A Closer Look at General Purpose HSM vs. Financial HSM


A Hardware Security Module (HSM) is a specialized hardware device used to safeguard and manage digital keys used in cryptographic operations. An HSM provides a secure environment for key storage and management, ensuring that cryptographic keys are not accessed or tampered with by unauthorized parties.

HSMs are classified into two types: general purpose HSMs and financial HSMs. The differences between these two types of HSM will be discussed in this article.

What is a general purpose HSM?

General-purpose HSMs are designed to support various cryptographic functions, such as key management, digital signatures, and encryption. They work in a wide range of fields, including healthcare, government, and finance.

General purpose HSMs can be used to protect data both in transit and at rest. They are useful for protecting sensitive data in databases, cloud environments and mobile devices. They can also be used to protect device communications, such as IoT devices, as well as email and other electronic communications.

What is a financial HSM?

Financial HSMs are a form of HSM specially designed for the financial sector. They are used to protect financial transactions and are typically certified to meet strict regulatory criteria such as the Financial Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Credit and debit card transactions, ATM transactions, and other financial transactions are all secured by financial HSMs. They are designed to be extremely secure and to safeguard the integrity of financial transactions. Financial HSMs often offer fewer features than general-purpose HSMs, but they are designed to meet certain regulatory needs.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a general purpose HSM and a financial HSM.

PCI standards that require the use of a financial HSM:

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) is responsible for maintaining several security standards that affect the payments industry. The standards in the list require HSMs that are PCI DSS HSM or FIPS 140-2 Level 3 (or higher) certified. Additionally, these standards have specific requirements that require HSMs to provide functionality exclusive to the financial industry. Therefore, the term Payment HSM is used to refer to such HSMs. Standard which requires the use of a payment HSM,

  • PIN security
  • P2PE
  • 3DS (ACS and DS)
  • Card production
  • TSP
  • SPoC CPoC

A general-purpose HSM can help ensure compliance with various security standards:

A general purpose HSM is very versatile and can be used in any application involving cryptographic keys without needing the additional controls mandated by a financial HSM. It can help ensure compliance with various security standards, such as:

  • FIPS140-2
  • GDPR
  • eIDAS

Use cases for general purpose HSM:

General purpose HSMs (Hardware Security Modules) can be used in various industries and applications where secure key management, data protection and cryptographic processing are essential. Here are some examples of general purpose HSM use cases:

  • Secure key storage and management
  • Secure remote access
  • Digital signature and verification
  • Data encryption and decryption
  • SSL/TLS acceleration
  • Code signing
  • Secure Boot
  • Blockchain key management
  • Public key infrastructure
  • Certificate Authority
  • Integrated secure key generation based on TRNG
  • Offloading crypto operations
  • Root Certification Authority
  • IoT Root of Trust
  • Big Data Encryption
  • Tokenization

Financial HSM use cases:

A financial HSM (Hardware Security Module) is a specialized type of HSM designed specifically for the payments industry. Some of the common use cases for a financial HSM include:

  • PIN processing
  • Production of financial maps
  • Point-to-point encryption (P2PE)
  • Secure 3D (3DS)
  • Tokenization

Financial HSMs are used to ensure the security and integrity of financial transactions, protect sensitive data, and comply with financial industry security standards and regulations.

The level of specialization is one of the main differences between general purpose HSMs and financial HSMs. While general purpose HSMs can be used in a variety of applications, financial HSMs are developed primarily for the financial industry and include the additional controls and features required to meet PCI standards.

Another difference is the level of certification. Financial HSMs must be certified to comply with PCI security standards, but general purpose HSMs are often certified to comply with FIPS 140-2 and Common Criteria security standards.

In conclusion, general purpose HSMs and financial HSMs play a critical role in securing and managing cryptographic keys, but they are designed for different use cases and industries. While general-purpose HSMs provide flexibility and versatility, financial HSMs provide the additional controls and functionality required to comply with specific financial industry security standards.

If you are looking for a reliable HSM solution that meets your business needs, JISA Softech is an excellent choice. As the first Indian OEM to supply HSM, we offer HSM Solutions which can help protect your confidential information. With their robust security features and exceptional flexibility, our HSM solutions are suitable for various industries, including finance, healthcare, government, and more. Overall, investing in a high-quality HSM solution is a great step towards securing your sensitive data, and JISA Softech can be your trusted partner on this journey.

Contact us for more information:




Leave a comment