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The cloud-init Ubuntu package accepts something called user-data to configure a machine in the cloud (eg EC2 on AWS). I think AWS also use this for their Amazon Machine Image.

My question is. What sort of risk does this pose in the context of sending sensitive data via this method (e.g passwords to repositories, private code, DB Credentials etc).

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1 Answer 1

This page discusses the subject of "user data" and includes the following:

Important

Although you can only access instance metadata and user data from within the instance itself, the data is not protected by cryptographic methods. Anyone who can access the instance can view its metadata. Therefore, you should take suitable precautions to protect sensitive data (such as long-lived encryption keys). You should not store sensitive data, such as passwords, as user data.

This seems clear enough. The "user-data" bundle is something that you send to the cloud provider so that it can be sent to new EC2 instances. The cloud provider will not show that data to other people, but it will not be especially careful about it. It is obvious that some sort of storage is implied, and Amazon states quite plainly that it does not apply the kind of storage method that is deemed "appropriate" for sensitive data, such as private keys.

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+1 to Tom's answer. If the cloud provider isn't providing assurances about how they're protecting that data, assume that it's not appropriate for things that need to stay secret, and that the protections can change for better or for worse in the future. –  u2702 Aug 6 '13 at 15:51

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