One clear direction I’ve observed over the last few months is the focus of QSA auditors and other security professionals on the protection of sensitive data AFTER it traverses the Internet and then lands in a database on a hard disk drive. We have really good ways of protecting data in transit using 128-bit SSL encryption. For example, the web protocols HTTPS and FTPS provide for the ability to encrypt the data in transit, and Secure Shell SSH also provides strong encryption. But after the data reaches the end point of its journey it lands on a hard drive somewhere, and it is often exposed to loss at that point. I believe that’s why security auditors are putting a lot of emphasis now on making sure that data is encrypted when it hits a hard drive.
Many companies have implemented web services in combination with the XML data standard to take advantage of low cost, real time integration with their customers and vendors. When you combine the ubiquity of the web HTTPS protocol with the W3C XML standard you get a power incentive to use this platform for business integration.
But care should be given to what happens to data when it leaves the realm of encrypted transit and lands on server hard drives.
Of course, the right thing to do is encrypt sensitive data before it lands on the hard drive. This means that the tools you are using have to support encryption as a natural part of the process of converting XML data. Standard XML processing tools such as Xerces and Xpath do not have built-in encryption. The same is true for XML toolkits and APIs provided by IBM, Microsoft, and others. This leaves it to developers to try to intercept data after it is transformed from XML and before it lands in a database table or on a hard drive. That’s a real challenge.
In our Alliance XML/400 web services product on the IBM platform we built encryption right into the data transformation process about four years ago. Alliance XML/400 customers can protect sensitive data by just enabling the encryption option on a translation map. The solution does the rest. The data is encrypted before insertion into the database and there is no exposure as the data lands in the database on the hard drive. Our customers are taking advantage of this feature to meet PCI and other compliance regulations.
For non-IBM System i environments we now provide an easy way to retrieve encryption keys and perform encryption in a variety of development languages such as Microsoft .NET, Java, and C/C++.
Encryption can help protect against another common threat, too. At the annual PCI SSC standards council meeting in Orlando this year, forensics expert Chris Novak of Verizon talked about how more than 75 percent of data loss events begin with a well known weakness that hasn’t been patched, and half of these are based on SQL injection attacks. With SQL injection, the attack on your servers starts with bad data inserted into a database in the clear, leaving open a later exploit. There are ways to prevent SQL injection through programming techniques, but encryption will also help defeat them.
Will encrypting your data provide all of the security protection you need? Certainly not. I like to think of it this way: Wearing a parachute on a skydiving expedition is no guarantee that you won’t be hurt when you land. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t wear one, right? I think of encryption in the same way.
To view a replay of a recent webinar we presented on XML & Web Services, click here.