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Sealed Secrets

So you're sold on GitOps, you're using the flux deployment strategy to deploy all your applications into your cluster, and you sleep like a baby 🍼 at night, knowing that you could rebuild your cluster with a few commands, given every change is stored in git's history.

But what about your secrets?

In Kubernetes, a "Secret" is a "teeny-weeny" bit more secure ConfigMap, in that it's base-64 encoded to prevent shoulder-surfing, and access to secrets can be restricted (separately to ConfigMaps) using Kubernetes RBAC. In some cases, applications deployed via helm expect to find existing secrets within the cluster, containing things like AWS credentials (External DNS, Cert Manager), admin passwords (Grafana), etc.

They're still not very secret though, and you certainly wouldn't want to be storing base64-encoded secrets in a git repository, public or otherwise!

An elegant solution to this problem is Bitnami Labs' Sealed Secrets.

Sealed Secrets illustration

A "SealedSecret" can only be decrypted (and turned back into a regular Secret) by the controller in the target cluster. (or by a controller in another cluster which has been primed with your own private/public pair) This means the SealedSecret is safe to store and expose anywhere.



  • Your own private/public PEM certificate pair for secret encryption/decryption (ideal but not required)


Install kubeseal CLI

With Homebrew for macOS and Linux:

brew install kubeseal

With Bash for macOS and Linux:

(Update for whatever the latest release is)

wget -O kubeseal
sudo install -m 755 kubeseal /usr/local/bin/kubeseal


We need a namespace to deploy our HelmRelease and associated ConfigMaps into. Per the flux design, I create this in my flux repo at flux-system/namespaces/namespace-sealed-secrets.yaml:

Example Namespace (click to expand)
apiVersion: v1
kind: Namespace
  name: sealed-secrets


Next, we need to define a HelmRepository (a repository of helm charts), to which we'll refer when we create the HelmRelease. We only need to do this once per-repository. Per the flux design, I create this in my flux repo at flux-system/helmrepositories/helmrepository-sealedsecrets.yaml:

Example HelmRepository (click to expand)
kind: HelmRepository
  name: sealed-secrets
  namespace: flux-system
  interval: 15m


Now that the "global" elements of this deployment (just the HelmRepository in this case*z) have been defined, we do some "flux-ception", and go one layer deeper, adding another Kustomization, telling flux to deploy any YAMLs found in the repo at /sealed-secrets. I create this Kustomization in my flux repo at flux-system/kustomizations/kustomization-sealed-secrets.yaml:

Example Kustomization (click to expand)
kind: Kustomization
  name: sealed-secrets
  namespace: flux-system
  interval: 15m
  path: ./sealed-secrets
  prune: true # remove any elements later removed from the above path
  timeout: 2m # if not set, this defaults to interval duration, which is 1h
    kind: GitRepository
    name: flux-system
  validation: server
    - apiVersion: apps/v1
      kind: Deployment
      name: sealed-secrets
      namespace: sealed-secrets


Now we're into the sealed-secrets-specific YAMLs. First, we create a ConfigMap, containing the entire contents of the helm chart's values.yaml. Paste the values into a values.yaml key as illustrated below, indented 4 tabs (since they're "encapsulated" within the ConfigMap YAML). I create this in my flux repo at sealed-secrets/configmap-sealed-secrets-helm-chart-value-overrides.yaml:

Example ConfigMap (click to expand)
apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
creationTimestamp: null
name: sealed-secrets-helm-chart-value-overrides
namespace: sealed-secrets
values.yaml: |-
    tag: v0.17.0
    pullPolicy: IfNotPresent
    pullSecret: ""

    resources: {}
    nodeSelector: {}
    tolerations: []
    affinity: {}

    # controller.create: `true` if Sealed Secrets controller should be created
    create: true
    # controller.labels: Extra labels to be added to controller deployment
    labels: {}
    # controller.service: Configuration options for controller service
        # controller.service.labels: Extra labels to be added to controller service
        labels: {}

    # namespace: Namespace to deploy the controller.
    namespace: ""

    # serviceAccount.create: Whether to create a service account or not
    create: true
    # serviceAccount.labels: Extra labels to be added to service account
    labels: {}
    # The name of the service account to create or use
    name: ""

    # rbac.create: `true` if rbac resources should be created
    create: true
    # rbac.labels: Extra labels to be added to rbac resources
    labels: {}
    pspEnabled: false

    # secretName: The name of the TLS secret containing the key used to encrypt secrets
    secretName: "sealed-secrets-key"

    enabled: false
    annotations: {}
        # nginx
        # "true"
    path: /v1/cert.pem
        - chart-example.local
    tls: []
    #  - secretName: chart-example-tls
    #    hosts:
    #      - chart-example.local

    # crd.create: `true` if the crd resources should be created
    create: true
    # crd.keep: `true` if the sealed secret CRD should be kept when the chart is deleted
    keep: true

    networkPolicy: false

    # securityContext.runAsUser defines under which user the operator Pod and its containers/processes run.
    runAsUser: 1001
    # securityContext.fsGroup defines the filesystem group
    fsGroup: 65534

    podAnnotations: {}

    podLabels: {}

    priorityClassName: ""

    # Enables ServiceMonitor creation for the Prometheus Operator
    create: false
    # How frequently Prometheus should scrape the ServiceMonitor
    # Extra labels to apply to the sealed-secrets ServiceMonitor
    # The namespace where the ServiceMonitor is deployed, defaults to the installation namespace
    # The timeout after which the scrape is ended

    # If enabled, sealed-secrets will create a configmap with a dashboard in json that's going to be picked up by grafana
    # See - `sidecar.dashboards.enabled`
    create: false
    # Extra labels to apply to the dashboard configmaps
    # The namespace where the dashboards are deployed, defaults to the installation namespace

That's a lot of unnecessary text!

Why not just paste in the subset of values I want to change?

You know what's harder than working out which values from a 2000-line values.yaml to change?

Answer: Working out what values to change when the upstream helm chart has refactored or added options! By pasting in the entirety of the upstream chart, when it comes time to perform upgrades, you can just duplicate your ConfigMap YAML, paste the new values into one of the copies, and compare them side by side to ensure your original values/decisions persist in the new chart.

Then work your way through the values you pasted, and change any which are specific to your configuration (I stick with the defaults).


Lastly, having set the scene above, we define the HelmRelease which will actually deploy the sealed-secrets controller into the cluster, with the config we defined above. I save this in my flux repo as sealed-secrets/helmrelease-sealed-secrets.yaml:

Example HelmRelease (click to expand)
kind: HelmRelease
  name: sealed-secrets
  namespace: sealed-secrets
      chart: sealed-secrets
      version: 1.x
        kind: HelmRepository
        name: sealed-secrets
        namespace: flux-system
  interval: 15m
  timeout: 5m
  releaseName: sealed-secrets
  - kind: ConfigMap
    name: sealed-secrets-helm-chart-value-overrides
    valuesKey: values.yaml # This is the default, but best to be explicit for clarity

Why not just put config in the HelmRelease?

While it's true that we could embed values directly into the HelmRelease YAML, this becomes unweildy with large helm charts. It's also simpler (less likely to result in error) if changes to HelmReleases, which affect deployment of the chart, are defined in separate files to changes in helm chart values, which affect operation of the chart.


Commit your files to your flux repo, and wait until you see pods show up in the sealed-secrets namespace.

Now you're ready to seal some secrets!

Sealing a secret

To generate sealed secrets, we need the public key that the controller has generated. On a host with a valid KUBECONFIG env var, pointing to a kubeconfig file with cluster-admin privileges, run the following to retrieve the public key for the sealed secrets (this is the public key, it doesn't need to be specifically protected)

kubeseal --fetch-cert \
--controller-name=sealed-secrets \
--controller-namespace=sealed-secrets \
> pub-cert.pem

Now generate a kubernetes secret locally, using kubectl --dry-run=client, as illustrated below:

echo -n batman | kubectl create secret \
  generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json

The result should look like this:

    "kind": "Secret",
    "apiVersion": "v1",
    "metadata": {
        "name": "mysecret",
        "creationTimestamp": null
    "data": {
        "foo": "YmF0bWFu"

Note that "YmF0bWFu", base64 decoded, will reveal the top-secret secret. Not so secret, Batman!

