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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

vSphere Encryption—Creating a Unified Encryption Strategy (Part 1)

Posted by Ken Mafli on Oct 22, 2019 6:00:00 AM

What is VMware’s vSphere Encryption?

VMware’s vSphere encryption, first introduced in vSphere 6.5, enables the encryption of virtual machines (VMs) and vSAN. vSphere’s encryption protects your existing VMs, new VMs, vSAN clusters, as well as associated files. It is relatively easy to set up and with the use of a compliant key management server—secure.

 

(Part one of this series deals with VM encryption. Part two will cover vSAN encryption)

A Unified Way to Encrypt VMs

VMware’s vSphere encryption

 

“Dance like nobody’s watching. Encrypt like everyone is.”
~Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon.com

Data is a bedrock asset for today’s enterprise business. Its value is too great to ignore. Data security, then, is mission critical for those looking to maintain brand integrity, intellectual property confidentiality, and customer trust.

VMware vSphere 6.5 gave its users powerful data security tools; among them AES-NI encryption. The reason this is great news: instead of an ad-hoc approach to encrypting sensitive data where individual sources of encryption are found for each type of database or application, you can now encrypt directly in VMware’s hypervisor creating a unified source for encrypting and managing that encryption. And through their KMIP interface, managing your encryption keys is pretty painless. But more on that later.

vSphere encryption, then, allows the enterprise business to uniformly manage their encryption for both VMs and vSAN and ensure that all sensitive data within VMware is secured. This enables companies to create an encryption strategy for their sensitive data. Let’s look at some of the main advantages, specifically VM encryption, that vSphere encryption provides.

 

Expert Weigh-in:
The huge benefit of vSphere Encryption is the fact that data is encrypted when it leaves its source. This results in data traveling encrypted to its destination, allowing for the highest level of security, all while maintaining simplicity in terms of management and configuration.
~Duncan Epping, Chief Technologist HCI, VMware

 

Expert Weigh-in:
A major advantage of VM Encryption is that it is Guest OS agnostic. Whether the virtual machine is Windows, Linux or any of the other operating systems supported in vSphere, the encryption is the same. There’s no change to the guest OS and no “in guest” monitoring or configuration. Additionally, reporting on which virtual machines are encrypted or not is just one line of PowerCLI!
~Mike Foley, Staff Technical Marketing Architect - vSphere Security

 

The Advantages of Using VM Encryption

Advantages of VMware’s vSphere encryption

 

With VMware vSphere 6.5 and up, you are able to encrypt individual VMs. The main difference between VMware encryption and other encryption methods is ease

vSphere Encryption Key Management Webinarof management. As VMware puts it, because “VMs are treated as objects that can have a policy applied to them, there is no need to manage them individually.”

Here are some of the advantages that this brings:

  • Encryption is configured and managed at the hypervisor level, not within an individual VM.
    • vSphere encryption is agnostic in regards to what is stored within the VM.
    • There are not multiple encryption products for each guest OS, database, or application.
  • Encryption is policy based. Applying it, then, can be done to as many or few VMs that you want.
  • You can bring your prefered key manager to manage your encryption keys. Since vSphere encryption is KMIP 1.1 compatible, you are free to use a FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption key manager, like Alliance Key Manager.

Expert Weigh-in:
One thing few people think about with encryption is disaster recovery. Because of the reliance on an external KMS, you can place replicating Key Managers in various locations. vCenter will see them as a “KMS Cluster”. Should your primary site go down and you need to recover encrypted VM’s it’s as simple as connecting a new vCenter to the KMS cluster and adding the VMs to the inventory. The impact of IT operations is minimal. 
~Mike Foley, Staff Technical Marketing Architect - vSphere Security

 

Expert Weigh-in:
Policy Based encryption and Managed Encryption keys means the difference between an organization protecting their information and exposing their information. Removing the chance of end-users to not-encrypt information means the Business can have assurances they can take to the bank, which is essential in a world of compliance, GDPR, and not to mention security risks or exposure.
~Christopher Kusek, vExpert and Tech Evangelist

 

Now that we know some of the advantages of using VM encryption, let’s looks what is (and is not) encrypted. Why? VMware did a great job making sure all sensitive information can be secured. The list below will go to illustrate that.

