groupsecret - A simple tool for maintaining a shared group secret


version 0.304


    groupsecret [--version] [--help] [-f <filepath>] [-k <privatekey_path>]
                <command> [<args>]

    groupsecret add-key [--embed] [--update] <publickey_path> ...

    groupsecret delete-key <fingerprint>|<publickey_path> ...

    groupsecret list-keys

    groupsecret set-secret [--keep-passphrase] <path>|-|rand:<num_bytes>

    groupsecret [print-secret] [--no-decrypt]


groupsecret is a program that makes it easy for groups to share a secret between themselves without exposing the secret to anyone else. It could be used, for example, by a team to share an ansible-vault(1) password; see "ansible-vault" for more about this particular use case.

The goal of this program is to be easy to use and have few dependencies (or only have dependencies users are likely to already have installed).

groupsecret works by encrypting a secret with a symmetric cipher protected by a secure random passphrase which is itself encrypted by one or more SSH2 RSA public keys. Only those who have access to one of the corresponding private keys are able to decrypt the passphrase and access the secret.

The encrypted secret and passphrase are stored in a single keyfile. You can even commit the keyfile in a public repo or in a private repo where some untrusted users may have read access; the secret is locked away to all except those with a private key to a corresponding public key that has been added to the keyfile.

The keyfile is just a YAML file, so it's human-readable (except of course for the encrypted parts). This make it easy to add to version control and work with diffs. You can edit the keyfile by hand if you learn its very simple structure, but this program makes it even easier to manage the keyfile.



Print the program name and version to STDOUT, and exit.

Alias: -v


Print the synopsis to STDOUT, and exit.

Alias: -h


Specify a path to a keyfile which stores a secret and keys.

Defaults to the value of the environment variable "GROUPSECRET_KEYFILE" or groupsecret.yml.

Alias: -f


Specify a path to a PEM private key. This is used by some commands to decrypt the passphrase that protects the secret and is ignored by commands that don't need it.

Defaults to the value of the environment variable "GROUPSECRET_PRIVATE_KEY" or ~/.ssh/id_rsa.

Alias: -k



    groupsecret add-key path/to/

Adds one or more SSH2 RSA public keys to a keyfile. This allows the secret contained within the keyfile to be accessed by whoever has the corresponding private key.

If the --embed option is used, the public keys will be embeded in the keyfile. This may be a useful way to make sure the actual keys are available in the future since they could be needed to encrypt a new passphrase if it ever needs to be changed. Keys that are not embedded will be searched for in the filesystem; see "GROUPSECRET_PATH".

If the --update option is used and a key with the same fingerprint is added, the new key will replace the existing key. The default behavior is to skip existing keys.

If the keyfile is storing a secret, the passphrase protecting the secret will need to be decrypted so that access to the secret can be shared with the new key(s).

Alias: add-keys


    groupsecret delete-key MD5:89:b3:fb:76:6c:f9:56:8e:a8:1a:df:ba:1c:ba:7d:05
    groupsecret delete-key path/to/

Deletes one or more keys from a keyfile. This prevents the secret contained within the keyfile from being accessed by whoever has the corresponding private key.

Of course, if the owners of the key(s) being removed have already had access to the keyfile prior to their keys being removed, the secret is already exposed to them. It usually makes sense to follow up this command with a "set-secret" command in order to change the secret.

Aliases: delete-keys, remove-key, remove-keys


    groupsecret list-keys

Prints the keys that have access to the secret contained in the keyfile to STDOUT, one per line in the following format:

    <fingerprint> <comment>


    groupsecret set-secret path/to/secretfile.txt
    groupsecret set-secret - <<END
    > it's a secret to everybody
    > END
    groupsecret set-secret rand:48

Set or update the secret contained in a keyfile. The argument allows you to add a secret from a file, from <STDIN>, or from a stream of secure random bytes.

If the keyfile already contains a secret, it will be replaced by the new secret. A keyfile can only contain one secret at a time. If you think you want to store more than one secret at a time, store a tarball instead.

By default, this will also change the passphrase protecting the secret and re-encrypt the passphrase for each key currently in the keyfile. This requires all of the public keys to be available (see "GROUPSECRET_PATH"). If for some reason you want to protect the new secret with the current passphrase, use the --keep-passphrase option; this can be done without the public keys being available, but it will require a private key to decrypt the passphrase.

Aliases: change-secret, update-secret

    groupsecret print-secret
    groupsecret print-secret --no-decrypt

Print the secret contained in the keyfile to STDOUT.

If the --no-decrypt option is used, the secret will be printed in its encrypted form.

This requires a private key.

Aliases: (no command), show-secret



There are a few ways to install groupsecret to your system. First, make sure you first have the "REQUIREMENTS" installed.

