Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: JP Morgenthal, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, AppNeta Blog, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Blog Feed Post

The Encrypted Elephant in the Cloud Room

Encrypting data in the cloud is tricky, defying long held best practices regarding key management. Porticor aims to change that

Anyone who’s been around cryptography for a while understands that secure key management is a critical foundation for any security strategy involving encryption. Back in the day it was SSL, and an entire industry of solutions grew up specifically aimed at protecting the key to the kingdom – the master key. Tamper-resistant hardware devices are still required for some US Federal security standards under the FIPS banner, with specific security protections at the network and software levels providing additional assurance that the ever important key remains safe.

In many cases it’s advised that the master key is not even kept on the same premises as the systems that use it. It must be locked up, safely, offsite; transported via a secure briefcase, handcuffed to a security officer and guarded by dire wolves. With very, very big teeth.

No, I am not exaggerating. At least not much. The master key really is that important to the security of cryptography.

That’s why encryption in the cloud is such a tough nut to crack. Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt those Amazon S3 objects? Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt disk volumes in any cloud storage service?

Start-up Porticor has an answer, one that breaks (literally and figuratively) traditional models of key management and offers a pathway to a more secure method of managing cryptography in the cloud.

SPLIT-KEY ENCRYPTION andyburton-quote

Porticor is a combination SaaS / IaaS solution designed to enable encryption of data at rest in IaaS environments with a focus on cloud, currently available on AWS and other clouds. It’s a combination in not just deployment model – which is rapidly becoming the norm for cloud-based services – but in architecture, as well.

To alleviate violating best practices with respect to key management, i.e. you don’t store the master key right next to the data it’s been used to encrypt – Porticor has developed a technique it calls “Split-Key Encryption.”

Data encryption comprises, you’ll recall, the execution of an encryption algorithm on the data using a secret key, the result of which is ciphertext. The secret key is the, if you’ll pardon the pun, secret to gaining access to that data once it has been encrypted. Storing it next to the data, then, is obviously a Very Bad Idea™ and as noted above the industry has already addressed the risk of doing so with a variety of solutions. Porticor takes a different approach by focusing on the security of the key not only from the perspective of its location but of its form.

The secret master key in Porticor’s system is actually a mathematical combination of the master key generated on a per project (disk volumes or S3 objects) basis and a unique key created by the Porticor Virtual Key Management™ (PVKM™)  system. The master key is half of the real key, and the PVKM generated key the other half. Only by combining the two – mathematically – can you discover the true secret key needed to work with the encrypted data.

split key encryptionThe PVKM generated key is stored in Porticor’s SaaS-based key management system, while the master keys are stored in the Porticor virtual appliance, deployed in the cloud along with the data its protecting.

The fact that the secret key can only be derived algorithmically from the two halves of the keys enhances security by making it impossible to find the actual encryption key from just one of the halves, since the math used removes all hints to the value of that key. It removes the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly unless they have both halves at the same time. The math could be a simple concatenation, but it could also be a more complicated algebraic equation. It could ostensibly be different for each set of keys, depending on the lengths to which Porticor wants to go to minimize the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly.

Still, some folks might be concerned that the master key exists in the same environment as the data it ultimately protects. Porticor intends to address that by moving to a partially homomorphic key encryption scheme.

HOMOMORPHIC KEY ENCRYPTION

If you aren’t familiar with homomorphic encryption, there are several articles I’d encourage you to read, beginning with “Homomorphic Encryption” by Technology Review followed by Craig Stuntz’s “What is Homomorphic Encryption, and Why Should I Care?” If you can’t get enough of equations and formulas, then wander over to Wikipedia and read its entry on Homomorphic Encryption as well.

Porticor itself has a brief discussion of the technology, but it is not nearly as deep as the aforementioned articles.

In a nutshell (in case you can’t bear to leave this page) homomorphic encryption is the fascinating property of some algorithms to work both on plaintext as well as on encrypted versions of the plaintext and come up with the same result. Executing the algorithm against encrypted data and then decrypting it gives the same result as executing the algorithm against the unencrypted version of the data.

So, what Porticor plans to do is apply homomorphic encryption to the keys, ensuring that the actual keys are no longer stored anywhere – unless you remember to tuck them away someplace safe or write it down. The algorithms for joining the two keys are performed on the encrypted versions of the keys, resulting in an encrypted symmetric key specific to one resource – a disk volume or S3 object.

The resulting system ensures that:

  • No keys are ever on a disk in plain form
  • Master keys are never decrypted, and so they are never known to anyone outside the application owner themselves
  • The "second half" of each key (PVKM stored) are also never decrypted, and are never even known to anyone (not even Porticor)
  • Symmetric keys for a specific resource exist in memory only, and are decrypted for use only when the actual data is needed, then they are discarded

This effectively eliminates one more argument against cloud – that keys cannot adequately be secured.

In a traditional data encryption solution the only thing you need is the secret key to unlock the data. Using Porticor’s split-key technology you need the PVKM key and the master key used to recombine those keys. Layer atop that homomorphic key encryption to ensure the keys don’t actually exist anywhere, and you have a rejoined to the claim that secure data and cloud simply cannot coexist.