 

What Is/Is Not Encrypted

What can be encrypted in vSphere

 

According to VMware, here are the items that can be encrypted (and those that can’t) with vSphere’s VM encryption:

What can be encrypted:

  • VM files
    • Note: Most VM files can be encrypted. This set of files can include the NVRAM, VSWP, and VMSN files. If you use the vSphere Web Client to create an encrypted VM, all virtual disks will be encrypted as well.
  • Virtual disk files
    • Note: Data in an encrypted VMDK file is never written in plaintext to storage or a physical disk, and is never transmitted in plaintext. The VMDK descriptor file, however, is not encrypted and contains a key ID for the key encryption key (KEK) as well as the encrypted data encryption keys (DEKs).
  • Host core dump files
    • Note: When you enable encryption mode on an ESXi host the core dump is always encrypted.

What is not encrypted (and why):

  • Log files
    • Why: these are not encrypted because they contain no sensitive data.
  • VM configuration files
    • Why: the VM configuration information, stored in the VMX and VMSD files, contains no sensitive data.
  • Virtual disk descriptor files
    • Why: the descriptor file is omitted from encryption/decryption functions to support disk management without a need for an encryption key.

 

Expert Weigh-in:
I like vSphere encryption because there’s nothing in the guest OS or at the user-level that might go wrong. vSphere encryption encrypts what needs to be encrypted - your company’s data - that’s stored inside the VM disk.
~David Davis, vExpert and vSphere video training author at Pluralsight.com

 

How it Works

Now that we know some of the advantages of VM encryption and what can and cannot be encrypted; here is the last reason to use vSphere to create a unified encryption strategy—it is easy to set up. Here is a quick video showing how easy it is.

 

Here are those steps for those that would like to just read it:

  • First, install and configure your KMIP compliant key management server, such as our Alliance Key Manager, and register it to the vSphere KMS Cluster.
  • Next, you must set up the key management server (KMS) cluster.
    • When you add a KMS cluster, vCenter will prompt you to make it the default. vCenter will provision the encryption keys from the cluster you designate as the default.
  • Then, when encrypting, the ESXi host generates internal 256-bit (XTS-AES-256) DEKs to encrypt the VMs, files, and disks.
  • The vCenter Server then requests a key from Alliance Key Manager. This key is used as the KEK.
  • ESXi then uses the KEK to encrypt the DEK and only the encrypted DEK is stored locally on the disk along with the KEK ID.
  • The KEK is safely stored in Alliance Key Manager. ESXi never stores the KEK on disk. Instead, vCenter Server stores the KEK ID for future reference. This way, your encrypted data stays safe even if you lose a backup or a hacker accesses your VMware environment.

 

Expert Weigh-in:
vSphere encryption makes securing your data easier than I think most of us thought possible. With vSphere encryption all you do is right-click on a VM and apply the encryption storage policy. Boom! Encryption is done!
~David Davis, vExpert and vSphere video training author at Pluralsight.com

 

It really is that easy. Not only can govern your encryption at the hypervisor layer, deploy standards based AES encryption on a per VM basis (allowing you to secure only those workloads that require it), but you can do so quickly. It is a great encryption option for any business.

Final Thoughts

VMware vSphere VM encryption creates a unified strategy for protecting your sensitive data within vSphere by using the hypervisor to perform the encryption. This means that you do not need to first consider what is in the VM (guest OS, specific databases, etc.) in order to encrypt it. According to VMware, this yields the following benefits:

  • No modification to OSs within VMs
  • No changes needed to existing applications
  • No specialized hardware or infrastructure required
  • Policy-based enforcement that is supported by vSphere

All this and more means that it is easier than ever to secure your company’s sensitive data. Once you have configured your vSphere vCenter Server to enable encryption, simply choose which VMs you want to encrypt and your data is secured. It’s that easy.

According to RiskBased Security, for the first half of 2019, over 3,800 breaches were reported, breaching over 4.1 billion records. When you compare that to the first half of 2018, “the number of reported breaches was up 54% and the number of exposed records was up 52%.” With the pace of breaches only accelerating, the time to create a unified encryption strategy for your sensitive data is now.

 

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Topics: VMware, vSphere, vSphere Encryption

Don’t Let Your Application or Database Limit Your Encryption Strategy

Posted by Luke Probasco on Sep 23, 2019 8:37:27 AM

Historically, encryption and key management have been deployed at the application or database level. There are even several databases who’s “Enterprise” edition (like Microsoft SQL Server or MongoDB, for example) include options for encryption and external key management built right in the database. Unfortunately, these types of databases are the exception, rather than the rule. If you were to examine an organization's IT infrastructure, you are more likely to find a wide variety of databases and applications, some natively supporting encryption, some not, and many containing unprotected private information or personally identifiable information (PII). Simply put, their encryption strategy has been limited due to cost and resources required to properly protect private information. 