Using cpanm

You can install groupsecret using cpanm. If you have a local perl (plenv, perlbrew, etc.), you can just do this:

    cpanm App::GroupSecret

to install the groupsecret executable and its Perl module dependencies. The executable will be installed to your perl's bin path, like ~/perl5/perlbrew/bin/groupsecret.

If you're installing to your system perl, you can do:

    cpanm --sudo App::GroupSecret

to install the groupsecret executable to a system directory, like /usr/local/bin/groupsecret (depending on your perl).

For developers

If you're a developer and want to hack on the source, clone the repository and pull the dependencies:

    git clone
    cd groupsecret
    cpanm Dist::Zilla
    dzil authordeps --missing | cpanm
    dzil listdeps --author --develop --missing | cpanm



If set, this program will use the value as a path to the keyfile. The "--file=path" option takes precedence if used.


If set, this program will use the value as a path to private key used for decryption. The "--private-key=path" option takes precedence if used.


The value of this variable should be a colon-separated list of directories in which to search for public keys. By default, the actual keys are not embedded in keyfiles, but they may be needed to encrypt a new passphrase if it ever needs to be changed. Keys that are not embedded will be searched for in the filesystem based on the value of this environment variable.

Defaults to .:keys:$HOME/.ssh.



Ansible Vault is a great way to securely store secret configuration variables for use in your playbooks. Vaults are secured using a password, which is okay if you're the only one who will need to unlock the Vault, but as soon as you add team members who also need to access the Vault you are then faced with how to manage knowledge of the password. When a team member leaves, you'll also need to change the Vault password which means you'll need a way to communicate the change to other team members who also have access. This becomes a burden to manage.

You can use groupsecret to manage this very easily by storing the Vault password in a groupsecret keyfile. That way, you can add or remove keys and change the secret (the Vault password) at any time without affecting the team members that still have access. Team members always use their own SSH2 RSA keys to unlock the Vault, so no new password ever needs to be communicated out.

To set this up, first create a keyfile with the public keys of everyone on your team:

    groupsecret -f vault-password.yml add-keys keys/*

Then set the secret in the keyfile to a long random number:

    groupsecret -f vault-password.yml set-secret rand:48

This will be the Ansible Vault password. You can see it if you want using the "print-secret" command, but you don't need to.

Then we'll take advantage of the fact that an Ansible Vault password file can be an executable program that prints the Vault password to STDOUT. Create a file named vault-password with the following script, and make it executable (chmod +x vault-password):

    # Use groupsecret <> to access the Vault password
    exec ${GROUPSECRET:-groupsecret} -f vault-password.yml print-secret

Commit both vault-password and vault-password.yml to your repository.

Now use ansible-vault(1) to add files to the Vault:

    ansible-vault --vault-id=vault-password encrypt foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml

These examples show the Ansible 2.4+ syntax, but it can be adapted for earlier versions. The significant part of this command is --vault-id=vault-password which refers to the executable script we created earlier. You can use that argument with other ansible-vault commands to view or edit the encrypted files.

You can also pass that same argument to ansible-playbook(1) in order to use the Vault in playbooks that refer to the encrypted variables:

    ansible-playbook -i myinventory --vault-id=vault-password site.yml

What this does is execute vault-password which executes groupsecret to print the secret contained in the vault-password.yml file (which is actually the Vault password) to STDOUT. In order to do this, groupsecret will decrypt the keyfile passphrase using any one of the private keys that have associated public keys added to the keyfile.

That's it! Pretty easy.

If and when you need to change the Vault password (such as when a team member leaves), you can follow this procedure which is probably mostly self-explanatory:

    groupsecret -f vault-password.yml delete-key keys/revoked/
    groupsecret -f vault-password.yml print-secret >old-vault-password.txt
    groupsecret -f vault-password.yml set-secret rand:48
    echo "New Vault password: $(groupsecret -f vault-password.yml)"
    ansible-vault --vault-id=old-vault-password.txt rekey foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml
    # You will be prompted for the new Vault password which you can copy from the output above.
    rm -f old-vault-password.txt

This removes access to the keyfile secret and to the Ansible Vault. Don't forget that you may also want to change the variables being protected by the Vault. After all, those secrets are the actual things we're protecting by doing all of this, and an exiting team member may have decided to take a copy of those variables for himself before leaving.


Please report any bugs or feature requests on the bugtracker website

When submitting a bug or request, please include a test-file or a patch to an existing test-file that illustrates the bug or desired feature.


Charles McGarvey <>


This software is Copyright (c) 2017 by Charles McGarvey.

This is free software, licensed under:

  The MIT (X11) License