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HashiCorp Vault and Bitwarden Secrets Manager: What are the key differences?

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Programming and software development are complex and ever-changing practices that require thoughtful security measures. In the face of fast-moving advancements in technology that pressure development teams to release code more frequently, it is critical to find the right secrets management solution for your business. Although HashiCorp Vault has historically been a popular secrets manager option, there are alternatives to HashiCorp Vault such as Bitwarden Secrets Manager.

Why does your business need a secrets manager?

Many development teams and organizations regularly need access to sensitive information, services, and data to accomplish their daily tasks. The secure handling of authentication credentials to access such information (sometimes called secrets), like API keys, database passwords, SSL certificates, and private encryption keys, is crucial for defending against information leaks. Poor secrets management practices, like hard-coding secrets, could open the door for unauthorized malicious actors to access the application, extract those secrets, and steal customer or business information.

Such secrets must be securely stored to avoid unintended discovery within your application(s).

With a secrets manager, secrets are stored as key-value pairs and secured with encryption. Once encrypted, authorized developers can retrieve secrets via a command line application or integration and securely use them within their scripts.

With a secrets manager, development teams also benefit from:

  • Streamlined product delivery: Empower your team to achieve quicker time to delivery with secure collaboration.

  • Centralized management of secrets: Reduce secrets sprawl across the company environments.

  • Privileged access management: Ensure secrets are only accessible to authorized personnel via granular user permissions and authentication options.

What are some options?

Some cloud providers (such as AWS, Azure, and Google) offer their own secrets managers, but those tend to be rather restrictive, expensive (with unpredictable pricing models), not scalable, and secured with weaker encryption methods. 

In the wake of the recent HashiCorp acquisition, there is no guarantee as to whether or not the company will continue to develop the product at a reasonable pace or with new innovations. HashiCorp Vault's primary focus is on cloud infrastructure solutions, so it's easy to conclude that their Secrets Manager is a secondary offering. On top of that, HashiCorp Vault is highly complicated and requires serious IT overhead.

Why Bitwarden Secrets Manager is a better alternative to HashiCorp Vault

Bitwarden Secrets Manager aims to provide a solution that overcomes common issues found in other secrets manager options. 

Strong encryption and security

Bitwarden Secrets Manager offers the same type of strong security found in its password manager, which means strong, end-to-end encryption for anyone seeking a HashiCorp Vault alternative. End-to-end encryption is a much more secure method of storage than the encryption in transit and at rest offered by other solutions in the market. Bitwarden Secrets Manager customers also benefit from open-source security and regular audits by third-party security experts.

Single source of truth

Bitwarden Secrets Manager works alongside Bitwarden Password Manager, empowering teams to manage all their important credentials from a single location. Unlike cloud providers, Bitwarden Secrets Manager does not lock customers into a single cloud ecosystem, enabling them to manage secrets from, and integrate with, any environment or provider. With that single source of truth, you can prevent unmanaged secret sprawl across your organization.

Streamlined secrets management

HashiCorp is a complex solution with dispersed vault/cluster architecture, while Bitwarden offers an intuitive, centralized, and streamlined interface that is easier for both end-users and admins to navigate. While HashiCorp requires high IT overhead to maintain availability and disaster recovery for their offering, Bitwarden does not require additional IT support for operations. Deploying Bitwarden Secrets Manager for your organization is also easy, with a well-documented help center, CLI, SDKs, and out-of-the-box integrations for services like Ansible, GitHub, and GitLab.

Where Bitwarden Secrets Manager focuses on ease of use, HashiCorp Vault requires considerable command line work, both upfront and during usage. For example, HashiCorp Vault requires the setup of a vault server and multiple keys just to store a key within the server.

HashiCorp Vault also requires customers to create a secrets engine, which makes it possible to manage the secrets within your code. That means you're dealing with two complicated command line tools to house and use your secrets.

Bitwarden Secrets Manager is a streamlined alternative to HashiCorp Vault that makes secrets management easy.

Predictable pricing 

With Bitwarden, pricing is transparent with a simple user-based pricing scale, as found with Bitwarden Password Manager. Users are much easier to plan for than HashiCorp’s tiered pricing based on “client” count. 

Stand-out features and functionality 

Bitwarden Secrets Manager also offers features not found in many alternatives:

  • Easily rotate machine access to secrets by setting an access token expiration date. Monitor access with time-stamped records of secret retrieval.

  • Programmatically provision users by leveraging your existing directory service. 

  • Securely sign in with SSO, trusted devices, biometrics, or passkey authentication.

  • Software Development Kits for common programming languages like C#, Swift, Go, Java, Ruby, and Python.

Bitwarden Secrets Manager is trusted by successful companies like AccuRanker and Titanom Technologies.

How to get started with Bitwarden Secrets Manager

If you’re looking for an alternative solution to HashiCorp Vault, you can get started today with Bitwarden Secrets Manager by signing up for a free 7-day trial.

Once you have signed up for an account, create your first project and secret (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Secrets Manager dashboard is where you create your secrets.
Figure 1: The Secrets Manager dashboard is where you create your secrets.

Click New Project and give the project a name. Once on the project page, click New Secret. In the resulting pop-up, give the secret a name and a value, formatted as a key-value pair. Add any necessary notes and click Save.

Next, add a machine account. Machine accounts grant programmatic access to secrets for non-human machines. Add your project to the machine account and create an access token for authentication.  

Lastly, install the CLI tool in your local development environment and use it to retrieve the secrets you've created. You’ll need the secret UUID (universally unique identifier) and machine account access token for this step. Instead of hard-coding the secrets into code, replace them with the UUID! 

To find out more about how the Secrets Manager works, watch this video.

Congratulations, you've just created your first secret in the Bitwarden Secrets Manager.

Sign up for a free trial of Bitwarden Secrets Manager to start coding securely.

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