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How HSMs Keep a Massive Number of Encryption Keys Secure and Usable

Posted by Pete Flagella on Apr 4, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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Hardware Security Modules, also known as HSMs, are physical computing devices that protect digital encryption keys that are used to provide strong authentication for data. Strong authentication is needed for processing information in a variety of secure functions, especially in banking and financial services, where access to accounts must be accurately, quickly, and securely linked to the proper person or business in order to prevent hacking, theft, and other cybercrimes.

To learn how encryption can lower the cost of regulatory compliance while enhancing security, download our white paper Reducing the Cost of Regulatory Compliance with Encryption 

The Importance of Encryption Keys for Secure Data Processing

Digital encryption keys are mathematical schemes – random strings of bits that have been specifically developed to scramble and unscramble sensitive information. Each encryption key is unique, but when a key is shared, it can be stolen and used to decode data that could allow hackers to access information such as bank, investment, and credit card accounts, private company or government records, or other confidential information. Therefore, to protect the data they’ve been designed to safeguard, encryption keys themselves must stay secure.

How HSMs Protect Encryption Keys and Keep Them Usable

If an organization hasn’t taken the proper precautions to protect their encryption keys, it can make sensitive data available to anyone who gets access to them. For example, if a developer places keys in application source code or makes it possible to access them from a main server, or if an organization gives direct access to encryption keys to specific employees, it may leave an entire organization’s data at risk.

HSM's Tamper-Proof Safeguards and Lack of an Operating System Make Them a Vital Part of Cybersecurity

Unlike placing a key in those easy-to-get locations, an HSM is a physical device with no operating system – a fact that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to gain access to any encryption keys that are stored within it, even if a network is attacked. HSMs have specific safeguards to prevent physical tampering, and many HSMs, in addition to securing encryption keys, also generate them, store them, rotate them, terminate them, and archive them for records or future use.

HSMs Allow Organizations to Provide Certifications that Conform to a Variety of Security Standards

Organizations are vulnerable to data security breaches, which is why a variety of data security standards, such as the PCI standard, are becoming so crucial. The PCI data security standard is particularly important for many businesses, as merchants that accept major credit cards must be in compliance. HSMs help organizations comply with these standards quickly, securely, and efficiently, avoiding the fines and regulatory messes that occur when companies are in violation. 

HSMs Can be Clustered for Faster Data Processing

Organizations that need to process a large amount of data and verify the identities of a variety of individuals or organizations simultaneously, such as banks, investment firms, and other players in financial industry, can find it difficult to achieve both ideal processing speed and optimal security in a single HSM. That’s why many larger companies ‘cluster’ several HSMs to process data simultaneously. The practical impact, for example, allows hundreds or thousands of customers to log on to their bank account at the same time.

To learn more about how HSMs and other security protocols that can offer effective data encryption for your organization, contact Prime Factors at 888-963-6358 or fill out our online form for a free cybersecurity consultation.


To learn how encryption can lower the cost of regulatory compliance while enhancing security, download our white paper Reducing the Cost of Regulatory Compliance with Encryption.  

Topics: encryption, PCI Data Encryption, encryption keys