Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

A Data-centric Approach to Securing Sensitive Data

Posted by Michelle Larson on Feb 25, 2016 1:11:00 PM

Data-centric security means planning for and implementing encryption and the proper management of encryption keys regardless of the environment. Request the Podcast: Compliance for Coders

All data security plans should constantly evolve to reflect changes in business and compliance regulations, as well as policy and infrastructure changes. Because of this evolution, developers are often called upon to modify existing applications, and to implement new or better security solutions. They also are often required to add new security applications in order to meet data protection best practices or prepare for an audit to meet compliance requirements (PCI DSS, HIPAA, FFIEC, etc.).  

What do developers need to know about coding for compliance?

From the ground up, regardless of the platform or language you use, it is the data security mindset that is critical. Developers need to be aware of protecting sensitive data when writing code because ever-evolving compliance requirements call for that disposition. There should be an emphasis to meet industry compliance standards from the beginning design stages. Code needs to be built with those data protection requirements in mind so that is doesn’t have to be reengineered. Projects can sink or fail due to inadequate data security measures, which can put a whole organization at risk.

Whether you are working in hardware, virtual, or cloud environments, understanding and identifying where sensitive data will reside is very important from day one. There needs to be an understanding of the criminal mindsets that will be trying to breach the systems you create, proper preparation for security audits, and a full knowledge of the compliance guidance available to meet industry standards. Developers should also develop for every possible platform/application that the project might be deployed on. As applications move more to multi-tenant cloud environments, you want to make sure you are not locked into or out of a particular platform. You want your code to be compatible from day one with hardware, VMware virtual environments, and cloud platforms. As more organizations move away from using only hardware, VMware technology is at the center of a revolution around virtual and cloud environments. VMware (the company) has done a great job with providing educational materials, helping developers program in a compliance fashion, and producing reference architecture for PCI compliance.

As developers know, their customers want “out of the box” third-party solutions that already meet required security validations. A few of the fundamental basics to keep in mind when developing for data security compliance:

    • Use encryption standards such as AES encryption for data-at-rest.
    • Use proper Encryption Key storage and management tools
    • Do not burn the keys in code
    • Do not store keys on the same server as the protected data
    • Plan for a compliance audit from the beginning stages

It is also important to look for solution providers that will talk with you before just giving you an instant trial download, it is a good idea to make sure their solution is a technical fit, and not a waste of your time. This is something we do here at Townsend Security with all of our products. We offer a 30-day full version trial of all our software so that you can do a full proof-of-concept and test in your environment. We also feel it is important to supply client-side applications, SDK’s and modules that fit naturally into the platforms and languages that match your development environment. I encourage you to take a little time to listen to this podcast and hear from Patrick Townsend, the Founder & CEO of Townsend Security, on his perspective for developers.

Request the Podcast: Compliance for Coders

Topics: Data Security, Developer Program, Encryption Key Management, Defense-in-Depth, Podcast, Key Life Cycle

Three Things to Know about PGP Encryption & the IBM z

Posted by Michelle Larson on Apr 24, 2015 6:10:00 AM

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) Encryption is a solid path to provable and defensible security, and PGP Command Line sets the standard for IBM enterprise customers.

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption is one of the most widely deployed whole file encryption technologies that has stood the test of time among the world’s largest financial, medical, industrial, and services companies. Download the PGP z podcast It works on all of the major operating system platforms and makes it easy to deploy strong encryption to protect data assets and file exchange. PGP is also well recognized and accepted across a broad number of compliance regulations as a secure way to protect sensitive data as it is in transit to your trading partners. PGP encryption can help businesses meet PCI-DSS, HIPAA/HITECH, SOX, and FISMA compliance regulations.

Here are three key things to know about PGP encryption for your IBM System z Mainframe, and how to discuss them with your technology providers:

1) Always encrypt and decrypt sensitive data on the platform where it is created. This is the only way to satisfy regulatory security and privacy notification requirements.

Moving data to a PC for encryption and decryption tasks greatly increases the chances of loss and puts your most sensitive data at risk.  In order not to defeat your data security goals it is important to encrypt and decrypt data directly on the platform.

2) The best PGP encryption solutions manage PGP keys directly on the platform without the need for an external PC system, or key generation on a PC.

Using a PC to generate or manage PGP keys exposes the keys on the most vulnerable system. The loss of PGP keys may trigger expensive and time-consuming privacy notification requirements and force the change of PGP keys with all of your trading partners.

3) The best data security solutions will provide you with automation tools that help minimize additional programming and meet your integration requirements.

Most Enterprise customers find that the cost of the software for an encryption solution is small compared to the cost of integrating the solution into their business applications. Data must be extracted from business applications, encrypted using PGP, transmitted to a trading partner, archived for future access, and tracked for regulatory audit. When receiving an encrypted file from a trading partner the file must be decrypted, transferred to an IBM z library, and processed into the business application. All of these operations have to be automated to avoid expensive and time-consuming manual intervention.