Next, pipe the secret (in json format) to kubeseal, referencing the public key, and you'll get a totally un-decryptable "sealed" secret in return:

  echo -n batman | kubectl create secret \
  generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json \
  | kubeseal --cert pub-cert.pem

Resulting in something like this:

  "kind": "SealedSecret",
  "apiVersion": "",
  "metadata": {
    "name": "mysecret",
    "namespace": "default",
    "creationTimestamp": null
  "spec": {
    "template": {
      "metadata": {
        "name": "mysecret",
        "namespace": "default",
        "creationTimestamp": null
      "data": null
    "encryptedData": {
      "foo": "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"

Who set the namespace to default?

By default, sealed secrets can only be "unsealed" in the same namespace for which the original secret was created. In the example above, we didn't explicitly specity a namespace when creating our secret, so the default namespace was used.

Apply the sealed secret to the cluster...

  echo -n batman | kubectl create secret \
  generic mysecret --dry-run=client --from-file=foo=/dev/stdin -o json \
  | kubeseal --cert pub-cert.pem \
  | kubectl create -f -

And watch the sealed-secrets controller decrypt it, and turn it into a regular secrets, using kubectl logs -n sealed-secrets -l

2021/11/16 10:37:16 Event(v1.ObjectReference{Kind:"SealedSecret", Namespace:"default", Name:"mysecret", 
UID:"82ac8c4b-c167-400e-8768-51957364f6b9", APIVersion:"", ResourceVersion:"147314", 
FieldPath:""}): type: 'Normal' reason: 'Unsealed' SealedSecret unsealed successfully

Finally, confirm that the secret now exists in the default namespace:

root@shredder:/tmp# kubectl get secret mysecret -o yaml
apiVersion: v1
  foo: YmF0bWFu
kind: Secret
  creationTimestamp: "2021-11-16T10:37:16Z"
  name: mysecret
  namespace: default
  - apiVersion:
    controller: true
    kind: SealedSecret
    name: mysecret
    uid: 82ac8c4b-c167-400e-8768-51957364f6b9
  resourceVersion: "147315"
  uid: 6f6ba81c-c9a2-45bc-877c-7a8b50afde83
type: Opaque

So we now have a means to store an un-decryptable secret in our flux repo, and have only our cluster be able to convert that sealedsecret into a regular secret!

Based on our flux deployment strategy, we simply seal up any necessary secrets into the appropriate folder in the flux repository, and have them decrypted and unsealed into the running cluster. For example, if we needed a secret for metallb called "magic-password", containing a key "location-of-rabbit", we'd do this:

  kubectl create secret generic magic-password \
  --namespace metallb-system \
  --dry-run=client \
  --from-literal=location-of-rabbit=top-hat -o json \
  | kubeseal --cert pub-cert.pem \
  | kubectl create -f - \
  > <path to repo>/metallb/sealedsecret-magic-password.yaml

Once flux reconciled the above sealedsecret, the sealedsecrets controller in the cluster would confirm that it's able to decrypt the secret, and would create the corresponding regular secret.

Using our own keypair

One flaw in the process above is that we rely on the sealedsecrets controller to generate its own public/private keypair. This means that the pair (and therefore all the encrypted secrets) are specific to this cluster (and this instance of the sealedsecrets controller) only.

To go "fully GitOps", we'd want to be able to rebuild our entire cluster "from scratch" using our flux repository. If the keypair is recreated when a new cluster is built, then the existing sealedsecrets would remain forever "sealed"..

The solution here is to generate our own public/private keypair, and to store the private key safely and securely outside of the flux repo1. We'll only need the key once, when deploying a fresh instance of the sealedsecrets controller.

Once you've got the public/private key pair, create them as kubernetes secrets directly in the cluster, like this:

kubectl -n sealed-secrets create secret tls my-own-certs \
  --cert="<path to public key>" --key="<path to private key>"

And then "label" the secret you just created, so that the sealedsecrets controller knows that it's special:

kubectl -n sealed-secrets label secret my-own-certs \

Restart the sealedsecret controller deployment, to force it to detect the new secret:

root@shredder:~# kubectl rollout restart -n sealed-secrets deployment sealed-secrets
deployment.apps/sealed-secrets restarted

And now when you create your seadsecrets, refer to the public key you just created using --cert <path to cert>. These secrets will be decryptable by any sealedsecrets controller bootstrapped with the same keypair (above).

Chef's notes 📓

  1. There's no harm in storing the public key in the repo though, which means it's easy to refer to when sealing secrets. 

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    Last update: November 22, 2021
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