Looking into 2016, what is the role encryption key management will play in securing sensitive data?
Encryption and key management are the Fort Knoxes of security technologies for organizations wanting to protect sensitive data from hackers and data breaches. While commonly used by retail and financial institutions (and gaining even more traction after the onslaught of retail data breaches we saw in 2014), we still see major gaps and problems with implementation of these technologies across multiple industries. In 2015, with over 181 million records exposed in data breaches by mid November, we ask ourselves, what are the challenges of implementing encryption and key management, how widely are they used today, and what can we expect from encryption and key management vendors looking forward?
While encryption has become an easily accessible technology, it remains a major point of struggle for most companies. Since organizations have multiple departments with siloed technical infrastructure, many different tools must be used to manage data across the enterprise. From HR to Accounting to stored customer data, many different platforms, operating systems, databases, and applications are used to store and process sensitive information. This makes locating this data extremely difficult as well as achieving consistent data encryption that can be managed from a single, central location.
Boards of directors and executives are becoming more aware that data security is not just a technical problem, but a governance, risk management, and compliance problem that deserves the same level of attention to risk as financial, legal, and corporate aspects of their business. However, employees at the IT level still hold the most buying influence over encryption and key management technologies.
These sorts of buying decisions have historically landed in the wheelhouse of IT Operations; however, the primary issue that arises in these decisions is that complicated data security projects are often perceived as a threat to operational continuity. When an IT professional feels they must choose between security and functionality, they will always choose function to avoid the dreaded business-down scenario. Companies should not have to chose between security and continuity, and today, security professionals advocate that executives assign an IT security team to advocate for security solutions and work with IT Operations to implement these technologies.
According to the Ponemon Institute 2015 Global Encryption & Key Management Trends Study, meeting compliance requirements such as PCI-DSS remains the primary driver for encryption and key management implementation. PCI-DSS and federal and financial regulations such as FISMA and GLBA/FFIEC also continue to set the strictest data security regulations. However, despite compliance with industry regulations, organizations still experience breaches, often by a hacker accessing their network through a third party vendor or through employee mistakes. Sadly, often these breaches reveal that data was not encrypted, despite industry compliance.
This flagrant lack of encryption begs the question, will our data security ever get better, or will hackers continue to be one or even two steps ahead?
The answer to that question may come from the fact that in many large corporations, about 80% of resources allocated for data security apply towards network and anti-virus security. This includes firewalls, malware detection, and other intrusion-prevention software. The problem with relying mostly on network security is that hackers continually succeed in breaking through these barriers, often using social engineering and phishing scams to achieve enough authority to open a door and walk right in. Once inside, they discover sensitive data stored in the clear and steal it.
Network security is always an important part of a data security plan, but time after time we see encryption, which is also a critical part of that plan, implemented after-the-fact. This comes back to the issue of sensitive data being difficult to locate inside an enterprise, but the sheer amounts of unencrypted data that hackers are able to discover leads one to believe that some organizations simply do not implement encryption very well. This may be backed up by the discovery that only 37% of companies in the U.S. deploy encryption extensively (as opposed to partially) across their enterprise.
Diving deeper into the challenges surrounding encryption, one of the most painful parts of encrypting data is managing encryption keys. Even if a company encrypts a database of customer credit card numbers, if they do not protect the encryption key, a hacker could easily find the key and decrypt the data, rendering the encryption useless. Unfortunately, protecting and managing encryption keys away from encrypted data is still something organizations fail to do.
As organizations begin to move into the cloud and virtualized environments, as many already have, another stumbling block will be lack of availability of hybrid (cloud and in-house) encryption and key management solutions.
Looking into 2016 and beyond, the key management solutions that will excel will be the solutions that can manage encryption keys anywhere your sensitive data is located whether that be in the cloud, virtual platforms, or hardware. A majority of companies believe that hybrid deployment in both cloud and on-premise is the most important feature of an encryption solution. Without strong hybrid key management, encryption of data spread across an enterprise and the cloud will become even more difficult. Key management vendors that follow their customers into virtual environments will, in the long term, deliver more comprehensive data security.
It’s hard to imagine that data breaches will begin to diminish any time soon, but hopefully organizations will learn from others’ mistakes. It is clear from the evidence that deployment of encryption is nowhere near complete across most organizations, and lack of encryption key management continues to be a challenge, but working with the right encryption key management vendor can ease this pain.
When looking for a key management vendor that can help you manage encryption keys across your enterprise, including the cloud, look for a key management vendor that has:
- No hidden or additional fees for nodes or client-side applications
- Commitment to innovation and development
- Commitment to legacy products
- Excellent reputation for customer support