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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

How Can I Be Sure I Never Lose My Encryption Keys in Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

Posted by Patrick Townsend on Aug 12, 2016 11:00:00 AM

As organizations move to the cloud, the topics of encryption and key management are top concerns.  "How can I be sure that I never lose my encryption keys?" is one that we hear a lot.  With Alliance Key Manager (AKM), Townsend Security's FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption key manager, you never have to worry about that! There are several layers of protection that help put this worry to rest. Let’s take a look at them in order.

Backup and Restore

How to Meet Best Practices for Protecting Information in AWS by Stephen WynkoopThe first layer of protection is that Alliance Key Manager gives you a complete backup and restore facility -including both a manual and automated facility. At any time you can run the manual backup operation to back up your key database, certificates, configurations and access control definitions. This backup can be sent to your own secure server either in the AWS cloud or in your own data center. You can also create the backup image and download it directly to your own server for safekeeping.

Alliance Key Manager also supports the ability to automatically backup to a secure server at an interval you specify. You can back up your encryption keys daily, weekly, monthly or at an interval you specify. Secure off-line backup is the first layer of protection.

High Availability

Most of our customers in AWS will deploy a second instance of Alliance Key Manager as a high availability failover key server. You can deploy the HA instance of the key server in a different region, or even completely outside of the AWS cloud. Once you deploy the secondary HA instance of the AKM key server you can start mirroring your data keys from the primary production instance of the key server to this secondary HA instance of the key server. Keys and access policies are securely mirrored in real time and the mirror architecture is active-active. This means that if you fail over to the secondary key server, create keys or make changes to key access policies, these will be mirrored back to the production key server in real time. Key mirroring provides a second layer of protection from key loss.

For customers concerned about protection from failures of the AWS cloud platform itself, you can mirror encryption keys to a key server outside of the AWS cloud. That secondary mirror key server can be located in your data center, in another cloud service provider platform, or in a hardware security module (cloud HSM) in a hosting center. Note that there is no limit to the number of backup mirror key servers that you can configure. Alliance Key Manager supports a many-to-many architecture for key mirroring.

Export Encryption Keys

A third layer of protection is provided by the key export facility of Alliance Key Manager. You can securely export individual encryption keys to your own internal systems. The key export facility also provides you with the ability to share an encryption key with another user or organization.

Separation of Duties & Dual Control

Using Separation of Duties and Dual Control can provide a fourth layer of protection for encryption keys. This level of protection is especially helpful for protecting from insider threats. You can create a separate AWS account for use by your security administrators to create and manage encryption keys. These key management administrators would have no access to normal AWS instances where you store sensitive data, and your normal AWS administrators would have no access to the key management account. By activating Dual Control in Alliance Key Manager at least two security administrators need to authenticate to the server to make changes or delete encryption keys.

Stand-alone Instance

Lastly, Alliance Key Manager runs as a stand-alone EC2 instance in the AWS cloud. You are automatically taking advantage of the security, resilience and recoverability provided by Amazon. Always use good AWS account security and management practices to help protect your sensitive data and encryption keys!

It may theoretically be possible to lose an encryption key, but you are going to have to work very hard to do so! Alliance Key Manager takes the fear of key loss out of your encryption strategy in AWS.

You can find more information about Alliance Key Manager for AWS here.

How to Meet Best Practices for Protecting Information in AWS by Stephen Wynkoop

Topics: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Encryption Key Management

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