The Importance of Credential Rotations: Best Practices for Security and Data Protection

The Importance Of Credential Rotations Best Practices For Security And Data Protection

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The Significance of Credential Rotations

In today’s digital landscape, the significance of regular credential rotations cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, not all organizations recognize the critical importance of this practice. However, we at HackerOne stand as a testament to the effectiveness of regular rotations in bolstering cybersecurity. Here’s why it’s a big deal:

  1. Minimizing the Impact of Exploits: By consistently rotating credentials, we substantially reduce the potential impact of previously unknown exploits or breaches. Regular rotation ensures that any compromise is short-lived and confined in its scope.
  2. Learning from Past Incidents: One prime example of the power of credential rotation is the Travis CI credential leak incident in 2021. By learning from such incidents, we can see that proactive credential rotation would have greatly limited the damage caused.
  3. Championing Data Protection: Regular credential rotations align with data protection and privacy regulations, demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding sensitive information and maintaining compliance.
  4. A Team Effort: While the effort might be substantial, the rewards are even greater. The collective strength of cross-functional teams working together to ensure these rotations manifest as an unwavering dedication to security.
  5. Future-Proofing Systems: By consistently updating credentials and protocols, we future-proof our systems against evolving threats, allowing us to stay one step ahead of potential adversaries.

While it’s true that implementing regular credential rotations is not a small endeavor, the benefits far outweigh the effort. Our Infrastructure team dedicates a significant portion of their resources to ensure the process runs smoothly. This often entails a dedicated sprint, including a maintenance window for necessary downtime. The investment in time and resources pales in comparison to the potential risks of not practicing regular rotations.

Understanding Credential Rotation

Credential rotation involves the systematic changing of tokens, credentials, or any sensitive secrets from their current values to new, unique values. This process ensures that potential attackers or unauthorized entities are kept at bay, even if they might have somehow gained access to previous credentials. At HackerOne, we manage approximately 350 of these crucial values, securely stored within HashiCorp Vault. These credentials encompass a wide range of sensitive information, spanning from passwords to service tokens, SSH keys, and encrypted values – essentially anything that could potentially compromise the security of our systems and data.

The scope of these rotations is expansive. They may vary from automated processes to manual interventions, and their execution might necessitate application downtime or even vendor involvement. To streamline this complex endeavor, our dedicated team has developed innovative solutions, notably our Secret Agent tool, which aids in automating and orchestrating many aspects of credential rotation.

Categories of Credentials

We categorize our credentials into three distinct tiers based on their significance and potential impact:

Critical Material (A)

This category comprises credentials that hold immense power and could lead to severe repercussions if compromised. Credentials falling under this category can be exploited via the internet without requiring a second factor, posing significant risks. These include credentials for services like PayPal, Stripe, and Workday.

Material (B)

The Material category encompasses credentials that can be accessed either through the local network or the internet, but with an added layer of security – a second factor is necessary for their usage. Compromise of these credentials could result in the disclosure of sensitive business data or cause partial system downtime. Examples of Material credentials are Snowflake, PostgreSQL databases, and certain GitLab tokens.

Non-Material (C)

This category encompasses all other credentials that have an impact, albeit less significant than the previous two categories. While they might not cause extensive damage, they are by no means negligible. Credentials such as core access for Capture The Flag (CTF) events or email credentials for our core operations fall into this category, as well as access keys for tools like Datadog.

When and Who Performs Credential Rotations

At HackerOne, we adhere to a well-structured timeline for credential rotations:

1. Annually in September: Regularly, each year, during the month of September, we perform comprehensive credential rotations across all categories. This scheduled practice ensures that our systems remain robust and adaptable in the face of evolving threats.

2. Employee Transitions: Whenever an employee with access to Category A or B secrets leaves the company, we swiftly initiate rotation protocols. This guarantees that any potential access they might retain becomes obsolete and ineffective.

3. Security Vulnerabilities: In response to potential security vulnerabilities that could compromise our credentials, we act swiftly to rotate the relevant credentials, ensuring that any potential breach is swiftly mitigated.

The task of executing these rotations is a collaborative effort, involving several teams across HackerOne:

  • Infrastructure
  • IT
  • Security
  • Compliance
  • Engineering
  • Marketing


In conclusion, HackerOne firmly advocates for the adoption of regular credential rotations as a cornerstone of effective cybersecurity practices. By taking this proactive approach, organizations can significantly mitigate risks, safeguard sensitive information, and uphold their commitment to data protection. We invite you to join us in this security journey, securing the digital landscape one credential rotation at a time. To secure more than just credentials and find vulnerabilities missed by scanners alone, check out HackerOne Code Security Audit.


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