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Programming language: Haskell
License: BSD 3-clause "New" or "Revised" License
Tags: Cryptography    
Latest version: v0.8.1.0

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keystore: storing secret things

Writing deployment scripts is a critical yet error-prone activity which we would rather do in Haskell. One of the most difficult aspect of deployment scripts is the management of credentials: they cannot be stored in the VCS like almost everything else, but need to be organised and accessed while under lock and key. This is the problem that keystore is trying to solve: flexible, secure and well-typed deployment scripts.

  • This package is written purely in Haskell and all of the cryptographic packages it relies upon are written in Haskell.

  • It stores everything in a JSON format that has proven to be stable. We can can use migrations > in future should the store need to be reorganized.

  • The underlying model is simple and flexible:

    • Named keys: every key has an name within the store that is associated with some secret data. If the secret data for that key is to be stored then it must identify another key in the store that will be used to encrypt the data. (Some keys -- the passwords -- will typically be auto-loaded from environment variables.)
    • Functional model: keys can be deleted and added again but the design encourages the retention of the history. The old keys remain available but deployment scripts will naturally select the latest version of a key. When a key is rotated this merely loads a new generation for the rotated key.
    • Simple metadata: oher information, such as the identity of the key with its originating system (e.g., the identifier of an AWS IAM key) and some arbitrary textual information (the 'comment') may be associated with a key and accessible without recourse to the key or password needed to access the secret information.
    • PKS: the seret may be a RSA private key with the public key stored separately in the cler.
    • MFA: a secret may be protected with multiple named keys, all of which will be needed to recover the secret text.
    • Hashing: all keys can be hashed with an appropriate PBKDF-2 function and the hashes stored in the clear. These hashes may be sued to verify passwords but also can be inserted directly into configuration files for deployment. Precise control of the PBKDF-2 hash paramers is avaiable.
    • Hierarchical organization: keys can be stored in different sections with each key being protected by a master key for that section. Sections can be configured to store the master keys of other sections thereby gaining acces to all of the keys in those sections and the keys they have access to.
    • Systems integratio: keys can automatically loaded from Environment variables. Typically a keystore session will start by settingb up an environment variable for the deployment section corresponding for the node that you need to deploy to. This will provide access to precisely the keys whose secrets you need to carry out the deployment and no more. It only needs access to the hashes of admin keys then they can be placed in separate higher-level admin sections. Provided care is taken preparing the environment you will not deploy to the wrong host (e.g., a live server rather than a staging server, or the wrong live server) because those keys will not be accessible.
    • Configuration control: the parameters controling the encryption and hashing functions can be set up independently in each section of the store, allowing for heavier hashing to be used on live servers and light hashing to be used on development and staging servers where authentication needs to be quick.
    • Keystore integrity: the keystore can be signed and every operation made to check that the keystore matches its signature (and the public signing key matches an independent copy on the client).
    • External crypto operations: keys in the keystore can be used to sign or encrypt external obejcts (provided they can be loaded into memory).
  • The keystore package has several layers. Most users will probably need only the top "batteries-included" layer:

    • Data.KeyStore.Sections: this provides a high-level model that allows a flexible hierarchical keystore to be set up relatively easily. See the 'deploy' examplefor details.
    • Data.KeyStore.CLI : This provides a stanalone program for inspecting and editing your keystores. It can also be embedded into your own deployment app. See the deploy example for details.
    • Data.KeyStore.PasswordManager provides a password manager which each user can use to setup their own local password store for holding the deployment passwords and session tokens used to autheticate the server.
    • Data.KeyStore.IO: this library provides general programatic access to a keystore through IO primitives. See the source code for the Sections for an example of this module in use.
    • Data.KeyStore.KS: this library provides general programatic access to a keystore through functional KS primitives. See the source code for the IO for an exteded example this system in action.
    • Data.KeyStore.Types: This provides access to keystores at the types level.

Launch Instructions

Set yourself up with a ghc-7.6.3 or ghc-7.8.3 environment as appropriate.

cabal install keystore

In addition to the keystore package library, this will establish in you cabal bin directory the ks and deploy binaries. ks is the generic programme for inspecting and editing keystores.

ks --help

will list the commands but they are no good to you because, apart from the trivial ones (like version), they need a keystore to operate on.

The deploy example can get us going.

