Git Secrets Scanners: Key features and top tools

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By Yarden Sade

Updated February 28, 2024.

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Leaked git secrets have become the proverbial kingdom keys for malicious actors seeking unauthorized access to a company's systems. And they are spreading fast.

The number of detected hard-coded secrets went up 67% from 2021 to 2022, and a staggering 10 million new secrets were found solely within public commits on GitHub. One small mistake in your source code may cause entire supply chain attacks that affect you and your customers irreversibly. 

In the face of these growing threats, the need for practical secret scanning tools has never been more apparent. Fortunately, a wide range of git secret scanners can help safeguard your organization's secrets from falling into the wrong hands.

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What is secret scanning?

Secret scanning analyzes code repositories to detect exposed sensitive data like API keys, credentials, or passwords embedded in your code, which malicious actors could use to initiate data breaches and unauthorized system access. Beyond individual data protection – secret scanning is about shifting security left to catch vulnerabilities before they reach production, while aligning with growing regulatory demands.

With the right git secrets scanner, you can proactively prevent exposed secrets from getting into the wrong hands.

Benefits of git secrets scanners

Git secrets scanning tools play a critical role in the development lifecycle by proactively identifying and neutralizing potential threats posed by exposed secrets – effectively sealing off avenues that could lead to data breaches or unauthorized system intrusions. 

Incorporating git secrets scanning into CI/CD pipelines bolsters a secure-by-design infrastructure while maintaining high developer efficiency. These tools provide real-time insights into security vulnerabilities, enabling rapid resolutions that complement swift, agile development cycles.

The other option would be to surface the exposed secrets in production, which would require pinning down the relevant developers who pushed the git secret, and bugging them to fix the issue. This takes much longer than fixing the exposed secret earlier in the SDLC.

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Key features for git secrets scanners

Broad Git Secret Types Coverage

Choose a tool skilled in identifying a diverse range of git secret types – from API and SSH keys to LDAP passwords, database credentials, and cryptographic tokens. Modern cloud-native environments rely on a diverse set of technologies, which can lead to a large variety of secrets. Ensure your chosen tool will detect and flag many different types of secrets effectively.

Integration Capabilities

Seamless integration with current tools and workflows is paramount. Jit, with its orchestration capabilities, seamlessly merges various secret scanners into one cohesive platform. This integration means you can maintain your preferred CI/CD tools and environments while gaining the advantages of heightened security scanning.

Comprehensive Scanning Algorithms

Opt for tools with advanced algorithms that uncover intricate or atypical secrets that might otherwise remain hidden.

Atypical secrets are those that do not conform to conventional patterns typically associated with sensitive information. These include unconventional API keys, custom encryption keys, and secrets embedded in code or configuration files in ways that blend with regular data. 

To uncover these hidden secrets effectively, opt for tools with sophisticated algorithms that extend beyond mere pattern matching – incorporating entropy checks and heuristic analysis. 

  • Entropy checks are used to measure the level of randomness in data. These checks are useful in identifying secrets that exhibit a degree of randomness indicative of sensitive information. 
  • Heuristic analysis, on the other hand, employs experience-based techniques for things like the context in which a string appears, its formatting, and its relationship to certain file types or code segments. This approach can recognize potential secrets based on a broader understanding of how and where sensitive information is typically used and hidden. 

Real-time Monitoring and Alerts

Instant alerts upon detecting a potential secret are vital to averting security oversights. Tools equipped with real-time monitoring and alerting capabilities can be woven into your development routine, guaranteeing swift action on emerging issues. 

Audit Trail and Reporting

Look for tools with robust audit trail and reporting features. Your chosen tool should effectively log all discovered secrets, the time of discovery, and the remedial actions taken. These detailed records are critical for ensuring compliance and enabling a deep dive into security trends.

Top 8 Secrets Scanners

1. Gitleaks

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As one of the most popular git secrets scanning tools, Gitleaks excels in real-time detection of secrets and sensitive information across git repositories, offering custom patterns with push protection and pre-commit hooks for proactive scanning. Jit seamlessly integrates with Gitleaks to automate hardcoded secret detection

Best for

Gitleaks is an excellent choice for companies of all sizes, especially those already utilizing GitHub, seeking to detect and prevent secret leakage proactively. For larger organizations, Gitleaks scales well, handling large databases and multiple repositories without performance impacts. For smaller organizations, Gitleaks is straightforward to implement and easy to use – important for those just beginning to focus on cybersecurity.

As a point solution, some may prefer a system with broader security coverage beyond just secrets detection.

2. Jit

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While Jit isn't exclusively a git secrets scanner, it unifies git scanning from Gitleaks and Trufflehog with 7 other tools, including SAST, SCA, IaC scanning, and DAST. It provides a platform where you can easily automate and manage tools covering your entire CI/CD and get enriched findings from every new vulnerability.

Acting as a central hub, Jit ensures a unified strategy for handling sensitive data and dependencies in your codebase. Plus, it delivers the entire developer security experience within their PRs – from scanning to auto-remediation – so developers never need to leave their environments.

Best for

Jit is best suited for development teams seeking to unify the execution and UX for secrets detection alongside other application security tooling, like SAST, SCA, IaC scanning, and more. Jit is also great for anyone wanting to get up and running quickly with minimal configuration.

Customer Review: 

“The onboarding to Jit was seamless––all I had to do was give the required permissions, and we immediately had full security coverage. It was the easiest system I onboarded; everything happened automagically.”

3. GitGuardian

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Another common git secrets scanning tool, GitGuardian's ggshield CLI empowers developers with pre-commit hooks that scan for over 350 secret types. The tool provides robust incident management, including real-time alerts and seamless integration with SIEMs and ITSMs.