While the IBM System z Mainframe has always had a well-earned reputation for security, recently IBM modernized and extended their high-end enterprise server, the IBM System z Mainframe with the new z13 model. With full cross-platform support you can encrypt and decrypt data on the IBM Mainframe regardless of its origination or destination.

For over a decade Townsend Security has been bringing PGP encryption to Mainframe customers to help them solve some of the most difficult problems with encryption. As partners with Symantec we provide IBM enterprise customers running IBM System z and IBM i (AS/400, iSeries) with the same strong encryption solution that runs on Windows, Linux, Mac, Unix, and other platforms.

With the commercial PGP implementation from Symantec comes full support for OpenPGP standard, which really make a difference for enterprise businesses. Here are just a few of the things we’ve done with PGP to embrace the IBM System z Mainframe architecture:

    • Native z/OS Batch operation
    • Support for USS operation
    • Text mode enhancements for z/OS datasets
    • Integrated EBCDIC to ASCII conversion using built-in IBM facilities
    • Simplified IBM System z machine and partition licensing
    • Support for self-decrypting archives targeting Windows, Mac, and Linux!
    • A rich set of working JCL samples
    • As always we offer a free 30-day PGP evaluation on your own IBM Mainframe

PGP Command Line is the gold standard for whole file encryption, and you don’t have to settle for less. When you base your company reputation on something mission-critical like PGP encryption, you deserve the comfort of knowing that there’s a support team there ready to stand behind you.

Listen to the podcast for more in-depth information and a discussion on how PGP meets compliance regulations, and how Townsend Security, the only Symantec partner on the IBM i (AS/400) platform as well as the IBM z mainframe providing PGP Command Line 9, can help IBM enterprise customers with defensible data security!


Download the Podcast for PGP z

Topics: Data Security, PGP Encryption, IBM z, Podcast

Encryption and Key Management for VMware®

Posted by Michelle Larson on Dec 10, 2014 12:32:00 PM

Questions and Answers on VMware Encryption Projects

Every business is trying to save money and reduce complexity in their IT departments, and many are accomplishing this today by using virtual machines such as VMware®. While these businesses’ infrastructures are becoming virtual, their security threats are still very much real.

Recently Paul Taylor with Security Insider - Podcast Edition spoke with our founder, Patrick Townsend about encrypting data in VMware, encryption performance, and special encryption and key management concerns for VMware users.  Here are a few highlights (download the podcast for the whole conversation): Podcast: Protecting Data with Encryption in VMware

Paul Taylor: As VMware customers start to work on encryption projects to protect sensitive data, what are the things they worry about? What concerns them?

Patrick Townsend: VMware customers have made a large investment in VMware technologies. This includes, but is not limited to, an investment in the VMware solution stack that lets them run a variety of virtual machines; administer those machines, monitor the health of the virtual environment, and secure the entire infrastructure of virtual machines and VMware itself.

VMware customers also have invested heavily in the talent needed to run a VMware data center, have adopted governance and risk management procedures specific to a VMware environment, and have invested heavily in migrating existing applications to this platform. It’s a large investment but the payoffs are substantial.

So, when approaching an encryption project the VMware customer really wants to deploy products and solutions that run naturally in VMware. It is painful and concerning to have to deploy solutions that don’t fit naturally.

Paul Taylor: I know that Townsend Security has encryption and key management solutions for VMware customers. Can you talk a little about those?

Patrick Townsend: For any encryption project there are really two major components:

    1. The encryption of the sensitive data, usually in a Windows or Linux virtual machine
    2. The protection of the encryption keys

An effective strategy in the VMware environment has to address both of these. I think we are doing this very well with our encryption solutions for VMware.

First, our Alliance Key Manager for VMware product provides for the creation, management, and protection of encryption keys in a VMware virtual machine. It runs the same FIPS 140-2 compliant key management solution that we offer in our Hardware Security Modules (HSMs). So VMware customers can get encryption key management right without having to go outside of their VMware infrastructure.

Second, all of our encryption solutions that are deployed to protect sensitive data run in the VMware platform and talk to our key manager. For example, you can deploy our SQL Server Transparent Data Encryption solution for automatic SQL Server encryption in a Windows Server virtual machine, and it will talk naturally to our key management server also running in a VMware virtual machine. It’s a perfect match for the VMware customer.

Paul Taylor:  Encryption has a reputation for being the hardest part of security. How do you address that concern?

Patrick Townsend: Yes, you are certainly right about encryption having a reputation for being hard and expensive to deploy. However, things are really different today. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

First, our VMware key management solution will soon be released as a ready-to-use key manager. This means that the first time you boot our Alliance Key Manager For VMware solution it will ask you a few questions, create a complete configuration for the key manager, and start the service. You literally have a functioning key server in a few seconds. What 5 years ago required multiple engineers and weeks of installation and configuration now gets done in a blink.

Secondly, our client-side encryption applications and SDKs are also designed for rapid deployment. For example, SQL Server Transparent Data Encryption also deploys through a standard Windows install process. Again, you answer a few questions, install credentials into the Windows Certificate store, run a handful of SQL Server commands, and you are fully protected with encryption. It is incredibly easy.