Podcast: Don't Let Your Application or Database Limit Your Encryption StrategyFortunately, these same enterprises have deployed VMware infrastructure, and starting with vSphere 6.5 and vSAN 6.6, are able to encrypt sensitive workloads in VMware using the advanced cryptographic features in vCenter. To put it a little more simply, businesses can protect their sensitive information in their internal applications and databases that don’t natively support transparent encryption with tools offered by VMware.

I recently sat down with security expert and CEO, Patrick Townsend, to talk about how enterprises can leverage VMware’s vSphere and vSAN to encrypt private data - regardless of whether their applications or databases support encryption. 

Hi Patrick. Let’s jump right in. With the introduction of vSphere encryption in 6.5 and vSAN 6.6, it has become much easier for businesses to encrypt private data. In the past they have relied on encryption at the application level or used the encryption that comes with their database. With so many enterprises deploying VMware, they no longer need to let their application or database limit their encryption strategy.

That’s absolutely correct. There are databases like Microsoft SQL Server and MongoDB EA, for example, that have encryption built right in - which makes it easy. But there are other times when encryption can be much more difficult. SQL Server Standard edition and the Community edition of MySQL, for example, do NOT support encryption. So, you have these widely used databases, with lots of unprotected data because that can be a challenge to encrypt. Using vSphere and vSAN encryption is a great way to address these gaps in an organization's encryption strategy with industry standards-based encryption. 

Sometimes the barrier to encryption is the cost of upgrading databases to “Enterprise” editions. Almost all of us are running VMware in our infrastructure anyway, so in many cases we already have the tools we need - the encryption support is there, we just need to use it. VMware even provides excellent guidance for encrypting databases, like Oracle and SQL Server, for example.

So, one of the most obvious questions. How is performance?

This is always a concern that people bring up. I can say that VMware has done a great job with performance in both encrypted VMs and vSAN - and performance continues to improve. These days, you can even deploy a large database on vSAN. This is a technology that has matured and gained the trust of customers, and they are adopting it at a rapid rate. There is also some really good material from VMware about performance expectations - white papers, solutions briefs, etc. Furthermore, both vSphere and vSAN take advantage of the Intel AES-NI on-chip accelerator for encryption, which provides a great performance boost.

Of course the key manager is the critical component that ensures the encrypted data stays encrypted. Without proper key management, it is like leaving the keys to your house under the welcome mat. What should our readers be looking for in a key manager?

Here is something that I think VMware did right. You must use a key manager in order to activate vSphere encryption of VMs or vSAN encryption. Within vSphere you are able to create a KMS cluster, define failover key managers, multiple KMS clusters, etc. They did a great job. Furthermore, VMware based their interface on the Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP) industry standard. Other databases vendors, for example, allow local storage of encryption keys. That is really such a BAD security practice, so I am glad that VMware saw implications of that. If you are going to use VMware encryption, you are going to use proper encryption key management and that will be much better from a security perspective. I also think that this reflects on VMware as a company and their concern for their enterprise customers.

What to look for in a key manager? All enterprise level key managers are validated to FIPS 140-2 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Be absolutely sure you key management vendor has completed this validation. Secondly, your key manager should support the KMIP protocol. Finally, if you are taking credit cards for payments, look for a PCI validation. We validated our Alliance Key Manager with both Coalfire and VMware, as a joint project. This helps our customers easily get through an audit, which can be quite difficult.

While I have you, I was hoping you could also offer some clarification on the term KMS. For example, VMware defines KMS as a Key Management Server. Amazon defines their KMS as a “Key Management Service.” How should our readers be thinking about a KMS in regards to VMware encryption?

Ah, the chaos of three letter acronyms. KMS, in general terms, means Key Management Server. It is a broad term covering key management devices that manage the entire lifecycle of a key - from creation to destruction. You are right, Amazon does call their key management service KMS, which can lead to some confusion. This service is NOT to be confused with a key management server - and does not give you full control over the entire key lifecycle. It is a shared administrative environment where you share access to the keys with Amazon.

You need to approach cloud service provider (CSP) implementations of key management services with trepidation. It is important for YOU to hold exclusive access to your keys and that only you have the only administrative control. Cloud lockin can be another concern as well.

To hear this conversation in its entirety, download our podcast Don’t Let Your Application or Database Limit Your Encryption Strategy and hear Patrick Townsend further discuss Encrypting applications and databases that don't natively support encryption, encryption performance, and other fundamental features of an enterprise grade key manager.

