Pivotal Engineering Journal

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Let's use Vault - Part 2: Setting up Vault

How to configure Vault for your team

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Categories:   GCP    Kubernetes    Vault    Credhub   
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Open Sesame!!

This post provides a guideline of simplest commands that are required to setup vault locally for your team instead of having to wade through all of Hashicorp’s extensive documentation.


This is what we are going to cover in this post:

Initialize the Vault

To make sure everything is working,

export VAULT_ADDR=<https://vault.myteam.ci.cf-app.com>
vault status

When vault first starts up it is in a sealed state. As part of the initialization process, the operators need to generate unseal keys so they can unseal the vault.

We would love to go into more detail but we doubt we could get any clearer than what was written up by Hashicorp themselves. So come back to this post after y’all have read their doc on initializing vault.


So this is what we suggest doing when genereating the unseal keys for Vault.

vault operator init --key-shares=<number-of-team-memebers> --key-threshold=2

This command outputs the unseal keys and an initial root token which will be used to generate users and policies for Vault. Distribute the unseal keys to the respective team memebers via LastPass.

Having a threshold of two ensures that at least two Pivots are required to generate root tokens in the future to perform root operations.

Unsealing the Vault

As mentioned in their docs, the vault is sealed upon start. So we’ll have to use the unseal keys to open the vault.

vault operator unseal

Interesting: The unsealing can be performed by multiple users on multiple machines since it is a stateful operation as long as each user is pointing to the same vault.

After the vault has been unsealed, you can login with the root token.

vault login

Secrets Engines

By default vault has the following secret engines available.

$ vault secrets list
Path          Type         Accessor              Description
----          ----         --------              -----------
cubbyhole/    cubbyhole    cubbyhole_b175a479    per-token private secret storage
identity/     identity     identity_6dc092df     identity store
secret/       kv           kv_cb795fa8           key/value secret storage
sys/          system       system_f29e7832       system endpoints used for control, policy and debugging

Although, we can very easily add another key/value secret engine, we are going to use secret/ for our team sharing purposes. By default secret/ is KV secret engine v1 which doesn’t provide versioning or ability to roll back secrets.

# Check the verison of current `secret/` engine. You should see an object
# "options": { "version": "1" }
vault kv get -format=json -field=secret/ /sys/mounts/
# OR
vault secrets list -format=json


We are not upgrading our KV Engine to v2 because at the time of writing this post, Concourse doesn’t support retrieval of secrets from the vesioned engine (KV Engine v2).

More Info:

Create user accounts for team members

Enable userpass authentication

Vault supports multiple ways allowing users to authenticate against it. For our purposes, we will be using the userpass auth method, which is simply a username/password combination.

# View the current authentication methods. Initially, there should only be `/token`
vault kv get sys/auth
# Enable userpass auth
vault auth enable userpass
# This should show `/userpass` in the list now.
vault kv get sys/auth

More Info:

Create policies for users

Before we actually create the user accounts we want to define some user policies that will allow the users to write to secret/.

Write the following contents into a file /tmp/devs-policy

path "secret/*" {
  capabilities = ["create", "read", "list", "update"]

Then create the policy in vault

vault policy write devs /tmp/dev-policy
vault policy list
vault policy read devs

Create users

vault kv put auth/userpass/users/<username> policies=default,devs password=<generate-a-password>

Yes, the operator creating the users must be trusted to generate the passwords for the rest of the team members. And unfortunately, there isn’t a way to force users to regenerate their passwords.

However, we decided that this userpass auth method is still better than github auth which allows any personal access token that belongs to the user to be used for authentication.

More Info:

  • These issues have more details on the password reset limitation: Issue 1, Issue 2


# Login with the username
vault login -method=userpass <username>
# Displays information about the token or accessor
vault token lookup


vault token revoke -self


If you think you are done configuring Vault, then you should delete the root token.

vault token revoke <root-token>


We will go into details for how to configure vault for your concourse CI