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This post will look how to use encryption to secure your database credentials.

First steps…

Before we can go on to use GPG to encrypt our credentials, we need to get it working. GnuPG comes with almost every *nix operating system, but for this post we’ll be using Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and we’ll presume that it isn’t yet installed.

$ sudo apt-get install gnupg gnupg-agent pinentry-curses

Once the packages are installed, there is a little configuration required to make things simpler. We’ll go with some minimal settings just to get you going. First of all, we’ll create our main key:

$ gpg --gen-key
gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.12; Copyright (C) 2012 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
Please select what kind of key you want:
(1) RSA and RSA (default)
(2) DSA and Elgamal
(3) DSA (sign only)
(4) RSA (sign only)
Your selection? 1
RSA keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
What keysize do you want? (4096)
Requested keysize is 4096 bits
Please specify how long the key should be valid.
0 = key does not expire
<n> = key expires in n days
<n>w = key expires in n weeks
<n>m = key expires in n months
<n>y = key expires in n years
Key is valid for? (5y)
Key expires at Tue 05 Oct 2021 23:59:00 BST
Is this correct? (y/N) y
You need a user ID to identify your key; the software constructs the user ID
from the Real Name, Comment and Email Address in this form:
"Heinrich Heine (Der Dichter) <>"
Real name: Ceri Williams
Email address:
Comment: Encrypted credentials for MySQL
You selected this USER-ID:
"Ceri Williams (Encrypted credentials for MySQL) <>"
Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? O
You need a Passphrase to protect your secret key.

After typing a password and gaining sufficient entropy you will have your first key! You can show your private keys as follows:

$ gpg --list-secret-keys
sec 4096R/C38C02B0 2016-10-06 [expires: 2021-10-05]
uid Ceri Williams (Encrypted credentials for MySQL) <>

We’ll now create our “gpg.conf” in which to keep a few settings. This sets the key that is used by default when encrypting, enables the gpg-agent and removes the copyright message.

$ cat <<EOF > ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf
default-key C38C02B0

Now we’ll add a few settings for “gpg-agent” and allow the key to be saved for one day to reduce the number of times you need to enter a password. Also, as this post concentrates on command line programs, we’ve enabled the ncurses pinentry to specify the password when requested.

$ cat <<EOF > ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf
pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-curses
default-cache-ttl 86400
max-cache-ttl 86400

You can find more information about setting up and using GPG in the GNU Privacy Handbook.

Encrypt your credentials

If all has gone well so far, you should be able to encrypt your first message. Here is a simple example to create armored (ASCII) output for a recipient with key “C38C02B0”:

$ echo hello | gpg -e --armor -r C38C02B0
Version: GnuPG v1

Now that we have GPG working, we can secure our credentials and encrypt them to use later on. One of the default files MySQL reads is “~/.my.cnf”, which is where you can store your user credentials for easy command line access.

$ cat <<EOF | gpg --encrypt --armor -r C38C02B0 -o ~/.my.cnf.asc
user = ceri
password = mysecretpassword
prompt = "smysql d> "

Bash foo brings MySQL data to you

Most MySQL and Percona tools will accept the “–defaults-file” argument, which tells the program where to look to find what configuration to run. This will allow us to use our encrypted config.

The following script carries out the following actions:

  1. Creates a temporary file on disk and then removes it
  2. Creates a FIFO (a socket-like communication channel that requires both ends to be connected)
  3. Decrypts the config to the FIFO in the background
  4. Launches the “mysql” client and reads from the FIFO
set -e
declare -ra ARGS=( "${@}" )
declare -ri ARGV=${#ARGS[@]}
declare -r SEC_MYCNF=$(test -f ${1:-undef} && echo $_ || echo '.my.cnf.asc')
declare -r SEC_FIFO=$(mktemp)
declare -a PASSTHRU=( "${ARGS[@]}" )
test ${ARGV} -gt 0 &&
test -f "${ARGS[0]}" &&
PASSTHRU=( "${ARGS[@]:1}" )
set -u
function cleanup {
  test -e ${SEC_FIFO} && rm -f $_
  return $?
function decrypt {
  set +e
  $(which gpg) --batch --yes -o ${SEC_FIFO} -d ${SEC_MYCNF} >debug.log 2>&1
  test $? -eq 0 || $(which gpg) --yes -o ${SEC_FIFO} -d ${SEC_MYCNF} >debug.log 2>&1
  set -e
function exec_cmd {
  local -r cmd=${1}
  set +u
  ${cmd} --defaults-file=${SEC_FIFO} "${PASSTHRU[@]}"
  set -u
trap cleanup EXIT
test -e ${SEC_MYCNF} || exit 1
cleanup && mkfifo ${SEC_FIFO} && decrypt &
exec_cmd /usr/bin/mysql