Paul Taylor:  I think everyone worries about performance when you talk about encryption. How well do your encryption solutions perform in VMware?

Patrick Townsend: Performance impacts are a natural thing to worry about. Encryption is a CPU intensive task, and it will have some effect on your application or database. Fortunately modern encryption libraries are very efficient and the impact is usually very modest. Back to our example about SQL Server TDE encryption, the average customer will experience about a 2% to 4% impact when activating TDE encryption. This is very manageable. Large SQL Server databases can pose a performance issue with TDE which is why we also support Cell Level encryption with SQL Server.

We always encourage our customers to try our encryption solutions before they make a full commitment. We make it very easy to do a proof-of-concept project with encryption. Our free evaluations let you take it for a spin and evaluate the impacts yourself.

Paul and Patrick also cover topics on high availability, business recovery, and compliance regulation concerns for protecting data in a VMware environment.  Be sure to download the podcast to hear the rest of their conversation:

Podcast: Protecting Data with Encryption in VMware

Topics: Data Security, Encryption, Security Insider Podcast, Encryption Key Management, Podcast

How To Meet PCI DSS Compliance With VMware

Posted by Michelle Larson on Sep 25, 2014 3:12:00 PM

VMware and PCI DSS Compliance: Taking the right steps in a virtualized environment

VMware encryption key management

As of vSphere 6.5, AES encryption has been added to VMware. With VMWare encryption, complying with PCI DSS, requirement 3 is even easier. And executives are taking note as they look to conserve resources by moving their organizations databases and IT environments to virtualized platforms and to the cloud.

Security best practices and compliance regulations call for sensitive data to be protected with encryption and that data-encrypting keys (DEK) be physically or logically separated from the sensitive data and protected with strong key-encrypting keys (KEK). Depending on what type of information is being stored and what industry guidance your project/company falls under, compliance regulations in addition to PCI DSS may apply.

VMware PCI DSS ComplianceThe Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is one of the most rigorous and specific set of standards established to date and is used by many organizations as a standard to secure their systems. PCI DSS applies to all organizations that store, process, or transmit cardholder data, regardless of volume. This includes merchants, service providers, payment gateways, data centers, and outsourced service providers.

Here is a high level look at all twelve items that must be met in order to be compliant, with three new requirements in PCI DSS 3.0 (**) that warrant mentioning as being most relevant to the use of VMware and cloud technologies in a PCI-regulated infrastructure:

Build and Maintain a Secure Network and Systems
Requirement 1: Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data

(3.0) **Req. 1.1.3: "[Maintain a] current diagram that shows all cardholder data flows across systems and networks."

Requirement 2: Do Not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters

(3.0)** Req. 2.4: "Maintain an inventory of system components that are in scope for PCI DSS."

Protect Cardholder Data

Requirement 3: Protect stored cardholder data*

* Requirement 3 specifically addresses the need for encryption and key management, stating:

“Protection methods such as encryption, truncation, masking, and hashing are critical components of cardholder data protection. If an intruder circumvents other security controls and gains access to encrypted data, without the proper cryptographic keys, the data is unreadable and unusable to that person. Other effective methods of protecting stored data should also be considered as potential risk mitigation opportunities. For example, methods for minimizing risk include not storing cardholder data unless absolutely necessary, truncating cardholder data if full PAN is not needed, and not sending unprotected PANs using end-user messaging technologies, such as e-mail and instant messaging.”

Requirement 4: Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks

Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program

Requirement 5: Protect all systems against malware and regularly update anti-virus software or programs

Requirement 6: Develop and maintain secure systems and applications

Implement Strong Access Control Measures

Requirement 7: Restrict access to cardholder data by business need-to-know

Requirement 8: Identify and authenticate access to system components

Requirement 9: Restrict physical access to cardholder data

Regularly Monitor and Test Networks

Requirement 10: Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data

Requirement 11: Regularly test security systems and processes

Maintain an Information Security Policy

Requirement 12: Maintain a policy that address information security for all personnel

(3.0) ** Req. 12.8.5: "Maintain information about which PCI DSS requirements are managed by each service provider and which are managed by the entity."

It can seem overwhelming at first, but the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) website contains this documentation along with a number of additional resources to assist organizations with their PCI DSS assessments and validations. Within the latest documentation by the PCI Security Standards Council (v3.0 released November 2013) specific testing procedures and guidance is given for Requirement 3 on pages 34-43.

Fortunately, there are also standards and published guidance on running payment applications in a virtualized environment:

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard: Virtualization Guidelines and Cloud Computing Guidelines

NIST SP 800-144: Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Cloud Computing

Cloud Security Alliance: Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing

While virtual technology is not limited to VMware, it is one of the most commonly used and supported architectures by many cloud service providers. In addition to the PCI compliance and cloud guidelines above, VMware worked with CoalFire, a QSA auditing firm, to create guidance on how to specifically deploy payment applications in a VMware environment. You can access the CoalFire document  here.

