drewboswell / sealed-secrets

A Kubernetes controller and tool for one-way encrypted Secrets

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"Sealed Secrets" for Kubernetes

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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.


Sealed Secrets is composed of two parts:

  • A cluster-side controller / operator
  • A client-side utility: kubeseal

The 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
  name: mysecret
  namespace: mynamespace
    foo: AgBy3i4OJSWK+PiTySYZZA9rO43cGDEq.....

Once unsealed this will produce a secret equivalent to this:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: mysecret
  namespace: mynamespace
  foo: bar  # <- base64 encoded "bar"

This normal kubernetes secret will appear in the cluster after a few seconds and you can use it as you would use any secret that you would have created directly (e.g. reference it from a Pod).

Jump to the Installation section to get up and running.

The Usage section explores in more detail how you craft SealedSecret resources.

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 Deployment vs Pod.

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 Secret.

This includes metadata such as labels or annotations, but also things like the type of the secret.

apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1
kind: SealedSecret
  name: mysecret
  namespace: mynamespace
    "kubectl.kubernetes.io/last-applied-configuration": ....
    .dockercfg: AgBy3i4OJSWK+PiTySYZZA9rO43cGDEq.....
    type: kubernetes.io/dockercfg
    # this is an example of labels and annotations that will be added to the output secret
        "jenkins.io/credentials-type": usernamePassword
        "jenkins.io/credentials-description": credentials from Kubernetes

The controller would unseal that into something like:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: mysecret
  namespace: mynamespace
    "jenkins.io/credentials-type": usernamePassword
    "jenkins.io/credentials-description": credentials from Kubernetes
  - apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1
    controller: true
    kind: SealedSecret
    name: mysecret
    uid: 5caff6a0-c9ac-11e9-881e-42010aac003e
type: kubernetes.io/dockercfg
  .dockercfg: 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.

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 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).

You can select the "scope":

  • strict (default)
  • namespace-wide: you can freely rename the sealed secret within a given namespace
  • cluster-wide: you

The scope is selected with annotations in the input secret you pass to kubeseal:

  • sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/namespace-wide: "true" -> for namespace-wide'
  • sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/cluster-wide: "true" -> for cluster-wide

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 sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/scope annotation. NOTE: next release will enhance the kubeseal tooling so you don't have to fiddle with these annotations.


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 SealedSecret resource 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.

Helm Chart

Sealed Secret helm charts can be found on this link. It's maintained independently and it might lag a bit behind the latest release. This badge should indicate the latest helm chart release:


The kubeseal client is also available on homebrew:

$ brew install kubeseal

Installation from source

If you just want the latest client tool, it can be installed into $GOPATH/bin with:

% (cd /; GO111MODULE=on go get github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/cmd/kubeseal@master)
go: finding github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/cmd/kubeseal master
go: finding github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/cmd master
go: finding github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets master
go: extracting github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets v0.8.1-0.20190724082116-385d02a4f4a3

You can specify a release tag or a commit SHA instead of master.


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 --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json >mysecret.json

# This is the important bit:
$ 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

Note the SealedSecret and 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 the kubectl default namespace (in that order). Any labels, annotations, etc on the original Secret are preserved, but not automatically reflected in the SealedSecret.

By design, this scheme does not authenticate the user. In other words, anyone can create a SealedSecret containing any Secret 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.

Update existing secrets

If you want to add or update exising 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 --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json \
  > mysecret.json
$ echo -n baz | kubectl create secret generic mysecret --dry-run --from-file=bar=/dev/stdin -o json \
  | kubeseal --merge-into mysecret.json

Raw mode (experimental)

Creating temporary Secret with the kubectl' command, only to throw it away once piped to kubeseal` can be a quite unfriendly user experience. We're working on an overhaul of the 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 responsiblity 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. See Scopes:

$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --namespace bar --name mysecret
$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --namespace bar --scope namespace-wide
$ echo -n foo | kubeseal --raw --from-file=/dev/stdin --scope cluster-wide

Secret Rotation

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.

Key renewal

Keys are automatically renewed every 30 days. This can be configured on controller startup with the --key-renew-period=<value> flag. The value field can be given as golang duration flag (eg: 720h30m). A value of 0 will disable automatic key renewal.

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.

The feature has been historically called "key rotation" but this term can be confusing. 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.

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 in two ways

  1. Label the current latest key as compromised (any value other than active) kubectl label secrets <keyname> sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/sealed-secrets-key=compromised.
  2. Send SIGUSR1 to the controller kubectl exec -it <controller pod> -- kill -SIGUSR1 1

NOTE Sealed secrets currently does not automatically pick up relabelled keys, an admin must restart the controller before the effect will apply.

Labelling a 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.


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 asymmetrically encrypted Secret.

The controller maintains a set of private/public key pairs as kubernetes secrets. Keys are labelled with sealedsecrets.bitnami.com/sealed-secrets-key and identified in the label as either active or compromised. On startup, The sealed secrets controller will...

  1. Search for these keys and add them to its local store if they are labelled as active.
  2. Create a new key
  3. Start the key rotation cycle


To be able to develop on this project, you need to have the following tools installed:

To build the kubeseal and controller binaries, run:

$ make

To run the unit tests:

$ make test

To run the integration tests:

  • Start Minikube
  • Build the controller for Linux, so that it can be run within a Docker image - edit the Makefile to add GOOS=linux GOARCH=amd64 to %-static, and then run make controller.yaml IMAGE_PULL_POLICY=Never
  • Add the sealed-secret CRD and controller to Kubernetes - kubectl apply -f controller.yaml
  • Revert any changes made to the Makefile to build the Linux controller
  • Remove the binaries which were possibly built for another OS - make clean
  • Rebuild the binaries for your OS - make
  • Run the integration tests - make integrationtest

To update the jsonnet dependencies:

$ jb install --jsonnetpkg-home=jsonnet_vendor


  • Will you still be able to decrypt if you no longer have access to your cluster?

No, the private key is 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, then you can't decrypt the SealedSecrets. If you can't get to the Secret with the encryption key, 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 key, it's easy to do from an account with suitable access and:

$ kubectl get secret -n kube-system sealed-secrets-key -o yaml >master.key

NOTE: This is the controller's public + private key and should be kept omg-safe!

To restore from a backup after some disaster, just put that secret back before starting the controller - or if the controller was already started, replace the newly-created secret and restart the controller:

$ kubectl replace -f master.key
$ kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l name=sealed-secrets-controller
  • What flags are available for kubeseal?

You can check the flags available using kubeseal --help.


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A Kubernetes controller and tool for one-way encrypted Secrets

License:Apache License 2.0


Language:Go 80.0%Language:Jsonnet 17.2%Language:Makefile 2.3%Language:Dockerfile 0.4%