Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Ravi Rajamiyer, Ed Featherston

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Blog Feed Post

The Encrypted Elephant in the Cloud Room

Encrypting data in the cloud is tricky, defying long held best practices regarding key management. Porticor aims to change that

Anyone who’s been around cryptography for a while understands that secure key management is a critical foundation for any security strategy involving encryption. Back in the day it was SSL, and an entire industry of solutions grew up specifically aimed at protecting the key to the kingdom – the master key. Tamper-resistant hardware devices are still required for some US Federal security standards under the FIPS banner, with specific security protections at the network and software levels providing additional assurance that the ever important key remains safe.

In many cases it’s advised that the master key is not even kept on the same premises as the systems that use it. It must be locked up, safely, offsite; transported via a secure briefcase, handcuffed to a security officer and guarded by dire wolves. With very, very big teeth.

No, I am not exaggerating. At least not much. The master key really is that important to the security of cryptography.

That’s why encryption in the cloud is such a tough nut to crack. Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt those Amazon S3 objects? Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt disk volumes in any cloud storage service?

Start-up Porticor has an answer, one that breaks (literally and figuratively) traditional models of key management and offers a pathway to a more secure method of managing cryptography in the cloud.

SPLIT-KEY ENCRYPTION andyburton-quote

Porticor is a combination SaaS / IaaS solution designed to enable encryption of data at rest in IaaS environments with a focus on cloud, currently available on AWS and other clouds. It’s a combination in not just deployment model – which is rapidly becoming the norm for cloud-based services – but in architecture, as well.

To alleviate violating best practices with respect to key management, i.e. you don’t store the master key right next to the data it’s been used to encrypt – Porticor has developed a technique it calls “Split-Key Encryption.”

Data encryption comprises, you’ll recall, the execution of an encryption algorithm on the data using a secret key, the result of which is ciphertext. The secret key is the, if you’ll pardon the pun, secret to gaining access to that data once it has been encrypted. Storing it next to the data, then, is obviously a Very Bad Idea™ and as noted above the industry has already addressed the risk of doing so with a variety of solutions. Porticor takes a different approach by focusing on the security of the key not only from the perspective of its location but of its form.

The secret master key in Porticor’s system is actually a mathematical combination of the master key generated on a per project (disk volumes or S3 objects) basis and a unique key created by the Porticor Virtual Key Management™ (PVKM™)  system. The master key is half of the real key, and the PVKM generated key the other half. Only by combining the two – mathematically – can you discover the true secret key needed to work with the encrypted data.

split key encryptionThe PVKM generated key is stored in Porticor’s SaaS-based key management system, while the master keys are stored in the Porticor virtual appliance, deployed in the cloud along with the data its protecting.

The fact that the secret key can only be derived algorithmically from the two halves of the keys enhances security by making it impossible to find the actual encryption key from just one of the halves, since the math used removes all hints to the value of that key. It removes the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly unless they have both halves at the same time. The math could be a simple concatenation, but it could also be a more complicated algebraic equation. It could ostensibly be different for each set of keys, depending on the lengths to which Porticor wants to go to minimize the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly.

Still, some folks might be concerned that the master key exists in the same environment as the data it ultimately protects. Porticor intends to address that by moving to a partially homomorphic key encryption scheme.

HOMOMORPHIC KEY ENCRYPTION

If you aren’t familiar with homomorphic encryption, there are several articles I’d encourage you to read, beginning with “Homomorphic Encryption” by Technology Review followed by Craig Stuntz’s “What is Homomorphic Encryption, and Why Should I Care?” If you can’t get enough of equations and formulas, then wander over to Wikipedia and read its entry on Homomorphic Encryption as well.

Porticor itself has a brief discussion of the technology, but it is not nearly as deep as the aforementioned articles.

In a nutshell (in case you can’t bear to leave this page) homomorphic encryption is the fascinating property of some algorithms to work both on plaintext as well as on encrypted versions of the plaintext and come up with the same result. Executing the algorithm against encrypted data and then decrypting it gives the same result as executing the algorithm against the unencrypted version of the data.

So, what Porticor plans to do is apply homomorphic encryption to the keys, ensuring that the actual keys are no longer stored anywhere – unless you remember to tuck them away someplace safe or write it down. The algorithms for joining the two keys are performed on the encrypted versions of the keys, resulting in an encrypted symmetric key specific to one resource – a disk volume or S3 object.