In addition to the relative newness of the technique (and the nature of being untried at this point) the argument against homomorphic encryption of any kind is a familiar one: performance. Cryptography in general is by no means a fast operation and there is more than a decade’s worth of technology in the form of hardware acceleration (and associated performance tests) specifically designed to remediate the slow performance of cryptographic functions. Homomorphic encryption is noted to be excruciatingly slow and the inability to leverage any kind of hardware acceleration in cloud computing environments offers no relief. Whether this performance penalty will be worth the additional level of security such a system adds is largely a matter of conjecture and highly dependent upon the balance between security and performance required by the organization.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Microservices (μServices) are a fascinating evolution of the Distributed Object Computing (DOC) paradigm. Initial design of DOC attempted to solve the problem of simplifying developing complex distributed applications by applying object-oriented design principles to disparate components operating across networked infrastructure. In this model, DOC “hid” the complexity of making this work from the developer regardless of the deployment architecture through the use of complex frameworks, such as C...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
TechTarget storage websites are the best online information resource for news, tips and expert advice for the storage, backup and disaster recovery markets. By creating abundant, high-quality editorial content across more than 140 highly targeted technology-specific websites, TechTarget attracts and nurtures communities of technology buyers researching their companies' information technology needs. By understanding these buyers' content consumption behaviors, TechTarget creates the purchase inte...
The IT industry is undergoing a significant evolution to keep up with cloud application demand. We see this happening as a mindset shift, from traditional IT teams to more well-rounded, cloud-focused job roles. The IT industry has become so cloud-minded that Gartner predicts that by 2020, this cloud shift will impact more than $1 trillion of global IT spending. This shift, however, has left some IT professionals feeling a little anxious about what lies ahead. The good news is that cloud computin...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In his Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, will explore t...
We've all had that feeling before: The feeling that you're missing something that everyone else is in on. For today's IT leaders, that feeling might come up when you hear talk about cloud brokers. Meanwhile, you head back into your office and deal with your ever-growing shadow IT problem. But the cloud-broker whispers and your shadow IT issues are linked. If you're wondering "what the heck is a cloud broker?" we've got you covered.
What if you could build a web application that could support true web-scale traffic without having to ever provision or manage a single server? Sounds magical, and it is! In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Munns, Senior Developer Advocate for Serverless Applications at Amazon Web Services, will show how to build a serverless website that scales automatically using services like AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway, and Amazon S3. We will review several frameworks that can help you build serverle...
Everyone wants to use containers, but monitoring containers is hard. New ephemeral architecture introduces new challenges in how monitoring tools need to monitor and visualize containers, so your team can make sense of everything. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, David Gildeh, co-founder and CEO of Outlyer, will go through the challenges and show there is light at the end of the tunnel if you use the right tools and understand what you need to be monitoring to successfully use containers in your...
In today's enterprise, digital transformation represents organizational change even more so than technology change, as customer preferences and behavior drive end-to-end transformation across lines of business as well as IT. To capitalize on the ubiquitous disruption driving this transformation, companies must be able to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Traditional approaches for driving innovation are now woefully inadequate for keeping up with the breadth of disruption and change facing...
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that HTBase will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. HTBase (Gartner 2016 Cool Vendor) delivers a Composable IT infrastructure solution architected for agility and increased efficiency. It turns compute, storage, and fabric into fluid pools of resources that are easily composed and re-composed to meet each application’s needs. With HTBase, companies can quickly prov...
The rise of containers and microservices has skyrocketed the rate at which new applications are moved into production environments today. While developers have been deploying containers to speed up the development processes for some time, there still remain challenges with running microservices efficiently. Most existing IT monitoring tools don’t actually maintain visibility into the containers that make up microservices. As those container applications move into production, some IT operations t...
For organizations that have amassed large sums of software complexity, taking a microservices approach is the first step toward DevOps and continuous improvement / development. Integrating system-level analysis with microservices makes it easier to change and add functionality to applications at any time without the increase of risk. Before you start big transformation projects or a cloud migration, make sure these changes won’t take down your entire organization.
In recent years, containers have taken the world by storm. Companies of all sizes and industries have realized the massive benefits of containers, such as unprecedented mobility, higher hardware utilization, and increased flexibility and agility; however, many containers today are non-persistent. Containers without persistence miss out on many benefits, and in many cases simply pass the responsibility of persistence onto other infrastructure, adding additional complexity.
Culture is the most important ingredient of DevOps. The challenge for most organizations is defining and communicating a vision of beneficial DevOps culture for their organizations, and then facilitating the changes needed to achieve that. Often this comes down to an ability to provide true leadership. As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership abi...
The essence of cloud computing is that all consumable IT resources are delivered as services. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Yung Chou, Technology Evangelist at Microsoft, demonstrated the concepts and implementations of two important cloud computing deliveries: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). He discussed from business and technical viewpoints what exactly they are, why we care, how they are different and in what ways, and the strategies for IT to transi...
Thanks to Docker and the DevOps revolution, microservices have emerged as the new way to build and deploy applications — and there are plenty of great reasons to embrace the microservices trend. If you are going to adopt microservices, you also have to understand that microservice architectures have many moving parts. When it comes to incident management, this presents an important difference between microservices and monolithic architectures. More moving parts mean more complexity to monitor an...
As Enterprise business moves from Monoliths to Microservices, adoption and successful implementations of Microservices become more evident. The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Documenting hurdles and problems for the use of Microservices will help consultants, architects and specialists to avoid repeating the same mistakes and learn how and when to use (or not use) Microservices at the enterprise level. The circumstance w...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.