Sooner or later, you will find yourself adding sensitive data into Ansible playbooks, host or group vars files.Such information might include MySQL DB credentials, AWS secret keys, API credentials etc. Including such sensitive information in plain text might not be acceptable for security compliance reasons or even lead to your systems being owned when your company hires a third party to do pen testing and worst yet by outside hackers. In addition to this, sharing such playbooks to public repositories such as github won’t be easy as you have to manually search and redact all the sensitive information from all your playbooks, and as we know manual procedure is not always error prone. You might ‘forget’ to remove some of the paswords.

One solution for this is a password vault to hold all your sensitive data, and Ansible provides a utitility called ansible-vault to create this encrypted file and the data can be extracted when running your playbooks with a single option. This is equivalent to Chef’s data bag.

In this blog post, I will share with you how to use a secret key file to protect sensitive data in Ansible with ansible-vault utility. The simplest use case is to protect the encrypted file with a password or passphrase, but that is not convinient as you have to type the password everytime you run a playbook and is not as strong as a key file with hundreds or thousands of random characters. Thus the steps below describe only the procedure for setting up a secret key file rather than a password protected encrypted file. Let us get started.

The first step is to generate a key file containing a random list of characters –

#openssl rand -base64 512 |xargs > /opt/ansible/vaultkey

Create or initialize the vault with the key file generated above –

#ansible-vault create --vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/vaultkey /opt/ansible/lamp/group_vars/dbservers.yml

Populate your vault, refer to Ansible documentation on the format of the vault file –

#ansible-vault edit --vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/vaultkey /opt/ansible/lamp/group_vars/dbservers.yml

You can view the contents by replacing ‘edit’ with ‘view’ –

#ansible-vault view --vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/vaultkey /opt/ansible/lamp/group_vars/dbservers.yml

That is it, you have a secret key file to protect and encrypt a YAML file containing all your sensitive variables to be used in your ansible playbooks.

There comes a time though when you have to change the secret key file, say an admin leaves the company after winning the Mega jackbot lottery 🙂 We have to generate a new key file and rekey the encrypted file as soon as possible –

Generate a new key file –

#openssl rand -base64 512 |xargs > /opt/ansible/

Rekey to new key file –

#ansible-vault rekey --new-vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/ --vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/vaultkey
Rekey successful

Verify –

#ansible-vault view --vault-password-file=/opt/ansible/ /opt/ansible/lamp/group_vars/dbservers.yml

Last but not least, make sure the secret key file is well protected and is readable only by the owner.

#chmod 600 /opt/ansible/

Finally, you can use the vault with ansible-playbook. In this case, I am running it against site.yml which is a master playbook to setup a LAMP cluster in AWS (pulling the AWS instances using dynamic inventory script) –

#ansible-playbook -i /usr/local/bin/ site.yml --vault-password-file /opt/ansible/