» Lease, Renew, and Revoke

With every dynamic secret and authentication token, Vault creates a lease: metadata containing information such as a time duration, renewability, and more. Vault promises that the data will be valid for the given duration, or Time To Live (TTL). Once the lease is expired, Vault can automatically revoke the data, and the consumer of the secret can no longer be certain that it is valid.

The benefit should be clear: consumers of secrets need to check in with Vault routinely to either renew the lease (if allowed) or request a replacement secret. This makes the Vault audit logs more valuable and also makes key rolling a lot easier.

All dynamic secrets in Vault are required to have a lease. Even if the data is meant to be valid for eternity, a lease is required to force the consumer to check in routinely.

In addition to renewals, a lease can be revoked. When a lease is revoked, it invalidates that secret immediately and prevents any further renewals. For example, with the AWS secrets engine, the access keys will be deleted from AWS the moment a lease is revoked. This renders the access keys invalid from that point forward.

Revocation can happen manually via the API, via the vault revoke cli command, or automatically by Vault. When a lease is expired, Vault will automatically revoke that lease.

Note: The Key/Value Backend which stores arbitrary secrets does not issue leases.

» Lease IDs

When reading a dynamic secret, such as via vault read, Vault always returns a lease_id. This is the ID used with commands such as vault renew and vault revoke to manage the lease of the secret.

» Lease Durations and Renewal

Along with the lease ID, a lease duration can be read. The lease duration is a Time To Live value: the time in seconds for which the lease is valid. A consumer of this secret must renew the lease within that time.

When renewing the lease, the user can request a specific amount of time from now to extend the lease. For example: vault renew my-lease-id 3600 would request to extend the lease of "my-lease-id" by 1 hour (3600 seconds).

The requested increment is completely advisory. The backend in charge of the secret can choose to completely ignore it. For most secrets, the backend does its best to respect the increment, but often limits it to ensure renewals every so often.

As a result, the return value of renewals should be carefully inspected to determine what the new lease is.

Note: Prior to version 0.3, Vault documentation and help text did not distinguish sufficiently between a lease and a lease duration. Starting with version 0.3, Vault will start migrating to the term ttl to describe lease durations, at least for user-facing text. As lease duration is still a legitimate (but more verbose) description, there are currently no plans to change the JSON key used in responses, in order to retain backwards-compatibility.

» Prefix-based Revocation

In addition to revoking a single secret, operators with proper access control can revoke multiple secrets based on their lease ID prefix.

Lease IDs are structured in a way that their prefix is always the path where the secret was requested from. This lets you revoke trees of secrets. For example, to revoke all AWS access keys, you can do vault revoke -prefix aws/.

This is very useful if there is an intrusion within a specific system: all secrets of a specific backend or a certain configured backend can be revoked quickly and easily.