How to set up a security backend for Windows

This document explains the process of setting up a security backend on a Windows system. You can find more information in the Secrets Management section.

Security agent requirements

The Agent V2 runs the secret_backend_command executable as a sub-process. On Windows, the executable set as secret_backend_command is required to:

  • Have read/exec for stsagentuser (the user used to run the Agent).

  • Have no rights for any user or group except Administrator or LocalSystem.

  • Be a valid Win32 application so the Agent can execute it.

Note: The executable shares the same environment variables as the Agent V2.

Do not output sensitive information on stderr. If the binary exits with a different status code than 0, the Agent V2 logs the standard error output of the executable to ease troubleshooting.

How to use the executable API

The executable respects a simple API that reads JSON structures from the standard input, and outputs JSON containing the decrypted secrets to the standard output. If the exit code is anything other than 0, then the integration configuration that is being decrypted is considered faulty and is dropped.


The executable receives a JSON payload from the standard input, containing the list of secrets to fetch:

"version": "1.0",
"secrets": ["secret1", "secret2"]
  • version: is a string containing the format version.

  • secrets: is a list of strings; each string is a handle from a configuration file corresponding to a secret to fetch.


The executable is expected to output to the standard output a JSON payload containing the:

"secret1": {
"value": "secret_value",
"error": null
"secret2": {
"value": null,
"error": "could not fetch the secret"

The expected payload is a JSON object, where each key is one of the handles requested in the input payload. The value for each handle is a JSON object with two fields:

  • value: a string; the actual value that is used in the check configurations

  • error: a string; the error message, if needed. If error is anything other than null, the integration configuration that uses this handle is considered erroneous and is dropped.


The following is a dummy implementation of the secret reader that is prefixing every secret with decrypted_:

package main
import (
type secretsPayload struct {
Secrets []string `json:secrets`
Version int `json:version`
func main() {
data, err := ioutil.ReadAll(os.Stdin)
if err != nil {
fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Could not read from stdin: %s", err)
secrets := secretsPayload{}
json.Unmarshal(data, &secrets)
res := map[string]map[string]string{}
for _, handle := range secrets.Secrets {
res[handle] = map[string]string{
"value": "decrypted_" + handle,
output, err := json.Marshal(res)
if err != nil {
fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "could not serialize res: %s", err)

Above example updates the following configuration (from the check file):

- server: db_prod
user: ENC[db_prod_user]
password: ENC[db_prod_password]

into this in the Agent's memory:

- server: db_prod
user: decrypted_db_prod_user
password: decrypted_db_prod_password

Troubleshooting secrets

Listing detected secrets

The secret command in the Agent CLI shows any errors related to your setup. For example, if the rights on the executable are incorrect. It also lists all handles found, and where they are located.

The command outputs ACL rights for the executable, as in the example from an Administrator PowerShell below:

PS C:\> & '%PROGRAMFILES%\StackState\StackState Agent\embedded\agent.exe' secret
=== Checking executable rights ===
Executable path: C:\path\to\you\executable.exe
Check Rights: OK, the executable has the correct rights
Rights Detail:
Acl list:
Path : Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\path\to\you\executable.exe
Owner : BUILTIN\Administrators
Access : NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM Allow FullControl
BUILTIN\Administrators Allow FullControl
WIN-ITODMBAT8RG\stsagentuser Allow ReadAndExecute, Synchronize
Audit :
Sddl : O:BAG:S-1-5-21-2685101404-2783901971-939297808-513D:PAI(A;;FA;;;SY)(A;;FA;;;BA)(A;;0x1200
=== Secrets stats ===
Number of secrets decrypted: 3
Secrets handle decrypted:
- api_key: from stackstate.yaml
- db_prod_user: from sqlserver.yaml
- db_prod_password: from sqlserver.yaml

Debugging secret_backend_command

  1. If any other group or user than needed has rights on the executable, a similar error to the following is logged:

    error while decrypting secrets in an instance: Invalid executable 'C:\decrypt.exe': other users/groups than LOCAL_SYSTEM, Administrators or stsagentuser have rights on it
  2. If stsagentuser does not have read and execute right on the file, a similar error logged:

    error while decrypting secrets in an instance: could not query ACLs for C:\decrypt.exe
  3. Your executable needs to be a valid Win32 application. If not, the following error is logged:

    error while running 'C:\': fork/exec C:\ %1 is not a valid Win32 application.

Testing your executable

Your executable is executed by the Agent V2 when fetching your secrets. The StackState Agent V2 runs using the stsagentuser. This user has no specific rights, but it is part of the Performance Monitor Users group. The password for this user is randomly generated at install time and is never saved anywhere.

This means that your executable might work with your default user or development user — but not when it is run by the Agent, since stsagentuser has more restricted rights.

To test your executable in the same conditions as the Agent V2, update the password of the stsagentuser on your dev box. This way, you can authenticate as stsagentuser and run your executable in the same context the Agent would.

To do so, follow steps below:

  1. Remove stsagentuser from the Local Policies/User Rights Assignement/Deny Log on locally list in the Local Security Policy.

  2. Set a new password for stsagenuser (as the one generated during install is not saved anywhere). In Powershell, run:

    $user = [ADSI]"WinNT://./stsagentuser";
  3. Update the password to be used by StackStateAgent service in the Service Control Manager. In PowerShell, run:

    sc.exe config StackStateAgent password= "a_new_password"

You can now login as stsagentuser to test your executable. StackState has a PowerShell script to help you test your executable as another user. It switches user contexts and mimics how the Agent runs your executable. Usage example:

.\secrets_tester.ps1 -user stsagentuser -password a_new_password -executable C:\path\to\your\executable.exe -payload '{"version": "1.0", "secrets": ["secret_ID_1", "secret_ID_2"]}'
Creating new Process with C:\path\to\your\executable.exe
Waiting a second for the process to be up and running
Writing the payload to Stdin
Waiting a second so the process can fetch the secrets
stderr: None
exit code:

Agent V2 is refusing to start

The first thing the Agent V2 does on startup is to load stackstate.yaml and decrypt any secrets in it. This is done before setting up the logging. This means that on platforms like Windows, errors occurring when loading stackstate.yaml are not written in the logs, but on stderr. This can occur when the executable given to the Agent for secrets returns an error.

If you have secrets in stackstate.yaml and the Agent refuses to start:

  • Try to start the Agent manually to be able to see stderr.

  • Remove the secrets from stackstate.yaml and test with secrets in a check configuration file.