Secret Sprawl & Ways to Avoid It Using Secret Management


To create a secrets management system, centralize the secrets, build an ACL, and provide dynamic secrets, use EaaS and maintain an audit logbook.

Here, the term secret means anything that provides access to a particular system or authorization to change something.

For instance, your password and username, security certificate, or API tokens can be used in a database to gain access or authenticate yourself. These access-providing pieces of information are called secrets and are highly sensitive pieces. If an attacker gains access to these then they can pose several threats.

In short, secrets are something we do not want others to have access to, and secret sprawl means the unwanted and unauthorized distribution of these secrets across several platforms.

How Secret Sprawl Effects an Organization

When you or your organization put secrets in different places, it is called secret sprawl.

How do these secrets get distributed?

Well, it is basically done by the employees and developers who work in the organization or are responsible for website or app development. They use these secrets to complete their work. Most of the time, individuals use different devices or platforms to get their work done. For instance, you might share your secrets whenever you use email or Slack.

As a company grows, the number of employees grows as well, and so does the number of secrets. If you do not have a well-thought-out plan on how to keep track of your secrets or how to store them properly, then soon you will have secret sprawl. In this case, you either have to create your own system or use Encrypted Secrets Management services from

If you do not have a concrete system, then anyone in your organization can cause a secret sprawl. Here are the possible risks secret sprawl can cause.

Invasion of Security

This goes without saying, but whenever there is a case of secret sprawl, there is a likelihood of a system breach. Attackers will try to take advantage of system sprawl to gain easy access and acquire confidential information.

When a system sprawl occurs, it means that already your secrets are in haphazard places and cannot all be protected. This makes it difficult to track and protect those secrets.

Increased Dependency

If your secrets are distributed across multiple platforms, then the organization may decide to distribute the secrets only to select managers. In that case, it makes work less efficient since you will have to get those secrets from the managers every time you want to complete a certain task.


Once a secret sprawl occurs, it becomes increasingly difficult to find all the secrets since you would not specifically know where to look for them.

What Is Secret Management?

To be precise, any kind of practice that allows organizations to enforce security on their secrets and maintain them in an organized manner is called secret management.

A lot of people use password managers or key management services to keep their secrets secure. However, password managers can only keep your passwords secure, and key management services will only keep your encryption keys secured.

This means you will still be using multiple platforms to manage your secrets. What you need is one single secret management system that can be used to manage and oversee all your secrets and accesses.

5 Steps to Creating a Secret Management System

You do not necessarily need to purchase a tool or a cloud-related service to keep track of your secrets. You can create a holistic system in your organization to ensure safety.

Here are 5 steps you can follow to create your own comprehensive system so that secret sprawl does not occur in your organization.

1. Centralize Your Secrets

This is probably the most important part since your secrets are likely to be scattered all over the place. Your first job will be to centralize all those so it becomes easier to audit, build governance, and enhance security. Through it, you can check who accesses those secrets and when.

2. Build an Access Control List

Once you have centralized all your secrets, you need to identify who will have access to those secrets.

To do this, you have to build an ACL and specify between humans and machines and organize who accesses what.

By building an ACL or access control list, you will have an easy way to access those secrets and differentiate between humans and machines.

3. Provide Dynamic Secrets

In order to keep everything organized, you may need to provide unique credentials to entities or select individuals. By providing temporary credentials, you can rest easy that even if you accidentally shoot a node in the head or somehow lose access to credentials given to individuals, they will automatically be wiped out after a set time.

4. Use Encryption as a Service

Your dynamic secrets can be any sort of credentials such as IM or database credentials. These credentials are likely to be transferred to the cloud and travel between applications.

Attackers mostly use this opportunity to grab data when it’s traveling. But if you have encryption as a service, then you can make sure that that data stays encrypted even if someone is able to get it.

And since you will have a centralized database for all your secrets and an ACL to have easy access within the organization, you will be able to create a comprehensive system where even if you lose data, it will still be encrypted and safe.

5. Maintain a Routine Audit

You have a comprehensive system, but you need to look into and see who has accessed what and when. The system will guide you on that as well.

When you implement dynamic secrets, every requester gets a unique secret, and those requesters will use the secret to get authenticated. This will be updated in the audit logbooks, and you can even know which subsystem the secret was used in.

With encryption as a service, you can identify whether any access was encrypted or decrypted. All of this makes the distribution of secrets transparent and gives you complete visibility.

Final Thoughts

Maintaining the secrets of your organization is extremely important. By implementing a comprehensive secret management system, you can prevent secret sprawl and keep your information secure.