The resulting system ensures that:

  • No keys are ever on a disk in plain form
  • Master keys are never decrypted, and so they are never known to anyone outside the application owner themselves
  • The "second half" of each key (PVKM stored) are also never decrypted, and are never even known to anyone (not even Porticor)
  • Symmetric keys for a specific resource exist in memory only, and are decrypted for use only when the actual data is needed, then they are discarded

This effectively eliminates one more argument against cloud – that keys cannot adequately be secured.

In a traditional data encryption solution the only thing you need is the secret key to unlock the data. Using Porticor’s split-key technology you need the PVKM key and the master key used to recombine those keys. Layer atop that homomorphic key encryption to ensure the keys don’t actually exist anywhere, and you have a rejoined to the claim that secure data and cloud simply cannot coexist.

In addition to the relative newness of the technique (and the nature of being untried at this point) the argument against homomorphic encryption of any kind is a familiar one: performance. Cryptography in general is by no means a fast operation and there is more than a decade’s worth of technology in the form of hardware acceleration (and associated performance tests) specifically designed to remediate the slow performance of cryptographic functions. Homomorphic encryption is noted to be excruciatingly slow and the inability to leverage any kind of hardware acceleration in cloud computing environments offers no relief. Whether this performance penalty will be worth the additional level of security such a system adds is largely a matter of conjecture and highly dependent upon the balance between security and performance required by the organization.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deli...
In order to meet the rapidly changing demands of today’s customers, companies are continually forced to redefine their business strategies in order to meet these needs, stay relevant and continue to see profitable growth. IoT deployment and development is integral in this transformation, and today businesses are increasingly seeing the value of investing their resources into IoT deployments. These technologies are able increase ROI through projects such as connecting supply chains or enabling sm...
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, will motivate why realizing the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insigh...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that EARP Integration will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. EARP Integration is a passionate software house. Since its inception in 2009 the company successfully delivers smart solutions for cities and factories that start their digital transformation. EARP provides bespoke solutions like, for example, advanced enterprise portals, business intelligence systems an...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outscale, a global pure play Infrastructure as a Service provider and strategic partner of Dassault Systèmes, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 2010, Outscale simplifies infrastructure complexities and boosts the business agility of its customers. Outscale delivers a secure, reliable and industrial strength solution for its customers, which in...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Progress, a global leader in application development, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Enterprises today are rapidly adopting the cloud, while continuing to retain business-critical/sensitive data inside the firewall. This is creating two separate data silos – one inside the firewall and the other outside the firewall. Cloud ISVs oft...
As cloud adoption continues to transform business, today's global enterprises are challenged with managing a growing amount of information living outside of the data center. The rapid adoption of IoT and increasingly mobile workforce are exacerbating the problem. Ensuring secure data sharing and efficient backup poses capacity and bandwidth considerations as well as policy and regulatory compliance issues.
The 21st International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 21st International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Interoute is the owner operator of Europe's largest network and a global cloud services platform, which encompasses over 70,000 km of lit fiber, 15 data centers, 17 virtual data centers and 33 colocation centers, with connections to 195 additional partner data centers. Our full-service Unifie...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Progress, a global leader in application development, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Enterprises today are rapidly adopting the cloud, while continuing to retain business-critical/sensitive data inside the firewall. This is creating two separate data silos – one inside the firewall and the other outside the firewall. Cloud ISVs ofte...
Existing Big Data solutions are mainly focused on the discovery and analysis of data. The solutions are scalable and highly available but tedious when swapping in and swapping out occurs in disarray and thrashing takes place. The resolution for thrashing through machine learning algorithms and support nomenclature is through simple techniques. Organizations that have been collecting large customer data are increasingly seeing the need to use the data for swapping in and out and thrashing occurs ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DivvyCloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DivvyCloud software enables organizations to achieve their cloud computing goals by simplifying and automating security, compliance and cost optimization of public and private cloud infrastructure. Using DivvyCloud, customers can leverage programmatic Bots to identify and remediate common cloud problems in rea...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assis...
SYS-CON Events announced today that delaPlex will exhibit at SYS-CON's @CloudExpo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. delaPlex pioneered Software Development as a Service (SDaaS), which provides scalable resources to build, test, and deploy software. It’s a fast and more reliable way to develop a new product or expand your in-house team.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...