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»What is Vault?
Vault is an identity-based secrets and encryption management system. A secret is anything that you want to tightly control access to, such as API encryption keys, passwords, or certificates. Vault provides encryption services that are gated by authentication and authorization methods. Using Vault’s UI, CLI, or HTTP API, access to secrets and other sensitive data can be securely stored and managed, tightly controlled (restricted), and auditable.
A modern system requires access to a multitude of secrets: database credentials, API keys for external services, credentials for service-oriented architecture communication, etc. Understanding who is accessing what secrets is already very difficult and platform-specific. Adding on key rolling, secure storage, and detailed audit logs is almost impossible without a custom solution. This is where Vault steps in.
Examples work best to showcase Vault. Please see the use cases.
The key features of Vault are:
Secure Secret Storage: Arbitrary key/value secrets can be stored in Vault. Vault encrypts these secrets prior to writing them to persistent storage, so gaining access to the raw storage isn't enough to access your secrets. Vault can write to disk, Consul, and more.
Dynamic Secrets: Vault can generate secrets on-demand for some systems, such as AWS or SQL databases. For example, when an application needs to access an S3 bucket, it asks Vault for credentials, and Vault will generate an AWS keypair with valid permissions on demand. After creating these dynamic secrets, Vault will also automatically revoke them after the lease is up.
Data Encryption: Vault can encrypt and decrypt data without storing it. This allows security teams to define encryption parameters and developers to store encrypted data in a location such as a SQL database without having to design their own encryption methods.
Leasing and Renewal: All secrets in Vault have a lease associated with them. At the end of the lease, Vault will automatically revoke that secret. Clients are able to renew leases via built-in renew APIs.
Revocation: Vault has built-in support for secret revocation. Vault can revoke not only single secrets, but a tree of secrets, for example all secrets read by a specific user, or all secrets of a particular type. Revocation assists in key rolling as well as locking down systems in the case of an intrusion.
»What is HCP Vault?
HCP Vault is a hosted version of Vault, which is operated by HashiCorp to allow organizations to get up and running quickly. HCP Vault uses the same binary as self-hosted Vault, which means you will have a consistent user experience. You can use the same Vault clients to communicate with HCP Vault as you use to communicate with a self-hosted Vault.
Note: Currently, HCP Vault clusters are located on AWS running in multiple regions across North America, Asia, and Europe. We will support additional cloud providers in the future.
To learn more about HCP Vault, see the HCP Vault documentation. You can also get started with HCP Vault by using the HCP portal to set up your managed Vault cluster. Refer to the Getting Started with HCP Vault tutorial.
See the page on Vault use cases to learn about the multiple ways Vault can be used. Then, continue onwards with the Getting Started tutorial to use Vault to read, write, and create real secrets and see how it works in practice.