The way symmetric key systems work and steps listed below.
- A user contacts the storage system, a database, storage, etc, and requests encrypted data
- The storage system requests the data encryption key (DEK) from the key manager API, which then verifies the validity of the certificates of the key manager API and the key manager
- A secure TLS connection is then created, and the key manager uses a key encryption key (KEK) to decrypt the DEK which is sent to the storage systems through the key manager API
- The data is then decrypted and sent as plaintext to the user
Asymmetric key systems work differently, due to their use of key pairs. The steps follow below:
- The sender and recipient validate each other’s certificates via either their private certificate authority (CA) or an outside validation authority (VA)
- The recipient then sends their public key to the sender, who encrypts the data to be sent with a one-time use symmetric key which is encrypted by the recipient’s public key and sent to the recipient along with the encrypted plaintext
- The recipient decrypts the one-time use symmetric key with their own private key, and proceeds to decrypt the data with the unencrypted one-time use key
Key Management is one of the essential portions of cybersecurity, and therefore should be executed with all the best-practices in mind. Luckily, the government publishes the NIST Standards which recommend the best ways to minimize security risks related to cryptographic keys.
The NIST Standards discuss how keys should be used, what cryptographic algorithms are approved for government work, and what cryptoperiods for keys should be set to. As NIST Standards are updated, it is worth keeping track of to ensure your security system is always up to date.
Riley Dickens is an Intern 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.