You can use this script as you would normally with the “mysql” client, and pass your desired arguments. You can also optionally pass a specific encrypted config as the first argument:

$ ./ .my.test.asc
Welcome to the MySQL monitor. Commands end with ; or g.
Your MySQL connection id is 56
Server version: 5.7.14-8 Percona Server (GPL), Release '8', Revision '1f84ccd'
Copyright (c) 2009-2016 Percona LLC and/or its affiliates
Copyright (c) 2000, 2016, Oracle and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Oracle is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation and/or its
affiliates. Other names may be trademarks of their respective
Type 'help;' or 'h' for help. Type 'c' to clear the current input statement.
smysql (none)>

There we go, MySQL access via an encrypted “–defaults-file” – and as long as your key is unlocked in the agent you do not need to enter the password.

But wait . . . what about all of the other tools that you might want to use? Well, with a slight tweak you can make the script a little fancier and get other tools to use the config, too (tools such as mysqladmin, mysqldump, pt-show-grants, pt-table-checksum, etc.). The key part of the next script is the specification of accepted commands (“ALIASES”) and the use of symbolic links to alias the script:

set -e
declare -ra ARGS=( "${@}" )
declare -ri ARGV=${#ARGS[@]}
declare -rA ALIASES=(
declare -r PROGNAME=$(basename ${0})
declare -r SEC_MYCNF=$(test -f ${1:-undef} && echo $_ || echo '.my.gpg')
declare -r SEC_FIFO=$(mktemp)
declare -a PASSTHRU=( "${ARGS[@]}" )
test ${ARGV} -gt 0 &&
test -f "${ARGS[0]}" &&
 PASSTHRU=( "${ARGS[@]:1}" )
set -u
function cleanup {
 test -e ${SEC_FIFO} && rm -f $_
 return $?
function decrypt {
 set +e
 $(which gpg) --batch --yes -o ${SEC_FIFO} -d ${SEC_MYCNF} >debug.log 2>&1
 test $? -eq 0 || $(which gpg) --yes -o ${SEC_FIFO} -d ${SEC_MYCNF} >debug.log 2>&1
 set -e
function check_cmd {
 local k
 local cmd=${1}
 for k in "${!ALIASES[@]}"; do
 test "${cmd}" = ${k} &&
 test -x "$(which ${ALIASES[${k}]})" &&
 echo $_ && return 0
 return 1
function exec_cmd {
 local -r cmd=${1}
 set +u
 ${cmd} --defaults-file=${SEC_FIFO} "${PASSTHRU[@]}"
 set -u
function usage {
 local realfn=$(realpath ${0})
 cat <<EOS | fold -sw 120
USAGE: $(basename ${0}) enc_file.gpg [--arg=val]
use a GPG-encrypted my.cnf (default: ${SEC_MYCNF})
currently supports:
create a symlink to match the alias (real app prefixed with 's')
sudo ln -s ${realfn} /usr/local/bin/smysql
sudo ln -s ${realfn} /usr/local/bin/spt-show-grants
trap cleanup EXIT ERR
test -e ${SEC_MYCNF} || { usage; exit 1; }
cmd=$(check_cmd ${PROGNAME})
test $? -eq 0 || { echo ${ALIASES[${PROGNAME}]} is not available; exit 3; }
cleanup && mkfifo ${SEC_FIFO} && decrypt &
exec_cmd ${cmd}

Now we can set up some symlinks so that the script can be called in a way that the correct application is chosen:

Symlinks for tools
$ mkdir -p ~/bin
$ mv ~/bin
$ ln -s ~/bin/ ~/bin/smysql
$ ln -s ~/bin/ ~/bin/smysqladmin
$ ln -s ~/bin/ ~/bin/spt-show-grants


With some symlinks now in place we can try out some of the tools that we have enabled:

Testing the tools
$ ~/bin/smysql -Bsse 'select 1'
$ ~/bin/smysqladmin proc
| Id | User | Host | db | Command | Time | State | Info | Rows_sent | Rows_examined |
| 58 | ceri | localhost | | Query | 0 | starting | show processlist | 0 | 0 |
$ ~/bin/spt-show-grants --only root@localhost | head -n3
-- Grants dumped by pt-show-grants
-- Dumped from server Localhost via UNIX socket, MySQL 5.7.14-8 at 2016-10-07 01:01:55
-- Grants for 'root'@'localhost'

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