As platform virtualization becomes a more popular solution, executives need to remain vigilant with their data security and meeting compliance requirements. We can help make the transition to VMware easy with our Alliance Key Manager for VMware solution, which meets the PCI recommendations when deployed properly in a VMware environment. We are committed to helping businesses protect sensitive data with industry standard NIST compliant AES encryption and FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption key management solutions.

To learn more about enterprise key management for VMware and vCloud, download our podcast "Virtualized Encryption Key Management".

Podcast: Virtualized Encryption Key Management

Topics: Alliance Key Manager, PCI DSS, Encryption Key Management, VMware, Virtualized Encryption Key Management, Podcast, PCI, Cloud Security

Encryption Options for Microsoft SQL Server

Posted by Michelle Larson on Aug 20, 2014 7:45:00 AM

Encrypting data in Microsoft SQL Server is easy to do, yet often difficult to understand because of the different encryption options offered in various versions.

SQL Server Encryption Options Podcast It used to be said that “encryption is the hardest part of data security, and key management is the hardest part of encryption”. While that may have been true a few years ago, we are constantly working to make affordable, easy-to-use, defensible solutions that meet security best practices and industry compliance regulations. Separating and managing the encryption keys from the data they protect is still one of the biggest challenges in terms of doing an encryption project right, so let’s take a look at what encryption & key management options are available for SQL Server users.

If you are running the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server, version 2008 or newer, you have access to Microsoft’s architecture for encryption called Extensible Key Management (EKM). This provider interface allows for third-party key management systems to be easily incorporated in order to separate encryption keys from the encrypted data they protect. A key management solution should provide Windows client libraries, guidance, and sample code within the solution.

The SQL Server EKM architecture supports:

Transparent Data Encryption (TDE)
With TDE, the entire database table (including the logs you are collecting) is encrypted.  It is a very easy mechanism to use for encryption and since it is transparent, no application level changes are needed, it only takes a few commands to implement. TDE protects data at rest, including backups and log files.

Cell Level Encryption
Also known as column-level encryption, this allows for you to selectively encrypt certain columns of information in your database. This option makes sense if you have large databases of information, and only access encrypted columns periodically.

If you are running older versions of SQL Server (pre-2008), or using non-enterprise editions such as standard, web, or express; you do not have access to TDE or EKM. You still have good options for protecting your data with encryption, just remember the encryption key needs to be separated from the encrypted data it protects.

When you don’t have the EKM architecture, another option for encrypting data in your SQL Server database is to perform encryption and decryption at the application layer using .NET-based encryption. All editions of SQL Server support the ability to perform encryption from within the .NET framework with very straightforward code functions.

C# and VB.NET Application Encryption
If you are developing in .NET you only need to plug in the client side application and implement a few lines of code for your encryption and decryption calls.

Column Level Encryption
Another approach would be to combine User Described Functions (UDFs) with triggers and views to help automate the encryption and decryption at the column level.

Moving SQL Server Data to the Cloud

As more companies migrate their applications and data to the cloud, there are security issues to consider before making that move. Microsoft Azure SQL Database (MASD) -which has also been called SQL Azure, SQL Server Data Services, SQL Services, Windows Azure SQL Database- is a cloud-based service from Microsoft offering database capabilities as a part of the Azure Services Platform. The service is easy to use and readily available, just know that there are some constraints and some features of EKM that are not available when using MASD.  

Most businesses migrating to the cloud will choose to run virtual machines that contain the Windows OS and a full implementation of the SQL Server database. By using a virtual machine, encryption and key management, including EKM with TDE, can be fully supported and provide the level of security you expect and compliance regulations require!  

You have many options still available for your key management solution when your data has been moved to the cloud. Our NIST validated, FIPS 140-2 compliant Alliance Key Manager solutions are available as:

    • Hardware Security Module (HSM) - a hardened appliance that you can rack up in your own data center
    • Cloud HSM - dedicated hardware device in our hosted cloud environment
    • VMware - deploy as a virtual appliance
    • Cloud - deploy in Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services, or IBM Cloud as a standard cloud instance or virtual private cloud

To learn more about encrypting data on SQL Server, managing encryption keys, and how we are helping companies protect their data with Alliance Key Manager, download the podcast on Encryption Options on SQL Server.  

SQL Server Encryption Options Podcast

Topics: Alliance Key Manager, Extensible Key Management (EKM), .NET, Encryption Key Management, SQL Server, Podcast, Cell Level Encryption, Transparent Data Encryption (TDE)

Key Connection - The First Drupal Encryption Key Management Module

Posted by Michelle Larson on Feb 21, 2014 3:38:00 PM

Securing Sensitive Data in Drupal made possible through partnerships!

The Drupal content management system may have started-out in a dorm room, but it has become a very successful open source platform that is being adopted at the Enterprise level. Drupal is running everything from small business websites, universities, robust e-commerce environments, Fortune 100 sites, to projects like! As Drupal developers build out these large-scale installations, the need to keep them secure becomes more apparent due to the volume of information being collected. Sensitive data such as credit card numbers and protected health information (PHI) fall under industry data security regulations such as PCI-DSS and HIPAA/HITECH and must be encrypted. Requirements for protecting information go beyond just credit card numbers & expiration dates, but includes names, email addresses, ZIP codes, usernames, passwords… any stored data that can personally identify an individual.

