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10 Enterprise Encryption Key Management Best Practices

Why does strong encryption key management matter? Being involved in this security world, we would have heard different responses; however, there would be one thing in common for all the responses “Save the key from getting compromised.”

As you know, encryption involves scrambling data so only the intended party or organization can access it. This process is accomplished by using encryption keys. Each key contains a randomly generated string of bits. You can think about the encryption key as a password, ex: you access your bank account or any other account if you have your password. Similarly, you can decrypt your data when you have the associated encryption key with you. As you encrypt more and more data, you attain more of these keys, and managing the keys properly is very important.

Compromise of your encryption keys could lead to serious consequences since they could be used to:

  • Extract/tamper with the data stored on the server and read encrypted documents or emails.
  • Applications or documents could be signed in your name
  • Create phishing websites, impersonating your original websites,
  • Pass through your corporate network, impersonating you, etc.

Do you need to manage your encryption key?

In a word, yes.  As stated in NIST SP 800-57 part 1, rev. 5:

Ultimately, the security of information protected by cryptography directly depends on the strength of the keys, the effectiveness of cryptographic mechanisms and protocols associated with the keys, and the protection provided to the keys. Secret and private keys need to be protected against unauthorized disclosure, and all keys need to be protected against modification.

Encryption key management is an essential part of any enterprise security strategy. Proper key management ensures that sensitive data is protected from unauthorized access and that access to encrypted data is granted only to authorized individuals. Here are 10 best practices for effective enterprise encryption key management:

Key Management Best Practices:

  1. Follow key generation best practices

    There are specific best practices that should be followed when generating encryption keys. In selecting cryptographic and key management algorithms for a given application, it is important to understand its objectives. This includes using a strong random number generator and creating keys with the sufficient algorithm, length, and regularly rotating keys.

  2. Use a centralized key management system

    A centralized key management system is essential for effective key management in an enterprise setting. This system should be secure and allow easy management of keys across the organization.

  3. Use key-encrypting keys

    To ensure an extra level of security, consider using key-encrypting keys (KEKs) to protect your encryption keys. KEKs are used to encrypt and decrypt encryption keys, providing an additional layer of security.

  4. Establish key access controls

    It is essential to have controls in place for who has access to your encryption keys. This includes establishing access controls for key generation, key storage, and key use.

  5. Centralize User roles and access

    Some businesses may utilize thousands of encryption keys, but not every employee needs access to them. Therefore, only individuals whose occupations necessitate it should have access to encryption keys. These roles should be specified in the centralized key management so that only authenticated users will be allowed access credentials to the encrypted data that are connected to that specific user profile.

    Additionally, make sure that no administrator or user has exclusive access to the key. This provides a backup plan in case a user forgets his login information or unexpectedly departs the firm.

  6. Use key backup and recovery

    Proper key backup and recovery is essential to ensure that you can quickly restore access to your encrypted data in case of an emergency. This includes regularly backing up keys and having a clear plan in place for key recovery.

  7. Use key expiration

    Key expiration is a process in which keys are set to expire after a certain period of time. This ensures that keys are regularly rotated and that access to encrypted data is kept up to date.

  8. Use key revocation

    Key revocation is a process in which keys are invalidated and can no longer be used to access encrypted data. This is essential for ensuring that access to data is properly controlled and that unauthorized individuals are not using keys.

  9. Use Automation to Your Advantage

    An enterprise or larger organization relying solely on manual key management is time-consuming, expensive, and prone to mistakes. With Certificate management we have heard a lot about automation, however it is not just for digital certificate management. The smartest approach to encryption key management is using automation to generate key pairs, renew keys and rotate keys at set intervals.

  10. Preparation to Handle Accidents

    Although an administrator or security personel implement the correct policies, controls to secure the sensitive information, key things can go wrong at any point, and the organization must be prepared for it. For example:

    • User has lost credential to their keys
    • Employee leaves or gets fired from the company
    • Used flawed encryption algorithm
    • Human error, accidently publishing private key to a public website

For such situations one should always be prepared, identify all possibilities before it actually occurs and take precautionary measures. Audit your security infrastructure on a regular basis to minimize such incidents.


By following these best practices, you can ensure that your enterprise encryption key management is effective and secure. Proper key management is essential for protecting your sensitive data and ensuring that only authorized individuals can access it.

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About the Author

Parnashree Saha is a cybersecurity professional passionate about data protection, including PKI, data encryption, key management, IAM, etc. She is currently working as an advisory services manager at Encryption Consulting LLC. With a specialized focus on public key infrastructure, data encryption, and key management, she is vital in guiding organizations toward robust encryption solutions tailored to customers' unique needs and challenges. Parnashree leverages her expertise to provide clients comprehensive advisory services to enhance their cybersecurity posture. From conducting thorough assessments to developing customized encryption strategies and implementing relevant data protection solutions, She is dedicated to assisting organizations in protecting their sensitive data from evolving threats.

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