Keep sensitive information out of node attributes

Sensitive information such as passwords should not be stored as node attributes, because they are persisted back to the server and can therefore be easily retrieved.

Problem description

Wrapped recipes (e.g. mysql::server) use node attributes for retrieving sensitive information, such as passwords associated with privileged accounts. This type of information is specified via items in encrypted data bags, but because node attributes are involved, the security provided by the encryption mechanism can easily be defeated by simply retrieving the node attributes from the server.

For example (from mysql-server):

if node['openstack']['db']['root_user_use_databag']
    super_password = get_password 'user', node['openstack']['db']['root_user_key']
    node.set_unless['mysql']['server_root_password'] = super_password
    super_password = node['mysql']['server_root_password']

The password is retrieved from a (possibly encrypted) data bag and stored into a node attribute to be consumed downstream by the server recipe in the mysql cookbook. After the node is converged, all someone needs to do to retrieve the password as clear text is execute knife node edit NODE_NAME, thereby defeating a data bag’s encryption capabilities.

Proposed change

The proposed solution is to operate on server resources directly or use run_state to set passwords, depending on which is available for use in a given recipe.

Again, using MySQL as an example (operating directly on resource):

if node['openstack']['db']['root_user_use_databag']
    super_password = get_password 'user', node['openstack']['db']['root_user_key']
    super_password = node['mysql']['server_root_password']

mysql_service node['mysql']['service_name'] do
  server_root_password super_password

The password is stored only in a local variable and directly assigned to the mysql_service resource’s server_root_password attribute. The mysql::server recipe is not invoked and all of the other resource attributes are set directly as well (indicated via ...). Since the password is never stored as a node attribute, it cannot be retrieved via knife node edit NODE_NAME. Note that other resource attributes (for instance port) can still be set to node-attribute values and thus their default values can still be specified in attributes/default.rb. Also note that the above example shows that a node attribute can still be used to store password information, if that is what the user wants to do. This is done by leaving the ['openstack']['db']['root_user_use_databag'] set to its default value of false.


One alternative would be to have the wrapped recipes fall back to default attribute values and set the resource attributes directly, as described at However, this is arguably a non-strategic workaround.

Data model impact


REST API impact


Security impact

Security would be improved because passwords would no longer be accessible as node attributes.

Notifications impact


Other end user impact

None. The recipes would be backward compatible because the mechanisms for specifying the databag type (encrypted or standard) and name and related node attributes needed to use data bags would remain unchanged. The only thing changing would be the mechanics of how the data contained in data bags is populated into the resources created by the recipes. Note that end users would still have the option to not use data bags at all.

Performance Impact


Other deployer impact


Developer impact




  • jswarren

Work Items

The known impacted recipes are:

  • cookbook-openstack-ops-database::mysql-server
  • cookbook-openstack-ops-database::postgresql-server
  • cookbook-openstack-ops-messaging::rabbitmq-server


The cookbooks involved in setting up the resources in question need to provide a mechanism for setting passwords either as a resource attribute that can be set directly or as a run_state attribute. Other mechanisms that do not expose passwords as node attributes should also be acceptable.


The cookbooks in question would need to be tested to ensure that when data bags are used to specify passwords that the password values are not reflected in the attributes (if any) used for setting passwords. In other words, a given referenced cookbook or recipe might still allow the use of node attributes to set passwords in addition to the above-mentioned possible alternatives. However, when node attributes are not used to specify passwords, the passwords must then not be stored as node attributes by the referenced recipes.

Documentation Impact

Documentation should not change, since the blackbox behavior of the recipes should remain unchanged. The documentation associated with the referenced resource recipes may need to change when accommodations are made for alternative means of setting passwords, but those changes are orthogonal to the work described here.