Securing Sensitive Data in Drupal Drupal developers and users who need to protect sensitive data know that storing encryption keys within the content management system puts data at risk for a breach, yet storing encryption keys locally in either a file protected on the server, in the database, or in the Drupal settings file has been the norm. None of these methods meet data security best practices or compliance regulations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA/HITECH, or state privacy laws.

While additional compliance regulations may apply depending on industry, this is a basic list of good practical guidance around web-based and virtual environments:

The Drupal community collaborates to develop modules for the platform, sharing knowledge, experience, and creativity. The developers try to avoid duplicate functionality, so the existing Drupal Encrypt module was used as the first step to protecting sensitive data, however the plug-ins for the Encrypt module did not provide secure key retrieval options as the encryption keys were all still found within that same server. Security best practices tell us that personally identifiable information needs to be protected with industry standard AES encryption and that protecting the encryption key away from the data is critical. It became apparent that a key management system that was outside of the Drupal installation was required.

Working together to solve the Drupal data security problem, the security experts at Townsend Security and Drupal developers at Cellar Door Media have released the Key Connection for Drupal solution, which addresses the need for strong encryption and encryption key management within the Drupal framework. Now personally identifiable information collected during e-commerce checkouts and user account that contain names and e-mail addresses can be easily encrypted, and the encryption keys properly managed, by organizations that collect and store that sensitive information.

Drupal developers and Drupal users share a concern about multiple compliance requirements and the liability that goes along with being audited for correctly protecting personally identifiable information. When designing an environment, there is a need to know what methods of encryption you are using, that the encryption key management is implemented correctly, and how secure will the data collection and storage processes be. The Key Connection for Drupal module allows designers to either retrieve a key and encrypt locally, or send the data to Alliance Key Manager (AKM) to perform on board encryption. They have the choice to use the Alliance Key Manager strictly as a key manager, or they can use it as an encryption service as well.

A few benefits of this new Key Connection for Drupal module are:

  • Access to remote key retrieval
  • NIST compliant on-board encryption
  • Encrypting data locally in your database
  • Using a built-in function to allow for PCI compliant encryption to be done off the web server

To learn more, I encourage you to listen to this special podcast to hear Chris Teitzel; CEO of Cellar Door Media, Rick Hawkins; owner of Alchemy Web Solutions, and Patrick Townsend; CEO of Townsend Security, talk about encrypting sensitive data in Drupal. They will also discuss how a Drupal site builder or developer gets access to Key Connection for Drupal, the Alliance Key Manager, and what options are available.

Securing Sensitive Data in Drupal with Key Connection for Drupal module

Topics: Data Security, Key Connection for Drupal, Encryption Key Management, Podcast, partners

Encryption & Key Management in Windows Azure

Posted by Michelle Larson on Feb 13, 2014 3:05:00 PM

Providing Data Security IN the Cloud

The excitement level has been palpable around our office this week as we released the first encryption key manager to run in Microsoft Windows Azure, solving the data security problem that has held many companies back from adopting Microsoft's cloud.  In preparation for this new product, we have had a number of questions to answer, so I thought we should recap a few of them and share an excellent podcast resource with our readers! Encryption Key Management in Windows Azure

What is the main issue that Microsoft Windows Azure customers are experiencing?

The number one concern reported by companies or organizations when they think about moving to any cloud environment is security. The studies show that their biggest concerns revolve around exposure of personally identifiable information and preventing data loss. It is a big enough concern that many companies have held back from migrating mission-critical applications with sensitive data from their traditional data centers into the cloud.  

A few things that are common across many industries and compliance regulations can really help with protecting data in cloud platforms like Windows Azure:

  • Use industry-standard AES encryption.
  • Keep your encryption keys are separate from the data that's being protected.
  • Use dual control and separation of duties to protect your encryption keys.
  • Follow best practices in terms of protecting data-at-rest and data-in-motion.

What strategy do you use for deploying a key manager in Windows Azure?

When you are running AKM as a Windows Azure virtual instance it is in a standard or virtual private cloud environment (VPC) allowing for better segmentation and isolation of your key management implementation. You definitely do not want to store encryption keys in the same virtual machine or instance of Windows Azure where sensitive data is stored. That would be like taping your house key to the front door when you leave home! In fact, the core concept for key management is to always separate the encryption keys from the data they protect. 

We know key management is critical to meeting compliance regulations, but is there any guidance about securing data in the cloud?

It is very important for cloud users to protect data using good practical guidance from PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) even if not storing credit card information.  PCI SSC has issued Cloud Computing Guidelines as well as guidance around virtualization of data protection solutions, so you can be PCI compliant with a cloud-based key management and encryption solution.

