Benefits of a Hardware Security Module (HSM)
A Hardware Security Module (HSM) is a physical device designed to perform cryptographic functions and protect cryptographic keys. HSMs make it possible for both large and small organizations to generate, store, and protect keys that allow them to access sensitive data.
HSMs have a robust operating system that’s primary focus is security. With tightly controlled access and specialized hardware, an HSM is necessary for many industries to maintain security and compliance, as well as to practice and maintain strong key management practices for your data.
Although HSMs can be an investment, they are often well worth the cost. What are some of the most influential benefits of HSM security?
Generation of Strong Keys
Cryptographic keys should be completely random to minimize any chance that hackers could decipher them. However, it’s not possible for computers to generate truly random keys —but HSMs are designed to do so with dedicated hardware.
HSMs utilize a specific process to generate strong keys that are genuinely random. HSMs can not only produce these keys, but rotate them as appropriate. The ability of an HSM to create such high-quality keys and protect them makes it virtually impossible for hackers to access your data.
High Level of Security
The level of security HSMs offer is unparalleled. These devices can be either tamper-resistant or tamper-evident. Should someone attempt to hack into the device, the HSM registers the attack and sends an alarm to the appropriate personnel. It’s not easy to achieve this level of security with software.
HSMs are also third-party lab tested to ensure their security. HSM security is ideal for cryptographic functions, which need to be done in a secure environment where access is restricted. As a result, it’s extremely difficult to hack into an HSM.
In addition, HSMs are also kept separate from your organization’s network and the data they encrypt, adding another layer of security for your business. Since an HSM is a physical device and cryptographic functions never leave the device, hackers would need access to the actual HSM to even attempt to access protected data.
Easily Manage Keys Throughout Their Life
Since HSMs are exclusively designed to generate, store, and protect keys throughout their life, they are very efficient at this process. You even have the opportunity to automate key management processes to ensure compliance and minimize your efforts when managing your cryptographic keys.
Having this type of centralized solution makes it possible for even large organizations to simplify key management, even when using multiple HSMs. In fact, automation is often the best approach to key lifecycle management for most companies, especially when it comes to staying in compliance with industry standards.
Although HSMs aren’t designed to perform other tasks outside of cryptography, they provide excellent efficiency for what they do, which is encryption, decryption, authentication, and key management.
Stay in Compliance
One of the primary benefits HSMs offer—outside of their excellent security—is making it possible to maintain compliance with both internal and external cybersecurity standards.
If you are a government organization, utilizing an HSM supports compliance up to Level 3 with Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2, which requires your company’s cryptographic modules to meet set security standards.
HSMs also make it possible for companies that handle payment card data to remain in compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Any organization that needs to encrypt and protect sensitive data can benefit from an HSM, including healthcare, energy, or payment industries.
Keep Track of Keys
Unlike storing keys in a virtual environment, utilizing HSM security allows businesses to store keys in a single and known location, making it easier for them to track. Since keys can’t leave the device, they remain secure.
Organizations can even use multiple HSMs simultaneously as needed to encrypt data and keep keys protected, all while being able to better track keys and simplify key management and compliance processes.
Does Your Business Use an HSM?
Although you can certainly encrypt data without an HSM, it won’t provide the same level of security as using a hardware security module. HSMs provide an extra layer to your security that can provide maximum protection for your critical data and give you peace of mind.