Keep Your Keys Secure With Encryption Key Management
What is Encryption key management? Simply put it is the handling of the entire lifecycle of encryption keys to keep them safe from theft or loss.
These tasks include everything from creation and storage to managing key use, as well as destroying them at the end of their life.
If your organization deals with confidential data—and most industries do—encryption is vital to security.
Companies of all sizes today are victims of data breaches, and regulatory frameworks are struggling to keep up with evolving cyberattacks that result in compromised information.
Encryption has become a necessity, but your encryption method is only as good as your key management.
What Is Encryption Key Management & Why So Critical
Poor or inadequate key management can lead to a data breach more than a weak algorithm, and with the amount of data most businesses need to encrypt today, many keys and many encryptions tools may be used.
Each key needs to be accounted for, not just to access its corresponding data, but to ensure it can be securely managed until the end of its life.
As standards continue to develop for managing encryption keys, it’s essential to know how key management can affect the security of your encrypted data even more than your encryption techniques.
Proper key administration is critical to security when considering what is encryption key management.
There are different types of encryption that convert your data into ciphertext, which looks like a completely random combination of numbers and letters. However, the encryption key is able to convert ciphertext back to readable content, or plaintext.
Since the only way to access encrypted data is with its corresponding key, your data is only as secure as the management of its keys allows.
Think about it—you can build a fortress designed to keep everyone out, but if someone has the keys to the front door, all your security is rendered useless.
Compliance Measures and External Systems
Anyone who can access your encryption keys can convert encrypted data back to its original form.
You must have standards in place to control these keys throughout their life to ensure only authorized people access protected information and that the keys are not lost.
Key management protects your keys using different processes and techniques.
For example, organizations may need to protect a large volume of data over a long period of time, so limiting the power a single key has—such as the amount of information it protects, who has access to it, and damage done if the key is compromised—is also important.
Generally, the more secure the data is, the shorter the lifetime of the encryption key.
Encryption key management is crucial to preventing unauthorized access to sensitive information—if keys are compromised, entire systems and data can be compromised and rendered unusable until the situation is resolved.
Proper Handling of Encryption Keys
In general, your best bet is to use an external system, or a third party, to manage your keys across their lifecycle. Why is this?
First, storing keys in a separate location from the data being encrypted adds another level of security, and is often the only option for industries needing to meet compliance.
External key management also allows you to have centralized standards for your keys, creating a unified strategy that can enhance security.
Your options for external key management include a Hardware Security Module (HSM), which provides the highest level of security. You also have the possibility of hosted HSM solutions with a provider to manage your keys.
Key management can also be done via software and virtual appliances, or through software-as-a-service (SaaS) measures. Regardless of what system you choose to use, you must be sure you’re in compliance with industry standards.
Key Management Is Necessary for Data Security
So what is encryption key management? It’s the full administration of your encryption keys, an integral part of data security when using encryption today. For organizations across all industries, encryption key management isn’t optional—it’s a must to meet compliance regulations and prevent a devastating security breach.