I Leaked Credentials Onto A Public GitHub Repo

Don't post secrets to public GitHub repositories.

I made this mistake a while ago, and in the interests of openness and learning from others, I'd like to describe what happened. Maybe it'll help others avoid the mistake, and maybe I'll learn something from any conversation this article generates.


Using Google Cloud Platform (GCP), I've been doing some work across multiple compute instances. Thankfully, the work wasn't business critical or on production systems. My account was isolated away from the rest of the business.

As the number of servers I was working with increased, I realised I needed to begin using some tools to automate server setup. This lead me to begin using Ansible, and once I'd cobbled together a working playbook I pushed my Ansible project to my GitHub account... And accidentally leaked the key for an account I'd been using.

The hack

Within a couple of minutes of pushing the repository to GitHub I:

  • Made the repository private.
  • Stopped tracking the keys in git and removed them from the cache git rm -r --cached <dir>.
  • Received an email from Google saying they'd found leaked credentials.

OK, close call. The secret was leaked for less than 5 minutes. On my obscure personal GitHub.

I thought there was nothing to worry about.. But then I noticed some activity in the console.

Compute instances were being created, I could see the list growing rapidly. Over the next few minutes 195 compute instances and disks were being created, each with a unique name in zones across the world. The format of the name was node-<type>-<number>. Where type was either application, backup, jenkins, gke, prod, staging, worker, www, build, redis, or runner. Maybe some others too. The number seemed to be 5 random digits.

Some of the instances were ephemeral. They all had delete protection enabled. I checked the details of a few of them and noticed some scripts that included references to Monero.

So I guess a Monero mining bot was being set up.

The logs showed that GKE and networking resources had also been requested, but the account which the stolen credentials belonged to didn't have the necessary permissions. Our project also maxed out its quota of compute instances in multiple regions and zones.


I deleted the account that had been leaked, and began quantifying the damage. I wanted to know exactly what permissions the key had, which resources could be created, and could the leaked account be used to create other accounts? No, it can't.

After looking around and becoming confident that it was only 195 compute instances with disks and delete protection that had been created, in regions and zones across the globe, I began to remove them. No other resources had been provisioned.

It took me 10 minutes and some googling to create the following workflow:

  1. Get all the compute instances and dump them into a file. I expected to run a script that iterated through the file line by line, setting variables based on the content of the current line: gcloud compute instances list --format 'csv[no-heading](name, zone)' > names.txt

  2. In Vim, find the rows that contain the instances that I don't want to delete, and remove these from the file. There are a handful of compute instances I want to keep, and 195 that I want to remove. :v/node- shows any rows that don't include "node-”

  3. Loop through the file and for each row, which contains the instance name and its zone,

    • Remove delete protection
    • Delete the instance
while IFS=, read -r name zone
  do gcloud compute instances update $name --zone $zone --no-deletion-protection \
  && gcloud compute instances delete $name --zone $zone --quiet
done < names.txt

The --quiet flag is necessary because otherwise gcloud will ask me to confirm that I want to delete the instance otherwise.


I'm surprised by the speed with which the attacker found the leaked credentials. The repo did not belong to the clients account but my own, and I assume that my account is obscure enough to not be on any interesting lists. If my account is being scanned every few minutes, presumably all accounts are being scanned regularly.

How many resources are required to do that? I guess if one of these attacks works you can use the stolen compute to scan more repositories for more leaked credentials. It's easy to imagine scenarios where large corporations that are already running complicated cloud infrastructure deployments wouldn't notice a few (200?) unauthorized compute instances running.



There was some useful discussion about this article on Lobste.rs.