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) has also issued good guidance around security in cloud environments in version 3 of their documentation (domain 11 applies to encryption and key management).

National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) also has produced a guidance for security in cloud environments (NIST Special Publication 800-144) which provides excellent guidance for people looking to move into cloud platforms and protect data there.

How does your Alliance Key Manager help protect data in Windows Azure?

Our founder and CEO Patrick Townsend says, “I'm rather proud of the fact that we have the first fully cloud-based key management solution in Windows Azure.  Our Alliance Key Manager for Windows Azure solution is a cloud instance that you can deploy directly into Windows Azure to manage encryption keys and protect data. It can be deployed in standard Windows Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) environment and you can deploy it directly into a virtual private cloud.  It's the same binary code that is in our HSM which is FIPS 140-2 validated and it's running purely within that Windows Azure environment. I am proud of our development team for bringing forth our Alliance Key Manager for Microsoft Windows Azure users as an affordable solution.”

Along with Alliance Key Manager comes applications that deploy, such as our EKM provider, which gives you full protection of Microsoft SQL Server databases and the Microsoft solution applications that run on top of SQL Server. This includes:

  • Custom-built SQL Server applications
  • Applications in SharePoint using SQL Server as its content database platform
  • Microsoft dynamics applications such as CRM and AX and GP that run on top of SQL Server

For custom applications we provide a .NET assembly that you can use to add to your applications to perform encryption either on versions of SQL Server that don't support transparent data encryption (TDE) or on unstructured data that you may be storing in the Windows Azure platform. You are also able to encrypt data going into SQL Azure as well as MySQL or Oracle or any other database that you might be running. Alliance Key Manager comes with a complete library of SDKs and sample code for developers, along with purpose built applications that are ready to plug in and perform encryption, which will get encryption projects up and running very quickly.

“The recent data breaches experienced by so many retailers just highlight the need to protect data with encryption and properly manage the encryption keys.  We really help answer the challenge of protecting data in cloud environments like Microsoft Windows Azure and we are helping people achieve that data protection that they need to feel comfortable moving to cloud platforms.”

Please download this podcast to learn more about securing data in the Microsoft Windows Azure platform:

Encryption Key Management for Windows Azure

Topics: Alliance Key Manager, Compliance, Podcast, Cloud Security, Microsoft Windows Azure

Introducing Alliance Two Factor Authentication for the IBM i

Posted by Michelle Larson on Jan 14, 2014 2:20:00 PM

Because usernames and passwords are no longer good enough!

To protect sensitive data, businesses need another layer of security and are often turning to two factor authentication (2FA). Most of us are now familiar with online banking websites that implement 2FA; after you put in your username and password, you get a text or a voice call with a pin code to enter, in order to authenticate yourself. Two factor authentication is a well recognized method of strengthening the authentication of the user and improving the security of access to mission-critical systems. 2FA is described as taking “something you know” (your username and password), and adding “something you have” (a hardware token, ATM card, or mobile phone), or it can even be “something you are” with expensive biometric (fingerprint or retina) scans, to strengthen your security defenses. Podcast - Two Factor Authentication on the IBM i

In today's world you have to be aware that system attacks can be very intelligent. For example, a user on a PC can open up a document or PDF file and their PC can become infected with malware that does keyboard logging when they remotely log in to the IBM i. When this type of attack happens, the keyboard logging software collects user IDs and passwords and then someone uses this information to access networks beyond that PC. The IBM i platform has a well-deserved reputation for being a good solid secure platform, yet it is just as susceptible to a keyboard logging attack as any other platform. Two factor authentication is really designed to help prevent this type of malicious access, where an attack is initiated outside of the IBM i platform by using credentials that are already known to the attacker. In traditional IBM i shops, when a user logs in to the IBM i platform they provide their user ID and a password, that single factor password is “something you know”, and would get access to the system. There are a lot of system values that a security administrator can set to enforce the use of strong passwords, but adding a mobile text or voice message with a pin code (adding “something you have”) to the mix is one example of how a two factor authentication can really help strengthen the security of the IBM i platform.  Hardware tokens such as key fobs or even ATM cards have been a traditional means of 2FA, but can be costly and time-consuming  to generate (and replace) in comparison to using SMS or voice messaging via mobile phone.

By deploying a 2FA solution, organizations can easily enhance their security in a cost effective way, as well as meet compliance regulations:

  • PCI Security Standards Council has said they will continue to change and evolve compliance regulations over time as the attacks change. PCI DSS section 8.3 requires two factor authentication for remote access to systems (almost all connections to the IBM i platform are over a network, they are not generally hardwired connections or network connected devices).

  • HIPAA/HITECH act recommends two factor authentication to mitigate the risk of lost or stolen logons or passwords.

  • FFIEC guidance also calls out the use of two factor authentication to strengthen systems in the financial industry and strengthen banking websites against a financial fraud.