[Podcast] Don't Let Your Application or Database Limit Your Encryption Strategy

Topics: Encryption Key Management, VMware, vSphere, vSAN

Townsend Security and Alliance Key Manager Achieves VMware Ready™ Status

Posted by Luke Probasco on Jan 22, 2019 12:01:00 AM

Townsend Security, today announced that its Alliance Key Manager for VMware has achieved VMware Ready status. This designation indicates that after a detailed validation process Alliance Key Manager for VMware has achieved VMware’s highest level of endorsement and is supported on VMware ESXi  (all supported versions, vSphere 6.5 and later, and vSAN 6.6 and later) for production environments.

Encryption and Key Management for VMware - Definitive Guide“We are pleased that Townsend Security and Alliance Key Manager for VMware qualifies for the VMware Ready logo, signifying to customers that it has met specific VMware interoperability standards and works effectively with VMware cloud infrastructure. This signifies to customers that Alliance Key Manager for VMware can be deployed in production environments with confidence and can speed time to value within customer environments,” said Kristen Edwards, director, Technology Alliance Partner Program, VMware.

By using Alliance Key Manager for VMware with VMware ESXi (all supported versions, vSphere 6.5 and later, and vSAN 6.6 and later) organizations can centrally manage their encryption keys with an affordable FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption key manager. Further, they can use native vSphere and vSAN encryption to protect VMware images and digital assets at no additional cost. VMware customers can deploy multiple, redundant key servers as a part of the KMS Cluster configuration for maximum resilience and high availability.

“By achieving VMware Ready status with Alliance Key Manager for VMware, Townsend Security has been able to work with VMware to bring affordable encryption key management to VMware customers and the many databases and applications they run in VMware,” said Patrick Townsend, CEO of Townsend Security. “Meeting data security compliance in VMware vSphere is now easier than ever.”

The VMware Ready program is a co-branding benefit of the Technology Alliance Partner (TAP) program that makes it easy for customers to identify partner products certified to work with VMware cloud infrastructure. Customers can use these products and solutions to lower project risks and realize cost savings over custom built solutions. With thousands of members worldwide, the VMware TAP program includes best-of-breed technology partners with the shared commitment to bring the best expertise and business solution for each unique customer need.

Townsend Security and Alliance Key Manager for VMware can be found within the online VMware Solution Exchange (VSX) at https://tsec.io/VMwareReadyPR. The VMware Solution Exchange is an online marketplace where VMware partners and developers can publish rich marketing content and downloadable software for our customers.

VMware, VSXi, vSphere, vSAN and VMware Ready are registered trademarks or trademarks of VMware, Inc. in the United States and other jurisdictions. All other marks and names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective companies.

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Topics: Encryption Key Management, VMware, Press Release, vSphere, vSAN

Protecting Data with vSphere & vSAN Encryption

Posted by Luke Probasco on Sep 28, 2018 2:35:36 PM

VMware allows customers to use native vSphere and vSAN encryption to protect VMware images and digital assets.  But as we know, to truly protect private data, encryption keys must also be properly stored and managed. I recently sat down with Patrick Townsend, Founder and CEO of Townsend Security, to talk about vSphere and vSAN encryption, deploying multiple, redundant key servers as a part of the KMS Cluster configuration for maximum resilience and high availability, as well as meeting compliance regulations and security best practices for your organization.  Additionally, we talked about Alliance Key Manager for VMware and how it is helping businesses protect their sensitive data.

Podcast: Protecting Data with vSphere & vSAN EncryptionVMware virtualization has been a game-changing technology for IT, providing efficiencies and capabilities that have previously been impossible for organizations constrained within a traditional IT data center world.

It is really great to see VMware, as a company, stepping up to embrace encryption for vSphere and vSAN.  Introduced in vSphere 6.5 and vSAN version 6.6, encryption allows users to protect data at rest. Additionally, there is a really great key management interface, which provides an excellent path to store and manage keys.  While these versions have been out for a while, many customers are just now getting around to upgrading and can take advantage of VMware's native encryption. With VMware, organizations are able to reduce hardware costs, lower operational cost, and provides a clear a path to move to the cloud. With the addition of encryption, you can deploy secure environments where there is less risk of data loss in the event of a breach.

Let’s dive in a little more and talk about vSphere and vSAN encryption.  Can you walk me through how an organization might deploy encryption and key management?

