How do HSM and KMS interact in companies?


Security compliance is an absolute requirement. Either way, whether you are in the digital banking, card issuing or lending business, you need to keep in mind that your customer information, login credentials and documents are all susceptible to security risks. Without effective risk management strategies, you run the risk of exposing your business and customers to data breaches, cyberattacks and extremely high fines from regulators. Here, the science of protecting sensitive data known as cryptography comes to the rescue by providing the highest levels of data security.

Managing cryptographic relationships and cryptographic key lifecycles can be difficult. Protecting your critical business applications can be simpler than you think if you clearly understand how hardware security modules (HSMs) and key management systems (KMS) interact and communicate with each other. Let’s discuss a Hardware Security Module or HSM and a Key Management System (KMS).

A hardware security module (HSM) is a tamper-resistant physical device that protects secret digital keys in asymmetric and symmetric key cryptography. They are used to achieve a high level of data protection and trust when implementing PKI or SSH. By separating decryption keys from encrypted data, HSMs have an additional layer of security. This way, encrypted data remains confidential even in the event of hacking.

Most HSMs are pluggable devices that can be connected directly to a computer or network server. Keys managed by HSM tools are frequently backed up securely outside of the HSM. HSMs are frequently used by Certificate Authorities (CAs) to generate, store, and manage asymmetric key pairs. With a wide range of use cases, HSM devices are now used by a variety of industries and businesses for fast, stable, and reliable data transactions and verification.

Key management is a general term for the management of cryptographic keys. It is basically described as the management of cryptographic keys used in a crypto network to achieve various objectives.

Key generation, exchange, storage, use, replacement, and destruction are all covered in the fundamentals of cryptographic key management. Designing cryptographic protocols, key servers, user procedures, and other relevant protocols are all part of the process.

Cryptographic keys are a key part of any security system. In addition to user authentication, they also encrypt and decrypt data. Any compromised cryptographic key could cause an organization’s entire security system to fail, giving the attacker access to other sources of classified information or the ability to decrypt sensitive data.

Key management is crucial to ensuring the security of cryptographic systems. It involves elements such as system policy, user training, organizational and departmental interactions, and is one of the most varied forms of cryptography.

HSM and KMS relate to each other in different ways:

HSM devices allow you to control cryptographic keys and how they are used, which differentiates them from KMS. Let’s discuss a little about their connection and architecture in the next section to have a deeper understanding of how these devices differ from each other.

When an HSM, for example, performs a cryptographic operation for a secure application (such as key generation, encryption, or authentication), it ensures that the keys are never exposed outside the secure environment of the HSM.

The KMS interacts with its dedicated HSM to generate, retrieve, encrypt and share keys with the authorized target when it needs to generate keys and distribute key information (secure application server or other HSM). The PKCS #11 standard, which specifies the conditions for this interaction, generally governs this communication. As a result, a set of industry-standard APIs are used to ensure secure communication between the KMS and HSM.

A key management system is used to ensure efficient management of the entire cryptographic key lifecycle in accordance with particular compliance standards, while an HSM serves as the central component for generation, protection and secure use of keys.

The typical key life cycle involves key generation, key protection, rotation, distribution, and finally retirement of those keys. The removal of these keys should be handled with great care, especially when they are responsible for protecting sensitive or valuable information like financial transactions, credit card data, etc. So this is only the intended use of key management systems. It allows you to proactively manage keys throughout their lifecycle.

A key management server, or KMS, is typically responsible for managing the entire cryptographic key lifecycle through a remote PC client and is capable of securely handling inbound and outbound key distribution requests. Additionally, for security and compliance purposes, these systems may keep track of audit logs of these keys. To properly generate and protect keys, the KMS must be supported by its dedicated HSM so that the key management team can manage the key lifestyle.

What should my business need: HSM or KMS?

To implement an encryption strategy for data security, businesses need both HSM devices and an encryption key manager. Cryptographic operations can be moved to secure areas using HSM devices. Instead, KMS can separate key management and allow applications to perform their encryption functions themselves by moving key governance to secure locations.

Contact us to learn more about HSM (Hardware Security Module), KMS (key management system) and how we can help keep your organization secure.



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