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Why is the choice of the right HSM prerequisite for a crypto agile architecture

The time has come for all organizations to put serious consideration into the future of cryptography. The evolution of technology across the spectrum has brought us to the precipice of the next great technological shift. This is why the choice of the right Hardware Security Module (HSM) is a prerequisite for a crypto-agile architecture.

Universe of Crypto-Agility

To understand the importance of the right HSM as a prerequisite for crypto-agile architecture, we first need to understand the universe of connected architectures that would be impacted by such a decision. Some of the more obvious components in consideration are business critical applications, cloud services, data storage, and security infrastructures, especially those in sectors such as Finance, Automotive, Government, Health Care, and Insurance. However, the universe is indeed much larger.

The need for crypto-agility extends to both the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). While personal electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets are at the forefront of consumer-driven crypto-concerns, connected devices and other assets that are associated with heavy manufacturing are also in the mix. This diverse and expanded universe of connected architectures, especially those in dynamic environments or with expected life cycles longer than 5 years, is in need of a common solution: crypto-agility for an ever-changing technology landscape.

Crypto-Agility Use Cases

Gone are the days of auditors wondering "if" you strategically utilize cryptography. They are now interrogating "how" organizations are handling this challenge at a tactical level.

Manufacturing and heavy industry must also tackle the amortization of Industrial IoT as well as platform design, where platform refers to new age moving data centers such as cars, planes, and boats.

Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) are not immune to the challenge of crypto-agility.

Their focus must continue to shift towards complications that arise from the use of highly centralized locations and the use of homogenous platforms. Interoperability of cryptography across this universe of disparate systems is also a critical consideration.

Role of the HSM

While each of the components in the universe of systems requiring crypto-agility already has some form of cryptography built in, the challenge lies in the architecture. For most, the current configurations lack the ability to implement, update, change, and remove cryptographic functions from these systems without requiring the systems and their applications to be modified or restarted. This creates the catastrophic potential of changed centralized algorithms not being propagated to peripheral systems resulting in application outages.

While HSMs were designed in part to help resolve such issues, there is far more to the process of selecting the right HSM than just purchasing and installing one into the architecture. There are specific technical, procedural, legal, and assurance considerations that must be thoroughly evaluated.

HSM Technical Factors

Beyond evaluating the general security of the HSM, organizations must delve deeper into other technical factors. The secure and comfortable methods of managing cryptography via the HSM is paramount to the decision. The proper solution should provide seamless management of the algorithms that are housed within the HSM. There is also the need for the ability to evaluate robust data analytics across multiple topics such as life cycle of keys, state of the algorithms, threats, and tampering. The right HSM should provide state of the art security, manageability, and reporting.

HSM Procedural Concerns

Classic cryptography implementations require that changes to algorithms must be handled individually for each impacted application. The processes and procedures to handle such changes are indeed daunting. Proper HSM solutions should allow for single point algorithm changes without the need to alter code within the applications themselves. Similarly, changes in keys and implementation of new key management policies (KMPs) should be equally as comfortable to manage.

HSM Legal Considerations

The global economy requires a cryptography solution that can span geographies and jurisdictions. Rules and regulations governing secured transaction processing and data storage can vary from region to region. These applicable laws are also in a seemingly constant state of evolution. As organizations continue to expand operations across the globe, HSMs must be able to facilitate the porting of capabilities across jurisdictions as well as responding to changes within existing locales.

Jurisdiction, standards and technical requirements in the USA and the EU set high expectations to HSM. Their fulfilment is prerequisite to compliance, technical security but also legal assertion. It is highly advisable to comply with all relevant standards, namely:

HSM Assurance

Even when not legally required, organizations are becoming increasingly dependent on the need for higher levels of security and enhanced traceability. This is especially true in the arena of electronic signatures and enhanced legal standing that can be facilitated utilizing eIDAS compliant HSMs.

Clearly, choosing the right HSM for a crypto-agile architecture requires a comprehensive technical, procedural, legal, and assurance related assessment across all applicable use cases.

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