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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

Transparent Data Encryption on SQL Server 2008/2012 – Where are Your Keys?

Posted by Paul Taylor on May 25, 2012 8:51:00 AM

ekm encryption keysAny way you look at it, 2011 was a very bad year for database security. From the high-profile (and highly embarrassing) series of attacks on Sony's PlayStation Network, to the less-publicized Epsilon breach which was described by the Privacy Clearinghouse as the worst data breach in history, there was a huge upswing in attacks targeting private user data. In fact, according to a recent Verizon PCI Compliance Report (PCIR), "about 42 percent of organizations have trouble implementing a proper encryption key management strategy to keep information safe."

In short, hacking has become a goldmine for criminals looking to steal and exploit personal information, and you need to be doing everything you can to avoid being their next victim. For database administrators, this means making sure your encryption keys are as secure as possible.

Key Management in SQL Server 2008/2012

In previous years, encryption security was difficult because the keys were almost always stored locally on the same computer as the data. However, with the SQL Server 2008/2012 Enterprise Edition encryption key management became much more robust thanks to the introduction of Extensible Key Management (EKM).

EKM works alongside the Microsoft Cryptographic API to create a system where SQL server key management is significantly more secure. They can now easily be stored in an external Hardware Security Modules (HSM) that store the encryption keys securely, away from the data they protect. This makes it far more difficult for hackers to gain access to your secure private information.

The Advantages of a Hardware Security Module (HSM)

Alliance Key Manager, Townsend Security's encryption key management HSM provides a number of significant benefits for secure encryption key management.

  • Direct Integration With SQL 2008/2012: SQL Server 2008/2012 natively supports HSMs, requiring only a small tweak to the configuration files to enable their usage and disable local key storage.
  • True Key Security: With TDE, the key to your encryption never actually leaves the HSM. It cannot be captured through packet-sniffing or at the end user's machine.
  • Robust Standards Compliance: A properly-configured HSM setup gives you robust compliance with most of the major public and private security standards, including PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
  • End User Simplicity with TDE: EKM also allows for Transparent Data Encryption (TDE), meaning that it's invisible to the end user. Your employees can continue to use their applications as they normally did, with the Hardware Security Module being queried as necessary, behind the scenes.
  • Cell Level Encryption: Through EKM, each individual column of cells can be encrypted separately, making large-scale data breaches far more difficult to pull off.
  • Easy Implementation: Once the hardware is installed, the key management software only needs to be installed on your server machine. End user access to it is managed through software licenses rather than requiring time-consuming individual installations.

A Smart Choice for Server Security

While encryption and key management are not the only elements necessary for robust data security, they are a major component of it. By implementing a HSM, your business can quickly and easily give its security a shot in the arm, telling your customers and investors that you're serious about protecting private personal information on your servers.

Don't let 2011 be a sign of things to come; take steps now to make 2012 the year of data protection.

Download our White Paper “Encryption Key Management with Microsoft SQL Server 2008/2012” to read more about encryption key management, meeting compliance regulations with a certified HSM, and how to utilize about TDE and EKM on your SQL server.

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Topics: SQL Server 2008, Encryption Key Management

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