ServiceNow: Unmanaged API Keys


Unmanaged API Keys

ServiceNow, a platform that streamlines IT service management, can be an invaluable tool for organizations of all sizes. Yet, like any powerful tool, it can expose an organization to considerable risk if not handled with care. One critical risk comes from an often-overlooked area: unmanaged API keys. In this article, we will delve into why unmanaged API keys present a significant security risk, explore the common mistakes that lead to this issue, and provide guidance on how to effectively address this potential vulnerability.

Understanding the Role of API Keys in ServiceNow

API keys are unique identifiers used to authenticate the identity of a user or a program trying to access ServiceNow's API endpoints. They serve as the gatekeepers, controlling which applications can communicate with ServiceNow. If an API key falls into the wrong hands, it could give unauthorized parties access to sensitive data or functions within ServiceNow.

The Peril of Unmanaged API Keys

There are three primary ways that unmanaged API keys can become a major security issue:

  1. Accidental Exposure: Unsecured API keys could inadvertently be exposed in code repositories, log files, or even public forums. These can then be exploited by malicious actors.
  2. Over-Privileged Access: API keys often have broad privileges that might exceed their actual requirements. An over-privileged API key that falls into the wrong hands could give an attacker full access to ServiceNow.
  3. Key Lifespan: Many organizations do not have a process for regularly rotating or expiring API keys. An old key, even if it is no longer used, could be a ticking time bomb if it's compromised.

Common Mistakes Leading to Unmanaged API Keys

One common mistake is storing API keys directly in code. This makes it easy for keys to be inadvertently committed to version control systems and exposed to anyone who has access to the code repository. Another mistake is failing to limit the permissions of the API keys. The principle of least privilege should always be followed when assigning permissions. Lastly, neglecting to implement a process for regular key rotation or expiration can also lead to problems, as keys that are no longer in use but still active could be compromised and misused.

Mitigating the Risks: Best Practices for API Key Management

Here are some practical steps to effectively manage API keys in ServiceNow:

  1. Secure Storage: API keys should never be hardcoded in your applications. Instead, consider storing them in a secure configuration file or using a secret management service. This approach will keep your keys out of your codebase and significantly reduce the risk of accidental exposure.
  2. Apply Principle of Least Privilege: Always assign the minimum necessary permissions to each API key. This limits the potential damage if a key is compromised.
  3. Implement Key Rotation and Expiration: Regularly rotate your API keys and set an expiration date for them. This way, even if an old key is compromised, it won't pose a risk for long.
  4. Use Key Management Tools: Consider using API key management tools to track and manage your keys. These tools can automatically handle key rotation, monitor key usage, and alert you of any unusual activities.
  5. Monitoring and Auditing: Regularly monitor and audit the use of API keys. If a key is being used in a way that doesn't match its intended function, it could be a sign of a security issue.


While ServiceNow can dramatically simplify IT service management, unmanaged API keys can pose a significant security risk. By understanding this risk and implementing robust API key management practices, security engineers can help secure their organizations' ServiceNow environments against unauthorized access and data breaches. Remember, vigilance