What Is An HSM and What Are The Benefits?
Today, the security needs of companies require that they have a high level of protection, particularly when it comes to data.
From payment methods such as credit cards to personal customer information and business data, organizations that handle any of this information need to ensure they’re protected.
A hardware security module (HSM) is designed to provide an exceptionally high level of security to businesses in a variety of industries that need to safeguard their data. But what is an HSM, and what are the benefits of using one?
What Is an HSM Exactly?
An HSM is a secure physical device—typically an external device that can be plugged into a computer—that’s designed for cryptoprocessing. Cryptoprocessors such as HSMs use algorithms to encrypt data to offer an increased level of security.
HSMs can encrypt and decrypt information and can manage digital keys. They’re made specifically to protect sensitive data.
Built with specialized hardware and thoroughly tested and certified by third-party regulators, HSMs have strictly controlled access. These modules work similar to a credit card with a chip: the chip can’t be broken, the authentication occurs inside, and it’s virtually impossible to tamper with it.
Which Companies Can Benefit
Hardware security modules are a must for companies that handle payment data such as credit or debit cards, but other businesses can benefit from using HSMs as well.
HSMs provide companies with a way to gain compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, or PCI DSS. PCI DSS defines security standards for all companies and merchants that deal with credit card information.
To obtain a PCI DSS certification, an HSM is the ideal solution. However, other industries including automotive, energy, government, and even the healthcare industry are just a few that utilize HSMs for enhanced protection and to meet compliance regulations.
So what is an HSM? It’s a highly secure solution for organizations that need to protect non-public data and gain compliance, regardless of whether they handle payment information, customer or employee data, or valuable business information they want to keep safe.
Advantages of Using an HSM
There are many benefits of using an HSM to protect your data.
Provides maximum security. HSMs provide one of the highest levels of security against external threats. It’s safe to use and helps protect against malicious hacks.
Take customer data seriously. Show customers that you take their privacy seriously by going the extra mile to safeguard their information, especially their payment information.
Get HSM as a service. For companies that can’t afford to invest in an HSM but need to have PCI DSS certification, some IT providers offer HSM as a service, which makes this technology more accessible and affordable for some businesses.
Keep your key in just one place. Unlike storing a key in software—where it could virtually end up anywhere—the HSM alone keeps the key, making it easier to track and safeguard. The key cannot leave the device.
Enjoy tamper-proof protection. Some HSMs are tamper evident and others are tamper-resistant depending on their specific features, providing a level of security that’s difficult to achieve when using software alone.
While you can certainly encrypt data without the use of an HSM, this isn’t recommended for critical information. An HSM provides the most secure solution against data theft and misuse. While it can be a more costly investment, it’s often necessary!
Security Standards for HSMs
Since hardware security modules play a crucial role in keeping data safe, there are strict requirements in place to ensure their efficacy.
One of these standards is the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 140-2 (also known as FIPS 140), which gives third-party assurance for a minimum level of strength for a cryptographic device.
FIPS 140 also provides different levels of security requirements, so when considering what is an HSM, know that not all HSMs are created equal. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Council also has its own set of requirements for hardware security modules used for payment data.
Get Ahead with Your Security!
While there are specific organizations that handle more sensitive data that would benefit from an HSM, companies of all industries are looking for better ways to secure their information and prevent security breaches.
Eventually, all organizations may have to comply with standards such as those outlined in the PCI DSS certification. Businesses are recognizing the need for stronger security, and taking advantage of an HSM can help implement more effective measures that don’t just result in compliance, but peace of mind as well.