Git Signature Operations via HashiCorp Vault

~09 mins
tl;dr: Vaultsign is a helper tool for performing Git signature operations using Vault.

The typical modern software supply chain starts with an input changeset of source commits triggering a whole raft of manual and automated code checks in a CI environment: peer reviews; full testing pyramid; dependency vetting; automated static analysis and so on.

The outputs of this step are invariably deployable artefacts such as binaries, container images, interpreted/byte code archives or IaC that subsequently need to progress their way through a delivery pipeline comprising at least a pre-production/staging environment (again, typically) before landing in production.

To achieve that last part necessitates putting the production-bound artefacts on ice (object store, OCI registry, SCM repository tag etc.) whilst instances of it are validated in the N pre-production environments in the delivery pipeline. This is fine for most organisations, but an additional code provenance strategy is sometimes required in regulated and other high security environments.

Code Provenance

My definition of code provenance here is the proof that those artefacts deployed to production have been through all prior CI and pre-production steps, and have additionally retained authenticity and integrity whilst in cold storage between environments. Sort of like a software chain of custody.

The tried and tested approach is to manually sign a checksum of the artefacts and verify at each stage. This is a concise way to check integrity and authenticity in one shot, but starts to fall down in modern automated contexts because of the key distribution and identity problem. That is, an organisation’s engineers can still sign individual commits with their own keys, but it is ultimately the identity of the automated CI environment that is collating and producing the deployable artefacts.

So with identified engineers landing commits, the next link in that chain of custody is the CI system. It needs to prove it was responsible for producing those deployable artefacts, and the following runtime stages needing to verify that fact.

There are many options in this space but generally speaking it involves the CI system following the same approach as would have been followed by a human: produce and sign a checksum of the deployable artefacts. This time, however, there is the added complexity of the CI system needing to securely identify itself (machine-to-machine) to some signing service, or otherwise storage service in order to access the asymmetric key material needed for signing.

Checksumming strategies can further benefit from reproducible (aka. deterministic) builds which are within reach these days with the right choice of language and build system. Then there are specifications like The Update Framework (TUF) laying foundations for securely tracking origin authenticity, with tools like Vault, Notary, OPA/Gatekeeper, and cloud services like GCP Binary Authorization, and AWS Signer all able to help in this regard.


This post is about using HashiCorp’s Vault in the previously outlined context of code provenance.

With a Vault deployment there are numerous machine authentication options that a CI system’s agents can leverage to securely identify themselves, including but not exclusive to: all major cloud IAM; Kubernetes SAs; AppRole; JWT/OIDC; or TLS certificates.

Once authenticated, the agents can utilise Vault’s “encryption as a service” related backends and plugins (transit, gpg) to sign checksums or raw data.

This constitutes as quite a strong code provenance strategy especially given Vault’s additional RBAC and audit features, provided the subsequent steps in the software supply chain (… of custody) have the requisite network access to the non-sensitive verify endpoints (or otherwise cached public key).

While the process outlined works well for deployable artefacts like binaries, things get more awkward when some or all of the deployment collateral is say, interpreted IaC files (Terraform, Pulumi etc.). In my experience, these are commonly located on and directly deployed from a branch or tag, both of which are of course mutable.

A solution here is to tarball all the IaC files and sign/store/verify them like the other artefacts, or even just sign/store/verify the branch head commit or tag SHA.

Another is to make use of a tool I am releasing today called vaultsign!


vaultsign is a small CLI that can be used as a Git helper to sign (and verify) commits and tags using HashiCorp’s Vault.

It does so by implementing just enough of the GPG CLI interface and status protocol to proxy the Git originating sign and verify requests onwards to your specified Vault endpoint, and works with both the previously mentioned transit backend and GPG plugins you may already be using for other code provenance purposes.

With it, the CI system can sign a commit or, more commonly, a release tag at the same time and using the same role and key material as the other deployable artefacts in the release. Then they can then all be verified together during the subsequent runtime steps in the chain. All the usual signature related Git porcelain continues to function and you can even have forges like GitHub verify and show the coveted green tick if you take the Vault GPG plugin option.

Example Usage

# Login to vault.
; export VAULT_ADDR=https://production.vault.acme.corp
; vault login

# Tell git to use vaultsign.
; git config --local gpg.program /path/to/vaultsign

# Sign a commit and tag.
; export VAULT_SIGN_PATH=transit/sign/test/sha2-256
; git commit -m "test signed commit" -S
; git tag -m "test signed tag" -s test

# Verify the same commit and tag.
; export VAULT_VERIFY_PATH=transit/verify/test
; git verify-commit HEAD
; git log -1 --show-signature
; git verify-tag test