentially around and accessible to attackers. I.e. re-encryption is not a substitute for periodically rotating your actual secrets.
This controller adds a new
SealedSecret custom resource. The
interesting part of a
SealedSecret is a base64-encoded
The controller maintains a set of private/public key pairs as kubernetes
secrets. Keys are labelled with
and identified in the label as either
compromised. On startup,
The sealed secrets controller will...
- Search for these keys and add them to its local store if they are labelled as active.
- Create a new key
- Start the key rotation cycle
More details about crypto can be found here.
More details about crypto can be found in the Developer Guide.
Will you still be able to decrypt if you no longer have access to your cluster?
No, the private keys are only stored in the Secret managed by the controller (unless you have some other backup of your k8s objects). There are no backdoors - without that private key used to encrypt a given SealedSecrets, you can't decrypt it. If you can't get to the Secrets with the encryption keys, and you also can't get to the decrypted versions of your Secrets live in the cluster, then you will need to regenerate new passwords for everything, seal them again with a new sealing key, etc.
How can I do a backup of my SealedSecrets?
If you do want to make a backup of the encryption private keys, it's easy to do from an account with suitable access and:
kubectl get secret -n kube-system -l sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/sealed-secrets-key -o yaml >master.key kubectl get secret -n kube-system sealed-secrets-key -o yaml >>master.key
NOTE: you need the second statement only if you ever installed sealed-secrets older than version 0.9.x on your cluster.
NOTE: This file will contain the controller's public + private keys and should be kept omg-safe!
To restore from a backup after some disaster, just put that secrets back before starting the controller - or if the controller was already started, replace the newly-created secrets and restart the controller:
kubectl apply -f master.key kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l name=sealed-secrets-controller
Can I decrypt my secrets offline with a backup key?
While treating sealed-secrets as long term storage system for secrets is not the recommended use case, some people do have a legitimate requirement for being able to recover secrets when the k8s cluster is down and restoring a backup into a new sealed-secrets controller deployment is not practical.
If you have backed up one or more of your private keys (see previous question), you can use the
kubeseal --recovery-unseal --recovery-private-key file1.key,file2.key,... command to decrypt a sealed secrets file.
What flags are available for kubeseal?
You can check the flags available using
How do I update parts of JSON/YAML/TOML/.. file encrypted with sealed secrets?
A kubernetes secret resource contains multiple items, basically a flat map of key/value pairs. SealedSecrets operate at that level, and does not care what you put in the values. In other words it cannot make sense of any structured configuration file you might have put in a secret and thus cannot help you update individual fields in it.
Since this is a common problem, especially when dealing with legacy applications, we do offer an example of a possible workaround.
Can I bring my own (pre-generated) certificates?
Yes, you can provide the controller with your own certificates, and it will consume them. Please check here for a workaround.
How to use kubeseal if the controller is not running within the
If you installed the controller in a different namespace than the default
kube-system, you need to provide this namespace
kubeseal commandline tool. There are two options: You can specify the namespace via the command line option
--controller-namespace <namespace> or via the environment variable
# Provide the namespace via the command line option kubeseal --controller-namespace sealed-secrets <mysecret.json >mysealedsecret.json # Provide the namespace via the environment variable export SEALED_SECRETS_CONTROLLER_NAMESPACE=sealed-secrets kubeseal <mysecret.json >mysealedsecret.json
How to verify the images?
It is pretty simple to verify the images:
# export the COSIGN_VARIABLE setting up the GitHub container registry signs path export COSIGN_REPOSITORY=ghcr.io/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets-controller/signs # verify the image uploaded in GHCR cosign verify --key .github/workflows/cosign.pub ghcr.io/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets-controller:latest # verify the image uploaded in Dockerhub cosign verify --key .github/workflows/cosign.pub docker.io/bitnami/sealed-secrets-controller:latest
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- Visual Studio Code extension: https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=codecontemplator.kubeseal
- WebSeal: generates secrets in the browser : https://socialgouv.github.io/webseal
- HybridEncrypt TypeScript implementation : https://github.com/SocialGouv/aes-gcm-rsa-oaep
- [DEPRACATED] Sealed Secrets Operator: https://github.com/disposab1e/sealed-secrets-operator-helm