In the past deploying a 2FA solution on the IBM i has been costly and complex.  Townsend Securitys new Alliance Two Factor Authentication product is taking a different approach and implementing a solution that is very cost-effective on the IBM i platform. Leveraging mobile phones, the cell phones that users already carry, our new solution is strictly a software implementation. There are no expensive administrative access controls, hardware servers or hardware tokens that users carry around with them, and we think this helps control the cost. You won't incur the expense of replacing tokens and reprogramming them, it's a very straightforward install, software only solution that talks over the Internet to the SMS text or voice delivery gateway with our partner Telesign. Telesign has quite a mature implementation and infrastructure, able to deliver authentication of messages to over 200 countries in the over 80 languages worldwide. With over 2 1/2 billion accounts active today, we found them to be a great partner in bringing mobile and text-based two factor authentication to our customers on the IBM i platform.

We are pretty excited about our new “no hardware, no hardware tokens, strictly a software implementation” Alliance Two Factor Authentication solution.  Please download our latest podcast to hear more about:

  • Different methods for two factor authentication with their pros and cons
  • How businesses can meet compliance requirements with 2FA
  • Ways 2FA is helping organizations to improve the security of their core business applications
  • How we provide a full set of APIs that IBM i developers can use to enable application controls using two factor authentication
  • How you can still get the benefits of two factor authentication if you are out of cell range
  • And a number of additional security features built into the product...

Podcast - two factor authentication on the IBM i

Topics: 2FA, Podcast, Alliance Two Factor Authentication

Encryption Key Management Options: Hardware, Virtualized, and Cloud… Oh My!

Posted by Michelle Larson on Jan 9, 2014 2:39:00 PM

With encryption and key management now being offered on a variety of hardware, virtualized, and cloud platforms, is it simply just a matter of preference or is one option better for you than another?  

Listen to the Podcast on Key Management Options Companies of all sizes now have options for securely protecting sensitive data using the appropriate security technology for their situation and industry regulations. Being responsible for the safekeeping of sensitive data like credit cards, social security numbers, or e-mail addresses, makes your encryption and key management strategy critically important. Once your sensitive data is encrypted, key managers are the specialized security devices that are designed to safeguard your encryption key (which is the secret that must be protected). Before deciding on how an enterprise should deploy an encryption key manager there are several questions to ask and factors to consider.

What different device options are available to organizations needing an encryption key manager?

Hardware Devices
Today we have many options for key management solutions, including the traditional key management hardware security module (HSM), which is now more cost effective and easy to deploy than it was even five years ago. HSMs are network attached in your data center and accessed when encryption keys are needed. If your company has a physical data center and the infrastructure to support it, an HSM can still be your most secure option.

Cloud-hosted HSM
The cloud-hosted key management HSM functions in much the same way as the traditional security device. However, you do not need to have the infrastructure of a physical data center in order deploy or maintain the cloud-based HSM since it is hosted by the cloud hosting provider.  Be aware of your cloud environment (is it shared or private?), and make sure to choose an option that provides real-time mirroring and redundant backups in geographically diverse locations.

Virtualization Options
Additionally it is now possible to deploy virtualized key management appliances. There is no hardware when you deploy a VMware or Hyper-v or Xen virtualized appliance inside your own virtualization infrastructure. A true cloud-based key management solution like VMware gives you a path to run key management solutions in vCloud either as standard cloud instance or virtual private clouds. Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Service and other cloud platforms provide a mechanism for deploying virtualized key management appliances too.

What are some factors people need to consider when deciding which key management option is right for their organization?

Risk Tolerance
Risk tolerance is perhaps the main driving force for which of the key management options you might choose. If you're very risk-averse then probably you will want to deploy a hardware security module (HSM) in your own data center.  If you have a moderate level of risk tolerance  you might consider a cloud-based HSM hosted by a cloud vendor with appropriate security technology. A company dealing with small amounts of data might bear some additional risk and use a key management solution to help protect encryption keys in a virtual environment. Cloud or virtual solutions can be much more cost-effective and give enough protection for encryption keys to meet a lower risk tolerance level.

Compliance Regulations
Most compliance regulations give clear guidance on best practices about where encryption key management can and should run. Generally speaking, regulations are based on your industry and what type of sensitive data you store. 

PCI Security Standards Council has issued Cloud Computing Guidelines as well as guidance around virtualization of data protection solutions, so you can be PCI compliant with a cloud-based key management and encryption solution.

Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) has issued good guidance around key management and cloud environments - version 3.

Other regulations are not yet providing concrete guidance,and in some cases it is best to confirm with qualified auditors and assessors to really understand whether or not you can be in compliance and deploy true cloud-based virtualized key management solutions.

Your key management options are also based on where your data is stored. If you don't have a traditional data center, for example if you are using a software as a service (SaaS) solution, you may not have your own IT infrastructure or personnel with which to deploy a traditional encryption key management HSM internally. So the physical and organizational structure will come to bear in terms of the choices that you have around deploying key management.

Budget is always an important factor. As you consider various options, ask about endpoint licensing fees and make sure you have predictable maintenance costs as more databases/applications request key access. Remember to consider the costs of not properly managing sensitive data when doing the security cost benefit analysis.

