Secrets Revealed in Container Images: An Internet-wide Study on Occurrence and Impact


Containerization allows bundling applications and their dependencies into a single image. The containerization framework Docker eases the use of this concept and enables sharing images publicly, gaining high momentum. However, it can lead to users creating and sharing images that include private keys or API secrets—either by mistake or out of negligence. This leakage impairs the creator’s security and that of everyone using the image. Yet, the extent of this practice and how to counteract it remains unclear. In this paper, we analyze 337,171 images from Docker Hub and 8,076 other private registries unveiling that 8.5% of images indeed include secrets. Specifically, we find 52,107 private keys and 3,158 leaked API secrets, both opening a large attack surface, i.e., putting authentication and confidentiality of privacy-sensitive data at stake and even allow active attacks. We further document that those leaked keys are used in the wild: While we discovered 1,060 certificates relying on compromised keys being issued by public certificate authorities, based on further active Internet measurements, we find 275,269 TLS and SSH hosts using leaked private keys for authentication. To counteract this issue, we discuss how our methodology can be used to prevent secret leakage and reuse.

Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ASIACCS ‘23), July 10-14, 2023, Melbourne, VIC, Australia