Key Management for Enterprise Data Encryption
by Ulf Mattsson - CTO of Protegrity - Monday, 10 December 2007.
Data encryption and key management in the real world

Best practices dictate that we must protect sensitive data at the point of capture, as it's transferred over the network (including internal networks) and when it is at rest. Protecting data only sometimes - such as sending sensitive information over wireless devices over the Internet or within your corporate network as clear text - defeats the point of encrypting information in the database. Itís far too easy for information to be intercepted in its travels so the sooner the encryption of data occurs, the more secure the environment will be. A comprehensive encryption solution doesnít complicate authorized access to the protected information - decryption of the data can occur at any point throughout the data flow wherever there is a need for access. Decryption can usually be done in an application-transparent way with minimum impact to the operational environment. Due to distributed business logic in application and database environments, organizations must be able to encrypt and decrypt data at different points in the network and at different system layers, including the database layer. Encryption performed by the database management system can protect data at rest, but more security oriented corporations will also require protection for data while itís moving between applications, databases and data stores. One option for accomplishing this protection is to selectively parse data after the secure communication is terminated and encrypt sensitive data elements at a very granular level (usernames, passwords, etc.). Application-layer encryption and mature database-layer encryption solutions allow enterprises to selectively encrypt granular data into a format that can easily be passed between applications and databases without changing the data.

Key management is often overlooked

One of the essential components of encryption that is often overlooked is key management - the way cryptographic keys are generated and managed throughout their life. Since cryptography is based on keys which encrypt and decrypt data, your database protection solution is only as good as the protection of those keys. Security depends on several factors including where the keys are stored and who has access to them. When evaluating a data privacy solution, it is essential to include the ability to securely generate and manage keys. This can be achieved by centralizing all key management tasks on a single platform, and effectively automating administrative key management tasks, providing both operational efficiency and reduced management costs. Data privacy solutions should also include an automated and secure mechanism for key rotation, replication, and backup. The difficulty of key distribution, storage, and disposal has limited the wide-scale usability of many cryptographic products in the past. Automated key distribution is challenging because it is difficult to keep the keys secure while they are distributed, but this approach is finally becoming secure and more widely used. Standards for key-management have been developed by the government and by organizations such as ISO, ANSI, and the American Banking Organization (ABA). The key management process should be based on a policy. This article will exemplify different elements of a suggested policy for a Key Management System used for managing the encryption keys that protect secret and confidential data in an organization.

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