Hardware Security Module (HSM) Explained

A hardware security module (HSM) is essentially a small device that allows you to create, manage, and store cryptographic keys. These high-performance hardware modules are considered one of the most secure ways to protect sensitive encrypted data.

All types of businesses use HSMs to protect their information and simplify key management. The secure environment the HSM creates is free of viruses and malware, and people who can access the device are strictly limited. HSMs can protect data in transit, in use, and at rest, which can help industries that handle personal information meet compliance requirements.

For encrypting and decrypting data, these tamper-proof devices ensure your cryptographic keys are stored separately from your information under some of the most secure conditions. Whether you need to meet industry standards or protect your business from a monumental loss, a hardware security module may be the answer.

How Exactly an HSM Works

An HSM conducts all key management tasks in its own secure environment. It has the ability to generate truly random keys, which you can then access and use to decrypt data. Utilizing an HSM allows you to separate your data from your keys while trusting the HSM with managing keys across their lifecycle.

Organizations can have one HSM or several. In the case of having several HSMs, companies can still utilize a centralized key management system to simplify management of the HSMs and ensure compliance across the board. HSMs can not only verify data that’s been kept in unsecure locations, but it can protect data from unauthorized access.

Businesses may also have the option of using HSM as a service (HSMaaS), which allows them to use an HSM in the cloud from a provider to manage their keys. Using HSMaaS offers most, if not all, of the same benefits as having an on-site HSM but with more scalability and cost savings.

Since an HSM is a physical device, it offers physical as well as logical protection of data. HSMs were built for this purpose and are secure by design.

Industries That Can Benefit From an HSM

Any organization that uses cryptographic keys to protect personal information or sensitive data can benefit from a hardware security module. However, not all applications will require one. If your business would experience compliance consequences, data loss, or other severe ramifications from compromised keys, you may benefit from an HSM.

Some businesses may want the security of an HSM without the cost of deploying one at their location, in which case using HSM as a service may make more sense. For applications that need to secure sensitive data, using an HSM can be highly advantageous.

Companies in the Payment Card Industry (PCI) or those that handle data and must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) typically require HSM solutions, but any business that deals with private data can benefit.

Advantages of Deploying a Hardware Security Module

There are many benefits to using a hardware security module for your cryptographic keys.

The first is physical protection. The device is tamper-proof, meaning it will delete keys or send out an alert should anyone attempt to get into it.

The second is its superior logical security. Your data is only as secure as your keys—when you store keys in the same location as your data, security is compromised. With an HSM, you have an extra layer of protection for sensitive information. It’s next to impossible for unauthorized users or hackers to access keys in a secure HSM. Keys also never actually leave the HSM, so everything happens in its protected environment.

Another benefit is how well HSMs can help businesses comply with industry standards for protecting personal data. Instead of implementing numerous physical and logical solutions, using an HSM can help them meet multiple goals with just one device.

What to Know When Choosing a Device

Choosing an HSM or HSMaaS depends on what you need the device for and your industry compliance standards.

An HSM should comply with Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) and Common Criteria, which is an evaluation that ensures the HSM complies with specific security requirements.

It’s also a good idea to evaluate how many keys the device you’re considering can store and manage and whether or not these limits are acceptable to you. The HSM should also allow you to automate certain processes and create a plan for key backup to lower the chances that you’d lose your data.

Is a Hardware Security Module the Right Choice for You?

Although their superior level of security can make them more expensive, HSMs are well worth it for businesses that need them.

If you’re required to abide by compliance standards for your industry in regards to data, a hardware security module or HSMaaS could help you better protect your information and manage your cryptographic keys!

 

 

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Source: Blog post by Geobridge.

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