Generally the first step in setting up a keystore is to set up all of the master passwords it will need for each of its sections in the environment using your favourite random password generator. Your deployment app could provide a template for this:

deploy sample-script

will in the current version ( print this:

export KEY_pw_top=secret-top;
export KEY_pw_signing=secret-signing;
export KEY_pw_eu_admin=secret-eu_admin;
export KEY_pw_eu_deploy=secret-eu_deploy;
export KEY_pw_eu_staging=secret-eu_staging;
export KEY_pw_us_admin=secret-us_admin;
export KEY_pw_us_deploy=secret-us_deploy;
export KEY_pw_us_staging=secret-us_staging;
export KEY_pw_dev=secret-dev;
export KEY_pw_session=secret-session;

(These passwords can be more conveniently managed by the password manager described below, but we will describe that separately.)

Having created the keystore you may want to clear down these definitions in which case it may be best to do this in a sub-shell.

# in the sub-shell eval the script to set up the variables with
# just the sample values
eval $(deploy sample-script)
# now we create the keystore, setting up the sections with the above passwords,
# including the special 'signing' and 'top' sections
deploy intialise
# keystore is set up but has not been signed; any attempt to use it will
# result in an error (you can try skipping thisn step and see what happens)
deploy sign
# the keystore has no useful deployment keys, so we can rotate in the initial
# set by running the rotate script with no filter arguments; this example
# just loads some stadard data for each key but in a real system random
# keys would be generated or they would be laoded from a secure staging area,
# depending upon the type of key
deploy rotate
deploy sign
# the keystore is loaded: we can now list the keys
deploy ks list
# this uses the generic 'ks' embedded in the 'deploy' app. We can also use
# the 'ks' command directly.
ks --store deploy-keystore.json list
# but now we have to tell it where to find our test keystore.
# Note that every key has a 'T' listed immediately after the ':' indicating that
# the secret text for the key is accessible. This is because the passwords for
# all of the keys are still bound in the environment providing access to all
# of the keys. We can inspect one of them:
deploy ks show-secret eu_admin_super_api_001
With all of the passwords present this looks just like a flat keystore. Let's
clear down the passwords and exit the sub-shell.

Now if we try to show the secret again

deploy ks show-secret eu_admin_super_api_001

We get an error message complaining that the secret is not present.

If we list the keystore now we see the 'T' flags indicating that the secret text for a key is accessible have all disappeared.

deploy ks list

To deploy a host we specify the host we use the deploy subcommand, specifying the host that we want to deploy to.

deploy deploy --help

We can list the hosts to see what is available:

deploy list-hosts

In this context a 'deployment' will just make up a configuration file populated with all the identifiers, hashes and secret keys that we need. (A real deployment app might upload the configuration file along with a package into a staging area triggering a daemon to carry out the deployment.

Supposing we choose to deploy to live_eu.

deploy deploy live_eu

But this won't work -- the deployment app can see none of the passwords it needs nad so reports an error on the first one it tries to load.

We need to set up the live_eu deployment password in our environment.

export KEY_pw_eu_deploy=secret-eu_deploy;

Now if we list the key store we can see that just the keys we need have the 'T' against then, including the keys in the eu_deploy, eu_staging and dev sections, but none of the keys in the us_* sections or the two passwords in the eu_admin sections. The secrets from those sections are not needed for a deployment, merely the hahses. (You will see other keys starting with, for example, save_ and pw_: these are part of the devices to arrange the sections into the intended hierarchy).

deploy deploy live_eu

This should now print out an apropriatly filled out JSON configuration file.

The Password Manager

You can use the password manager to manage your deployment passwords and client session tokens. While the keystore is a shared store with hierarchical access, each user would maintain their own password store.

The Data.KeyStore.PasswordManager module provides the API for the password manager which has been set up with the deploy example program.

Each user sets up and manages their own password store with the deploy pm sub-commands (see deploy pm --help). To setup a store,

deploy pm setup

This will prompt you for a password and sets up an encrypted password store in the location configured by deploy (pwstore.dat in the current directory). The password is hashed to form a key which must be bound in the environment in the designated environment variable (DEPLOY_MASTER in this case, but it is configurable).

By default the setup command runs an interactive shell with DEPLOY_MASTER setup so that your private encrypted store is accessible. Once you exit this shell the key will no longer be bound in the environmant and the encrypted store will be insaccessible. To access the store again, user the login command, which will prompt for a password and launch another interactive shell with the DEPLOY_MASTER setup with the requisite encryption key:

deploy pm setup

The password manager has been set up with a corresponding sample script for loading the keystore.

deploy pm sample-load-script

The current version ( displays this sample script:

deploy pm comment 'loaded by the sample script' ;
deploy pm load top          secret-top           # 'top key: accesses everything' ;
deploy pm load signing      secret-signing       # 'keystore signing key'       ;
deploy pm load eu_admin     secret-eu_admin      # 'eu admin keys'              ;
deploy pm load eu_deploy    secret-eu_deploy     # 'eu deploy keys'             ;
deploy pm load eu_staging   secret-eu_staging    # 'eu staging deployment keys' ;
deploy pm load us_admin     secret-us_admin      # 'us admin keys'              ;
deploy pm load us_deploy    secret-us_deploy     # 'us deploy keys'             ;
deploy pm load us_staging   secret-us_staging    # 'us staging keys'            ;
deploy pm load dev          secret-dev           # 'dev deployment keys'        ;
deploy pm load session      secret-session       # 'client sessions tokens'     ;

N.B. Everything after the '#' is treated as a comment and is ignored.

(N.B. The sample passwords have changed from earlier versions of this package, so if you have a sample keystore created by an earlier version you will have to adjust this script to use the old passwords to access the old keystore.)

Note that each password has been assigned a password manager name, corresponding to the environment variable it is managing. (We could have used the environment variable names like KEY_pw_top instead of top but the environment variable names are typically unwieldy to ensure they dont colide with any other environment variables being used by the system.)

The quickest way to get going is probably this:

deploy pm sample-load-script | bash

Now you can try a deployment:

deploy deploy dev

This works without the need to bind KEY_pw_dev in the environment: before loading the keystore the deployment software calls out to the password manager to collect the passwords it needs. The password manager uses the DEPLOY_MASTER key bound in the environment to decrypt the password store and bind the individual passwords into the environment for the deployment scripts to pick up. (Because this is all done in a sub-process they will all be discarded once the process that executed the deploy command has completed.)

Priming Passwords

This can all become too convenient! It is easy to imagine logging into the password manager to test a development server and accidentally deploying a production server. The help protect against such accidents the password manager can be told that certain passwords are to be considered special and are not to be loaded into the environment by default -- they will need to be primed for use.

The following will not work by itself, for example:

deploy deploy live_eu

Of course, you could set the export KEY_pw_eu_deploy manually as above, but you could also tell the password manager that you want to use it before issuing the deploy command.

deploy pm prime eu_deploy
deploy deploy live_eu

Sometimes you may wish to prime all of the passwords -- to rotate them all, for example:

deploy pm prime-all
deploy rotate
deploy sign

If you change your mind you can also un-prime them:

deploy pm prime-all -u

Inspecting Passwords

The following commands are available to inspect the state of session and the store.

deploy pm status
deploy pm passwords
deploy pm info top

The status command gives the status of the login session; the passwords command lists all of the passwords (note the -s in the second column for one-shot passwords that need priming, which turn into '+'s on priming); the info command provides information on an individual passwords, including textual notes.


One of the motivation for the password manager was to manage sessions tokens generated by the server for the client to authenticate with. The session password was created for this purpose. The only way that session passwords differ from ordinary passwords (apart from the fact thet they will be used by a server cleint rather than deployment scripts) is that the session passwords can each store multiple tokens, and these tokens get parsed to extract session names. Each client must provide the parsers as part of the password manager configuration, and the deploy session parsers assume that everything before the first : in the token identifies the session.

The sample script loaded a single session

deploy pm load session      secret-session

As there is no : the whole token is assumed to name the session. The sessions can be listed with the sessions command:

deploy pm sessions

which should produce something like this:

secret-session     2014-09-08 19:50 [ACTIVE]

If you load another token, with a different name then that session will be added and selected as the current session, but the original session gets stacked.

deploy pm load master:very-secret

If we look at the sessions,

deploy pm sessions

we see two, with the new master session selected:

master           - 2014-09-08 20:55 [ACTIVE]
secret-session     2014-09-08 19:50

We can try our sample client:

deploy client

which produces


The problem is that the token parser has decided to marke this session as a one-shot password that needs to be primed each time it is used. The - above was indicating this.

We can try our sample client:

deploy prime session
deploy client

which produces



Importing Password Stores

You can also import the contents of one password store into another. To load the above example passwords from an example password store:

deploy pm import examples/deploy/example-pwstore.dat deploy

The imported store's comment, passwords and sessions will be inserted into current store, replace any like-named passwords and sessions and leaving the rest. It can be used to securely circulate a password set and to change the password of a store (by create a new store under the new password, importing the old passwords and deleting the old store).

Dynamic Passwords

In addition to setting up a static list of passwords you may need to manage a dynamic class of passwords, where you do not know the number of passwords or their names. To do this, specify a '+' in front of the password name when loading it. For example,

deploy pm load +john secret-of-john

These passwords will get loaded into the environment when the passwords get collected according to the password store's configuration. The name of the pasword can be the same as any of your named static passwords without confusion. It can be listed with passwords-plus inspected with info and deleted with delete.