Sure. I think in a typical VMware environment, organizations are already doing some encryption in their applications.  For example, they may be running Microsoft SQL Server in a VM and using Transparent Data Encryption (TDE) to protect the data.  With the new facilities, you now get the ability to encrypt right in the VMware infrastructure itself. There is one thing that I think VMware did really well, and they have proven this over and over again, is that they have laid out a certification process for key management vendors, which gives VMware customers confidence that they are purchasing and deploying a solution that has been vetted by VMware themselves.  Our Alliance Key Manager, for example, has been certified for vSphere and vSAN encryption.

In terms of deploying key management, it is easy. We recommend using both a production key server and a failover key server. vSphere supports KMS cluster configurations which allow you to have a resilient encryption and key management architecture.  Aside from just being a security best practice, we are seeing our customers deploy two servers because they never want to lose access to their encrypted data. The servers synchronize in real-time and have automatic failover capabilities.

You can’t talk about key management without talking about compliance.  Whether it is PCI DSS, GDPR, or state and federal privacy laws, who doesn’t fall under compliance these days?

Yes, good question.  That is probably a very short list these days.  When you look at all the existing compliance regulations around the world, including the new GDPR, you realize that everyone falls under some compliance regulation, and most of us fall under multiple regulations.  Enterprises, big and small, public and private, fall under the same compliance regulations. Additionally, I have heard more from privately held companies that they think they are exempt - which is not true.

So you are correct.  Compliance regulations are driving a lot of uptake in encryption and I would say that lately GDPR is driving the most interest.  If you look at Article 32 and related recitals, the requirement to protect a data subjects information, there is a clear call for encryption. GDPR has put a new focus on the need to protect private data, as well as to take a broad view at what should be considered sensitive data.  It is not just a credit card number or social security number. Information like a phone number or email address can be considered sensitive data.

How is your Alliance Key Manager helping VMware users protect their private data?

Well, we have been helping VMware customers for a number of years  who are encrypting at the application level. Our Alliance Key Manager for VMware runs as a virtual software appliance and is binarily the same as our hardware security module (HSM). What is new, is that VMware opened the vSphere and vSAN and products to support encryption key management. Now VMware users can leverage the same key management solution for both application and VMware infrastructure encryption.

People often ask us, “How is your key manager different than your competitors”?  One thing that makes us stand out is that we are very diligent about meeting compliance requirements (PCI DSS, GDPR, HIPAA, etc.) and industry standards (FIPS 140-2, KMIP, etc.). Years ago, when we partnered with VMware, one of the first things we did was work with VMware and a QSA auditor to achieve a PCI compliance statement.  Customers can now be assured that when they deploy our Alliance Key Manager in VMware that they are meeting PCI compliance.

What else do VMware customers need to know about Alliance Key Manager for VMware?

Alliance Key Manager is a mature product that has been on the market for more than 10 years. It uses the same software that runs inside our Hardware Security Module (HSM), so customers can be confident that they are running exactly the same key management software that is FIPS 140-2 compliant and in use by over 3,000 customers worldwide.  Additionally, the security posture that the key manager allows, as well as the reference architecture that VMware provides, really gives VMware customers a road map to doing a secure installation.

The other thing that I think a lot of people might not realize is, that when they deploy Alliance Key Manager, they have our entire library of client side applications, SDKs, and sample code available to them.  For example, we have a Microsoft SQL Server TDE encryption component, support for MongoDB via KMIP, and sample SDKs for languages like Java, PHP, Python, etc. All of that comes along with the key manager and makes it easy to address security requirements.

Finally, I’d like to mention our partnership with VMware.  We are diligent about maintaining our certifications with Alliance Key Manager.  Doing this brings a level of confidence to the product for our customers. Prior to starting an encryption project they may be a little leery of key management because they have heard that it may be complicated.  That was true in the past. In fact, today it is actually extremely simple to deploy. Another barrier that we have knocked down is the scalability issue. Our solution works across multiple platforms - AWS, Azure, VMware or as an HSM.  They all talk to each other, and if one goes down, another will automatically fail over. That gives VMware customers the ability to be extremely flexible about how they deploy key management. It is not uncommon that our customers will deploy an application in the cloud, deploy a key manager in AWS, and then mirror those keys back to their on-premise VMware infrastructure. All of this is really straightforward and simple to deploy.

To hear this conversation in its entirety, download our podcast Protecting Data with vSphere & vSAN Encryption and hear Patrick Townsend further discuss protecting data in vSphere and vSAN with encryption and key management.

Evaluation: Alliance Key Manager for VMware

Topics: Encryption, VMware, vSphere, vSAN

The Definitive Guide to AWS Encryption Key Management
 
Definitive Guide to VMware Encryption & Key Management
 

 

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