Encryption key management worries loom

Encrypted storage will require storage admins to think through key management

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Voltage Security Inc.'s Key Management Server aims to eliminate the need to make that connection through its identity-based encryption (IBE), which allows an organization to use any string of characters - even a user's email address - as a public key. The Key Management Server then automatically generates a key based on pre-determined policies about which users should have access to which data. This eliminates the need to create and communicate with a certificate server to map a user's identity to a specific public key, says Terence Spies, the firm's chief technology officer, and services, and helps ensure companies can quickly decrypt data whenever they need it.

Among the best practices in key management recommended by Hubis are not to use the same keys to encrypt both data and other keys. He also suggests avoiding the use of known weak keys, limiting the amount of time a key is in plain text format while it is in use and preventing humans from viewing keys in plain text.

Emerging standards

Currently, most enterprise level key management solutions "are going to be proprietary," says Hubis. That means hardware such as array controllers need special software to establish a secure link between the client (an array controller) and key management servers from various vendors. In the absence of such linking software, storage administrators must manually distribute the keys, he says.

Emerging standards such as the IEEE's 1619.3 will eventually help ensure interoperability among various key management servers , Hubis says, while a subgroup of the Trusted Computing Group is working to develop a uniform approach to managing keys across a variety of storage devices.

Experts advise storage managers to work with other IT planners throughout the organization to determine threats facing the , where encryption can help reduce those threats and then plan for how to manage the keys needed to provide that encryption.

Among the factors to consider are how many types of keys they will need to manage; the number of keys they will generate as the number of encrypted tapes or disks grows; how to collect and manage policy information about the keys (such as who can create and destroy them and how long they will be valid) as well as how to back up and recover the keys and to encrypt them for security.

But above all, storage administrators need to remember that encryption itself "is relatively easy," says Moulds. "The difficult thing is how to manage all those keys. If keys can be stolen, or be accessed by the wrong person, or if keys are inadequately copied and backed up, and distributed, and you have no idea how many copies [exist] encryption is a total waste of time."

Keys to key mnagement

  • Plan for future growth in the number and types of keys you will need to manage, and for the length of time you will need to store them.
  • Prepare policies for those keys (such as who can access which keys and now long various keys will exist.)
  • Ensure encryption and decryption keys are protected in your backup and recovery and security plans.
  • Plan for how to integrate key management with your identity and access management processes and tools (such as directories.)
  • Communicate with others managing encryption on other platforms such as networks and applications to coordinate your key management efforts.
  • Monitor the status of standards efforts such as the IEEE's 1619.3 which will make it easier for various key management systems to work together.

Robert L. Scheier is a free-lance writer who covers storage, security and related areas from Boylston, Mass. He can be reached at bob@scheierassociates.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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