Encryption Key Lifecycle Management: Tools and Best Practices
How secure are your encryption keys? Discover the best tools and practices for effective encryption key management to avoid a data breach.
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A data protection strategy is only as good as the encryption key security used. A robust cybersecurity management plan helps keep sensitive data protected and prevents data breaches. Implementing good practices and centralized tools helps effectively manage encryption key lifecycles, providing better regulatory compliance and overall security.
Encryption Key Lifecycle Management: Best Practices
Ensuring the security of cryptographic keys, tokens, and secrets involves different lifecycle management strategies and cybersecurity knowledge. Listed below are ten tips to keep your encryption keys safe and efficient.
1. Use Suitable Algorithms and Key Sizes
Choosing the appropriate algorithm requires knowing your available options and the differences. There are two main types of algorithms.
- Symmetric algorithms, such as AES, are an optimal choice for protecting data at rest. Go down this route to secure a database and data archives.
- Asymmetric algorithms, such as EDCSA or RSA, are ideal for moving data. Use this algorithm type to secure web content, emails, and other data in transit.
When it comes to picking the correct key size:
- Larger keys are harder to crack and provide better security, but they also impact performance.
- Shorter keys have a better performance. However, they provide weak security and are vulnerable to brute force attacks.
Ultimately, there is no right formula when it comes to encryption key sizes. It's all about finding the right balance between data security and performance.
2. Apply the Minimal Privilege Principle
Every user, process, and program should only have access to resources essential to perform a specific task. To apply the principle of least privilege to encryption keys, consider using:
- Role-based access controls to restrict permissions based on job responsibility.
- Approval from two or more authorized members for key rotation, deletion, and other critical operations.
The principle of least privilege is a crucial part of the zero-trust security model. Controlling the encryption key rights improves data protection and increases fault tolerance for better overall system security.
3. Enforce Company-Wide Policies
Policies create standardized processes for storing, managing, and using keys. Provide clear outlines and steps across an encryption key's lifecycle, including its role in the cybersecurity process, the possible consequences, and the staff's responsibilities.
Educate the organization and implement training scenarios to ensure the employees know the policies and what actions to take in case of a compromised system.
4. Rotate Encryption Keys Regularly
The fundamental concept in key rotation is the lifecycle or the crypto period. This notion helps determine how long a key should be available for use and when to make a rotation. Depending on the use case, examine the following factors when choosing the lifecycle:
- The key algorithm and length.
- The value of encrypted information.
- Legal regulations and limitations.
Encryption keys are not everlasting. The longer a key is used, the greater the risk. Regular encryption key rotation minimizes the effects of a data breach, if one occurs.
5. Eliminate Master Keys
Ensure all keys are single purpose. Use separate keys for:
- Authenticating users
- Data encryption
- Digital signatures
Using one (master) key for many tasks is a significant security issue that creates multiple vulnerability points for attackers through a single breach.
6. Never Hardcode Keys
Hardcoding keys is never a good idea. Including encryption keys in the source code, whether the project is open or private, creates an opportunity for undetected breaches.
Be cautious when pushing new code. Educate inexperienced staff members and have multiple people review code before publishing sensitive information.
7. Implement a Reliable Backup and Recovery Plan
A reliable backup and recovery strategy helps provide robustness and prevent data loss in an attack or error. To use backups effectively:
- Store key replicas multiple times a day.
- Employ immutable backups to avoid data altering.
- Protect backups with symmetric keys.
- Periodically check the backup to confirm everything works as intended
Implement a reliable backup system to restore lost keys quickly and consistently.
8. Keep Audit Logs
Audit logs help provide deeper insight into key management and use throughout their lifecycle. Consider tracking:
- Details about every interaction with a key, such as the user, role, time, accessed data, etc.
- Successful and unsuccessful login attempts
- The complete lifecycle history of keys
- Access levels and granted privileges
Logging additionally helps prepare compliance audits and aid in discovering potential places for improvements.
9. Separate Keys From Encrypted Data
Encryption keys should be kept separate from the encrypted data. Although keeping the two together is convenient and easier to manage, not separating the key from the data makes the system more vulnerable to compromise. Attackers can expose the data through a single breach.
10. Distribute Keys Safely
Whether distributing keys offline or online, use a secure API through the key's lifecycle:
- Offline transport should encrypt and split the key into several components. Each component is useless without the others, and losing one does not compromise the key
- Online distribution should implement Transport Layer Security (TLS) to distribute encryption keys safely
Encryption Key Lifecycle Management: Tools
There are several challenges when managing encryption key lifecycles manually:
- Security issues arise when overly secured keys are hard to access and use. Likewise, making keys easy to access creates vulnerabilities
- Complexity increases when using many applications, each with its encryption keys for each user or program
- Availability compromises the system's security. Taking shortcuts through having readily available keys helps keep the workflow smooth and convenient, creating vulnerabilities
- Heterogenous systems use a variety of tools, encryption methods, and software to manage key security. Exposing a vulnerability in one part of the system often creates a breach in a different interconnected piece of the software
Key Management Services (KMS) are software tools that help address some of the challenges by automating processes in the encryption key lifecycle.
The table below outlines some tools available today to help manage the encryption key lifecycle processes along with use cases.
Stores and generates secrets, encrypts data, and creates auditing reports.
Traffic encryption, hijacking prevention.
Key generation, use, and store secured by Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX). Fortanix Self-Defending Key Management Solution (SDKMS) is available with phoenixNAP’s Encryption Management Platform as an integrated solution for secure cloud and dedicated server platform protection.
AWS Key Management Service
HSM enabled token protection.
Hitachi Data Systems
These are some of the most popular solutions currently available and you should further research their use cases to select the one that fits your needs best.
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