Adding a New Secret to CI

How to self-service manage secret data provided to jobs during execution.

Jobs execute as Pods; those that need access to sensitive information will have access to it through mounted Kubernetes Secrets. Secret data is managed self-service by the owners of the data.

Add A New Secret

In order to add a new secret to our system, you will first need to create a secret collection. Secret collections are managed at Just head there, log in, create a new one and ideally also add your teammates as members. Important: Secret collection names are globally unique in our system.

The secrets themselves are managed in our Vault instance at You need to use the OIDC auth to log in there. After logging in, click on kv, then selfservice and you should see your secret collection.

To create a new secret, simply click Create secret. Put your data into it and include the special secretsync key value pairs listed below. These key value pairs will ensure that the new secret is propagated into the build clusters:

secretsync/target-namespace: "test-credentials" # The Namespace of your secret in the build clusters. Multiple namespaces can be targeted by using a comma-separated list
secretsync/target-name: "my-secret"             # The Name of your secret in the build clusters

As an advanced feature, it is also possible to limit the clusters to which the secret should be synced. This is not needed in most cases and will result in failures if used for secrets that are used by jobs. This also works by using a special key in vault:

secretsync/target-clusters: "one-cluster,another-cluster"

Use A Secret In A Job Step

The most common case is to use secrets in a step of a job. In this case, we require the user to mirror secrets to test-credentials namespace. The pod which runs the step can access the secrets defined in the credentials stanza of the step definition. See the documentation for details.

The propagation of secret contents is scheduled immediately after they are added or modified and should be completed within 30m.

Protecting Secrets from Leaking

Unfortunately, secrets can often leak indirectly in various ways. Commonly, a setup step of a CI job uses a secret to configure a resource in the cluster, and then later another step collects that resource when capturing artifacts for the CI job. Logs and artifacts in OpenShift CI are publicly accessible, so when secrets are included in artifacts, they leak and must be rotated. To mitigate this risk, the Prow component that processes and stores all artifacts and logs contains a feature that automatically censors all secrets it can detect before uploading them to storage. Although this feature is relatively powerful (it detects and censors the content of artifacts that are tar or gzip archives, has built-in support for some compound secret formats like pull secrets and INI files, censors base64-encoded forms of the secret strings, etc.), it still needs to know what secret strings to search for.

The censoring process takes advantage of the fact that the secret value needs to be provided to the Pod running the test code. In OpenShift CI, all secrets are provided to CI jobs via populating a namespace with Secret resources, and therefore the CI job cannot use (and thus, leak) anything that is not present in one of the Secret resources in the namespace. The censoring code scans all artifacts for all values of all Secret resources in the namespace where the Pod runs and removes all matches it finds.

Therefore, this censoring can only protect a secret from leaking if the secret is present in Vault in a “direct” form. It may be convenient to store the secrets in Vault in a better consumable form, such as in a shell script that gets sourced by the test code and populates multiple environmental variables at once. This approach is risky because it makes that whole shell script the censored secret: it will only get stripped if you happen to cat it in full by mistake. However, if the content of one of the environment variables is the actual password that should not leak, the CI has no chance of knowing that. If that password ends up in a resource in the cluster, and that resource will get collected as an artifact, the password would leak.

Good practice

protected Secret

In this example, the password is a direct value of a key stored in Vault. When synced to the CI clusters, the password will be stored in the password key of a Secret resource and hence will be censored in all artifacts and logs collected from the CI run.

Risky practice

unprotected Secret

In the example above, the password is an arbitrary substring of the value stored in Vault. When synced to the CI cluster, the key content will match the one in Vault. The actual secret string s3cr3t is unknown to Prow and therefore will not be censored from any artifacts or logs. Note that this practice is not limited to the shell script form; the same applies for storing secrets inside JSON snippets and other formats.

Acceptable practice

protected convenient secret

With many secrets passed to CI jobs, it can become inconvenient to pass and consume them in individual keys. It can therefore be acceptable to pass them for consumption by CI jobs in the “convenient” compound form if, at the same time, the actual secret value is present directly in a separate key. Structuring your secrets this way makes them convenient to consume while still being protected by the censoring mechanism. Of course, this assumes you never forget to manage the secret in two places instead of one.

Use A Secret In Non-Step jobs

For non-step jobs, we have to use ci as the targeting namespace in the secret mirroring configuration.

  • For a job which is generated from ci-operator configuration and does not use steps, we can mount the secrets via secrets stanza in the ci-operator configuration, e.g.,
- as: "vet"                      # names this test "vet"
  commands: "go vet ./..."       # declares which commands to run
    from: "src"                  # runs the commands in "pipeline:src"
  - mount_path: "/secret"        # mount path of the extracted files from the secret
    name: "secret-name-in-ci"    # the secret name in the ci namespace
  • For a job which does not even use ci-operator at all, i.e. handcrafted jobs, the following example shows how to use secrets in a job definition. As stated there, creating handcrafted jobs is discouraged.
  - name: bar-job
    - ^master$
    spec:                       # Valid Kubernetes PodSpec.
      - image:
        name: ""
        - mountPath: "/secret"               # mount path of the extracted files from the secret
          name: "volume-name"
      - name: "volume-name"
          secretName: "secret-name-in-ci"    # the secret name in the ci namespace
Last modified April 25, 2022: Document secret data propagation (2cd378a)