January 2015 | SafeLogic

Archive for January, 2015

24 Jan 2015

On Encryption Keys – Part 1 – What Is a Key?

Last week I met with a customer to help solve, among other things, some challenges around key management and key lifecycles. I thought I’d kick off a blog series on keys: what they are, their generation, use, recommended strength, etc.

First, let’s briefly address what a key is: a key is what protects your data. It’s a (hopefully!) secret parameter fed into an encryption algorithm to obfuscate data in a way that only someone with the same key can decrypt the data and read it as intended.*

Here’s how I explained it to my 10-year-old daughter:

Think about the door to our house. When the door is locked, only someone with a key can get inside. (Ok sounds more like authorization but stay with me). When inserted and turned, the key hits the pins that triggers the locking mechanism and unlocks the door. That key is the only key that can lock and unlock our door.

While quite elementary in my mind, it’s a relatively good example of the value and importance of the key lifecycle, which I briefly discussed with my daughter after she asked the following questions:

  • What if someone copies the key?
  • What if our neighbors lose our spare key?
  • How do we know if someone else used our key?
  • Does someone else’s key work in our lock?

All are relevant questions in relation to cryptography as well. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll talk about how keys should be generated, ideal key sizes, and general key management issues and best practices.

Fair warning: there is no single, correct answer. We’ll use this series to address dependencies and variables such as environments, data sensitivity, and threat models.

*This is known as symmetric encryption, where one key encrypts and decrypts data. In asymmetric encryption a public key is used to encrypt data and only its associated private key can decrypt the data.

 

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5 Jan 2015

My Worry and Optimism for Cybersecurity in 2015

toughroad8ball

Let’s face it – 2014 was pretty bad from an information security perspective, and I believe we will see a rise in the frequency, severity, and publicity of malicious hacks and breaches in 2015.

I’m worried that as a community, hell, as a society, we won’t see enough progress in this uphill battle of infosec. I’m not blaming anyone or pointing fingers. Security is hard because every organization is different: different people, different policies, different network topologies, different vendors, different missions, etc. (and that is why there is no silver bullet for security). In general, I’m worried about some SMBs that lack the resources to set up a proactive security posture. I’m concerned about some large enterprises that will continue to lag and not fully embrace security.

But… I’m optimistic. Security is at the tip of everyone’s tongue now. It’s “cool” … and cool is good.

SMBs have options for cloud productivity and storage solutions with security built in – at the very least, better security than what they could do themselves. Larger organizations can integrate many different solutions to enable their security posture.

Security is about defense-in-depth, which is to say having security at all layers, from policy and training to two-factor auth and encryption. Aggregate organizational differences can be met with the right technologies in the right place.

I’m optimistic because there are so many good and talented people working very hard to stay ahead of the bad guys. There are new technologies and new ways of thinking. There are VCs willing to fund such companies. There is more adoption and acceptance of security in the marketplace. There are companies with an assigned CISO to keep their business focused on security and out of the news.

So how do we make 2015 better to ease my worrying and reinforce my optimism?

Everyone: keep evangelizing. We have to keep talking about security and encouraging it. We need to think about security in new and emerging markets like wearables and IoT. I think after all the news in 2014, stakeholders are starting to get it. Perhaps we need better / tighter regulations. We need to talk about what’s real, what’s viable, and what’s manageable.

Product vendors: build security into your lifecycle. It’s doable. Microsoft initiated the Security Development Lifecycle with impressive if not astounding results. Cisco is doing it, along with many others. Security is a process. Bake it in to your software development. It’s good for you and your customers.

Buyers: check for the right encryption. Not all encryption is equal. Is your vendor using homegrown encryption written by Joe the Intern? Or is it standards-based? Just because a vendor says they implement AES doesn’t mean they do it correctly. Encryption needs to be correct to be true and interoperable. Look for FIPS 140 validation on your preferred vendor’s encryption library or ask for the certificate number.

All businesses: Assess the value of your data and where it resides. Then deploy the right products. Security is a process. Organizational security starts with security risk management, which guides the organization in protecting its assets. Before selecting security controls, the organization must know what data it needs to protect, the value of that data, and the lifecycle of that data. Whether protecting credit card numbers, user files, intellectual property, internal emails, provocative Mardi Gras photos, product roadmaps, money… all of that needs to be protected in an organized and actionable way.


Over time, we’ll explore more in each of these areas. In the meantime, this worrier is optimistic that we will stay focused, deliver, and do our best to make 2015 better.

 

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