Whatever option you choose, it is always wise to use key management best practices:

    • Always separate the encryption keys from the protected data
    • Use dual control
    • Practice separation of duties
    • Manage key rotation
    • Look for NIST validations like FIPS 140-2

Please download our most recent podcast on Encryption Key Management Options to hear more about how to meet the challenges of running cloud or virtual applications where implementations are inherently shared, multi-tenant environments!

Listen to the Podcast on Key Management Options

Topics: Alliance Key Manager, HSM, Hosting, Encryption Key Management, cloud, Virtualized Encryption Key Management, Podcast, Alliance Key Manager Cloud HSM, Choosing Solution

Encryption Key Management in the Cloud

Posted by Michelle Larson on Nov 6, 2013 1:15:00 PM

What to look for in a Cloud HSM solution

With the latest advances in encryption technology, organizations are now able to protect sensitive data with encryption key management in the cloud. The lower costs for maintenance and software (on the operational side) makes the cloud an attractive place for companies to move their data centers and for technology companies to deploy their applications. Encryption Key Management in the Cloud However, these multi-tenant cloud environments provide some real challenges in terms of protecting data from exposure and meeting special requirements in terms of security. In traditional IT data center environments you would normally place a hardware security module (HSM) key management device directly into your rack. However, traditional encryption key management systems don’t function well in cloud environments, and often companies moving to the cloud don’t have a traditional IT infrastructure. This creates new issues and challenges for administrators to provide the level of security for encryption keys needed to protect data and meet compliance regulations. When considering the move of your data to the cloud, think about whether or not you will have:


When it comes to encryption key management, only you should have access to encryption keys that protect your data. When you consider a Cloud HSM, be sure to ask if the cloud provider will have access to the HSM and your keys. The answer may surprise you! Because the encryption keys are the “secret” that protects your sensitive information, no one else should have access to your data encryption keys or to the systems that protect those keys. This is the same rule that applies in a traditional IT infrastructure and needs to be followed when you deploy data protection in a cloud environment. Not only is it a compliance requirement to protect encryption keys, but using a secure HSM is a security best practice.


HSMs are a vital part of any data protection strategy. Encryption key managers that serve for protecting data in the cloud need to be fully under your control. To make sure that you have proper controls, your key management solution should be:

  • Segmented from your cloud data
  • Independent of your cloud vendor
  • Able to meet the highest level of security requirements
  • Designed to follow encryption key management system best practices


With an encryption key management and HSM solution that's protecting data in the cloud it matters where your key managers are located. If you're deploying a solution that is proprietary to your cloud vendor, your keys are locked into that cloud vendor and if you move your data, you can’t access or move your encryption keys. You also want to make sure your cloud vendor has no administrative access to that key manager. Fundamental things to think about when you deploy a key management solution:

  • Are you a locked into that cloud platform?
  • Do you have full and exclusive control of your keys?

Compliance regulations are very explicit about protecting sensitive data with proper encryption key management, and recommend good key management practices as a core principle. When you move to the cloud, you don’t automatically have that level of security for your data.  To meet PCI-DSS requirements for protecting credit card information you should really look at the PCI-Data Security Council - Cloud Computing Guidelines as well as their guidance around virtualization since cloud environments are virtualized environments.

Excerpt from PCI-DSS Cloud Computing Guidelines - Executive Summary:

“Cloud computing is a form of distributed computing that is yet to be standardized. There are a number of factors to be considered when migrating to cloud services, and organizations need to clearly understand their needs before they can determine if and how they will be met by a particular solution or provider. As cloud computing is still an evolving technology, evaluations of risks and benefits may change as the technology becomes more established and its implications become better understood.

It’s important to note that all cloud services are not created equal. Clear policies and procedures should be agreed between client and cloud provider for all security requirements, and responsibilities for operation, management and reporting should be clearly defined and understood for each requirement.”

It is also important to look at the Cloud Security Alliance recommendations for cloud security - version 3. Whether you are a cloud vendor or a cloud user, the CSA provides very practical and straightforward guidance on security in the cloud environment. In order to properly secure and protect vital information, you need to understand the security posture of your cloud provider. Don't be satisfied with general statements about security, look for external audits and regular expressions of compliance reviews so you know for sure that you're truly covered. Be sure your encryption keys are in geographically dispersed data centers under an ITIL-based control environment independently validated for compliance against PCI DSS and SOC frameworks to properly manage risk.

Please download our latest Podcast “Encryption Key Management in the Cloud” which covers these topics in greater depth and also talks about how organizations deal with High Accessibility (HA) and Disaster Recovery when their HSM is in the cloud. The podcast will also cover our new Alliance Key Manager Cloud HSM solution that lets you protect data in Amazon Web Services, in Microsoft Azure, Rack-Space, or any cloud environment where you deploy data.

Encryption Key Management in the Cloud

Have questions or concerns about data security in the cloud?  Please leave a comment here and we will get right back to you!

Topics: Encryption Key Management, cloud, Virtualized Encryption Key Management, Podcast, Alliance Key Manager Cloud HSM