How Does Key Management Work?
Encryption helps protect user data by encoding files through a complex algorithm and making them unreadable. This unreadable data is called ciphertext. Only members of an organization that have access to the encryption key(s) can translate the files back to plaintext to make them readable.
There are two different types of cryptographic algorithms – symmetric and asymmetric. A symmetric (private key) algorithm consists of a single key, that is only distributed amongst trusted members of an organization that are allowed access to sensitive data. These members use that key to both encrypt and decrypt information. An asymmetric (public key) algorithm is comprised of two different keys – a private key and a public key. The private key is kept secret and only accessible by authorized users, while the public key can be shared freely. While the public key can be shared with anyone to encrypt plaintext, the private key is required to then decrypt that ciphertext.
A KMS is responsible for maintaining encryption keys – consolidating them into one location and keeping them from getting lost, corrupted, or accessed by an unauthorized individual. It also manages the key management lifecycle, filtering encryption keys through different stages (i.e. creation, rotation, archival, deletion).
What Are the Benefits of Key Management?
The ultimate goal of encryption and key management is to secure data from unauthorized access and corruption. Having an effective key management solution in place ensures that sensitive information is kept private and gives businesses peace of mind, knowing that their data is always protected. It provides organizations the control to be selective when granting authorization — allowing certain personnel and identities (applications, devices, etc.) to access their keys and data, but not others. This prevents valuable information from falling into the wrong hands.
Ease of Management
As companies grow, so does their data — and so does the number of encryption keys they have to manage to keep their data secure. Having a proper KMS in place simplifies complex operations by consolidating encryption resources into one location, and enabling automation and optimization of encryption processes. It also helps streamline key lifecycle management, ensuring keys are updated, stored, and rotated as needed to meet various security policies. An effective key management solution is simple to use, and can be operated by nearly any IT professional, regardless of skill set or experience.
One of the biggest factors influencing organizations to implement encryption within their IT environments is compliance. Compliance standards and regulations vary between industries, and require different procedures and levels of protection. If a business doesn’t have proper protection in place, they can be fined significantly. Encryption key management is like insurance, providing that level of protection a business needs to ensure sensitive data won’t be compromised, and confirming that the necessary precautions have been taken to keep data safe.
Beyond Data Encryption
The Need for an Enterprise Key Management System