Best for

GitGuardian is best suited for companies of all sizes that need to catch a wide variety of secrets (including atypical secrets detection) that integrate with incident management tools and real-time alerting for development workflows.

Again, it may not be the best solution for those looking to unify the execution and UX of their application security tools in one place. 

Customer Review: 

“Detected fairly quickly (about 5 minutes) after uploading my project containing my credentials to GitHub. After the incident alert is sent to my email, it specifically shows its location, allowing for a quick and effective correction...”

4. HawkScan

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HawkScan – part of the StackHawk DAST tool – can detect git secrets in your codebase and provide real-time alerts and customizable configurations for secret scanning. HawkScan presents the scan results as a list of unique vulnerabilities, each including details such as the name, risk assessment, confidence level, references, and the URL paths where they were found. This helps you build a more effective vulnerability management plan

Best for

HawkScan is ideal for security pros and organizations looking to seamlessly integrate dynamic application security testing (DAST) into their software development pipeline to catch exposed secrets in runtime.

5. AWS Git Secrets Scanner

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The git-secrets tool from AWS Labs scans commits, commits messages, and merges to prevent the addition of sensitive data such as user passwords or AWS access keys. By configuring prohibited regular expression patterns, git-secrets helps maintain the security and integrity of your Git repositories.

Best for 

Git-secrets is a great secrets scanning tool for development teams working with AWS services, helping them prevent the accidental exposure of AWS access keys. It's easy for AWS users to get started.

6. Spectral

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Spectral boasts compatibility with 500+ technologies, utilizing AI/ML and proprietary tech to identify developer errors and oversee git secrets. Its powerful scanning capabilities help you uncover security issues across over 30 cloud services, giving you the agility to maintain a solid data security posture

Best for

Spectral is ideal for organizations seeking to incorporate AI/ML into their security strategy. 

Customer Review: 

“Integrates easily into ADO, allowing us to track down exposures we previously had no knowledge about.” 

7. TruffleHog

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TruffleHog's git secrets scanner goes beyond plaintext files, as it can find secrets in PDFs, images, encoded text, and executables. It also features innovative technology like Driftwood, which indexes public keys for sensitivity and offers flexible deployment options, including on-premises or secure cloud instances. To unify the execution and UX for Trufflehog within the entire security toolchain, Jit users can easily orchestrate TruffleHog to bolster their secret detection capabilities. 

Best for

TruffleHog is best for developers seeking accurate and actionable secrets detection alerts by effectively eliminating false positives with its extensive set of over 700 secret detectors.

They are great for those overwhelmed by vulnerabilities, and want to verify that exposed secrets are actually exposed in production environments. 

Customer Review:

“TruffleHog solves a large problem in the industry, and the validation piece within TruffleHog is something we love. It doesn’t just show us a billion secrets that have been leaked; it validates and focuses on the secrets that we need to remediate to prevent a bigger problem.” 

8. GitHub Secret Scanning

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GitHub offers a built-in secret scanning feature to safeguard your public repositories. Secret scanning proactively looks for accidentally committed secrets, access tokens, and private keys. GitHub immediately alerts the repository owner when a potential secret is detected.

After detecting secrets, users will need to navigate to GitHub Advanced Security (GHAS) to view the results, rather than seeing it all within their PR.

Best for

Organizations with public repositories on GitHub that are looking for secret scanning functionality within their CI/CD pipeline / version control software. 

Top Git Secret Scanners: a brief comparison

ToolKey FeaturesGood to know
GitLeaks• Open source • Uses regular expressions and entropy checks for secrets detection • Integrates easily into CI/CD pipelines • Custom patterns • Push protection and pre-commit hooksLacks a user interface, which may be better suited for developers
Jit• Unifies Git secrets scanning alongside SAST, SCA, CI/CD security, IaC scanning, cloud runtime scanning, and DAST • Leverages the Gitleaks and TruffleHog engines • Scanning and remediation is delivered entirely within the PR as they are created • Enriched findings and auto-remediationGreat for developers who need to quickly implement secrets detection and unify secrets scanning with broad AppSec coverage
GitGuardian• Support for pre-commit, pre-push, and pre-recieve hooks • Includes incident detection and remediation for secrets-related security threats • Scans for over 350 secret typesStrong atypical secrets detection combined with incident management features
HawkScan• Real-time alerts • Customizable configurationsGreat for vulnerability identification in dynamic environments
AWS Git Secrets Scanner• Scan each commit and merge • Customizable prohibited patterns to customize secrets detection • Part of AWS Secrets ManagerDesigned specifically to prevent AWS access key exposure, so it requires AWS familiarity for configuration
Spectral• Compatible with 500+ technologies and scans 30+ cloud services • Utilizes AI/MLAI-powered and broadly compatible regardless of tech stack
TruffleHog• Features Driftwood technology • Flexible deployment typesExtensive secret detectors and context to understand if secrets are exposed in production
GitHub Secret Scanning• Sends alerts for exposed credentials • Partners with many token issuersDirect integration with GitHub for real-time scanning, with a separate backlog for secrets outside of the PR.

Keep your git secrets a secret 

Git secrets scanners serve as a frontline defense to detect and eliminate hard-coded git secrets and vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. With the threat landscape in constant flux, your organization must prioritize integrating such tools to bolster its cybersecurity posture.

Jit makes security straightforward for development teams of all sizes, consolidating crucial security knowledge and providing a seamless tool integration layer that includes secret scanning. Explore Jit to unify git secrets scanners alongside SAST, SCA, IaC scanning, cloud misconfiguration scanning, and other tools for a single price – and ensure your secrets remain just that…secret.