Data Encryption on the Cloud and What Tools GCP Provides

14 Nov 2020

Data Encryption on the Cloud and What Tools GCP Provides

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Data encryption, especially on the Cloud, is an extremely important part of any cybersecurity plan in today’s world. More companies migrate their data to the Cloud for its ease of use, reduced cost, and better security. The most prominent Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), like Google, Azure, and Amazon, all have different data encryption methods, but they are all secure and user-friendly.

How Data Encryption on the Cloud works

Cloud data resides in two places: in-transit and at-rest.

Data-in-transit encryption refers to using SSL or TLS to create a security “wrapper” around the data being moved. This ensures that it is more challenging to steal data-in-transit, but even if it were successfully stolen, it would be a confusing block of characters that would not make sense to the attacker. Most data-in-transit encryption is done through web browsers or FTP clients, so it does not need to be as managed as data-at-rest. Data-at-rest encryption is done when data is on a disk or another storage method. Similar to data-in-transit encryption, the data is jumbled into a random series of characters to stop attackers from stealing the plaintext.
CSPs have many different ways of providing data encryption to the user. Data can be encrypted by default if the user implements that option. Each section of a Cloud platform handles the encryption of data differently. Some may encrypt all data that they store and allow the CSP to manage the keys involved in encrypting the data, while others may give the user full control over what happens to the data, encryption-wise. Most services on the Cloud have a middle ground, allowing the user to select if the CSP should manage everything, or if they wish to control it all themselves, or something in between that. Many users create their methods of automatically encrypting data since platforms like Google Cloud Platform (GCP) provide so many tools for the creation of encryption methods.

GCP Provided Tools for Data Encryption

GCP uses AES-256 encryption by default when data is at-rest in Google Cloud Storage, and data-in-transit is encrypted with TLS by default. When encrypting data on the Cloud, GCP utilizes DEKs and KEKs, which are used and stored with Google’s Key Management Service (KMS) API. A DEK is a data encryption key, which is used to encrypt the data itself. A KEK, or key-encryption key, is then used to encrypt the data encryption key to ensure an extra security layer. The KMS API works closely with other Google Cloud services, such as Cloud security services, Google Cloud Functions, etc, to store keys used for encryption and decryption on the Cloud. When other APIs attempt to access DEKs and KEKs, the user must first have the necessary permissions to access the keys. Services like IAM provide roles for users to be able to access KMS.
IAM, or Identity and Access Management, creates essential roles for services to use for the least amount of necessary they will need to work with different APIs within GCP. IAM offers another layer on top of KMS when protecting encrypted data. Administrators may create their roles for services and users, giving them more control in what they want access to certain users or services. IAM can also connect other GSuite applications, such as Gmail or Google Drive, to applications and services within a user’s Google Cloud account, further authenticating users.
Another example of a GCP API that assists in encrypting data is the Data Loss Prevention (DLP) API. This API can be used within or outside of Google Cloud and helps the user identify potentially sensitive data, such as Personally Identifiable Information, and mask that data from attackers. Google Cloud Platform users can integrate the KMS and DLP APIs to do encryption methods like Format Preserving Encryption, which encrypts data not to be understood while keeping the same formatting as the plaintext, allowing the PII data to be used with false values.

Conclusion

These methods and more allow users the freedom to manage their data encryption methods on the Google Cloud Platform. KMS, IAM, and DLP can also be integrated with Google Cloud Functions to encrypt data when uploaded to Google Cloud Storage automatically. Google Cloud Dataflow can use DLP and KMS to encrypt data automatically from several different storage locations. This shows how users can create their own, potentially more robust data encryption methods to assist in the storage of sensitive data on the Cloud.

Author

Riley Dickens is a consultant at Encryption Consulting, working with PKIs, creating Google Cloud applications, and working as a consultant with high-profile clients. He recently graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida.