The Next Generation
HSM approach delivers unparalleled cost/benefit for organizations
- By Anand Kashyap
- Dec 01, 2018
Hardware Security Modules, or HSMs, protect
against insider and external threats by
delivering confidentiality for encryption keys
in a physically hardened appliance. They
were initially developed by the military for
the military, then were first leveraged commercially
in the financial services sector. Now HSMs can be
seen in a variety of applications ranging from PKI to code
signing to databases.
Despite their strong security benefits, HSMs designed with
older generation technology present significant hurdles to adoption.
First, they are built using proprietary hardware that has a
high initial acquisition cost. Second, they bring significant complexity
and cost of operations. In many cases, the personnel costs
to manage and operate these HSMs greatly exceed the appliance
cost. The total cost and complexity prove to be prohibitive for
many organizations, leading to critical gaps in encryption key
management for data protection.
However, newer technologies are available today which can
enable organizations to reassess their cost/benefit analysis and
implement stronger security controls with low initial investment.
Organizations are finding that next-generation HSM and Key
Management capabilities offered as a subscription-based approach
deliver powerful data protection and TCO benefits.
In the past, organizations had only the CAPEX model to
purchase HSMs. The hardware typically cost at least $20,000 to
deploy, $40,000 for high availability, and multiple times more for
a typical enterprise deployment. Most cases required additional
components and costs for such features as client-side connectors,
partitions, KMIP support, Elliptical Curve algorithms, master key
export, remote administration, and maintenance. Added up, deployment
costs for real-world use cases often started at $250,000.
This cost scenario left most organizations unable to leverage the
power of HSMs and open to data breaches and insider attacks.
Next-generation HSMs today offer a subscription, or OPEX,
model with flat, predictable pricing and a low barrier of entry,
providing an attractive cost/benefit scenario that is attainable for
most organizations. The leading appliances use commercial offthe-
shelf (COTS) servers hardened for NIST FIPS 140-2 level-3,
significantly reducing the initial acquisition cost. A HSM-as-aservice
(HSMaaS) subscription software license combined with
an all-inclusive model offers predictable pricing for current and
future use cases. Additionally, those next-generation HSMs following
a software-defined design can even accommodate organizations
that prefer to use their own servers for cost or supply
chain efficiency purposes.
The CAPEX model bundles software and hardware together
and often leads to paying for the software several times.
For example, if an organization, after a few years, needs to
upgrade their hardware due to growing demands, they must purchase
another hardware and software bundle, effectively duplicating
their software payment. Next-generation HSMs’ approach
enables organizations to purchase new servers or appliances and
transfer the software licenses over, thereby lowering long-term acquisition
costs. The OPEX model gives organizations the flexibility
to more frequently upgrade to the latest Intel x86 processor, as
an example. A higher performance processor means they can do
more with less, which lowers overall costs.
HSMs today should be secure, cost-effective, intuitive, and
easy to use. They should:
- Support all NSA Suite B algorithms.
- Securely generate, manage, and rotate keys; encrypt, hash, and sign.
- Support all common APIs (including RESTful APIs, KMIP,
and traditional cryptographic interfaces) on the same platform.
- Support multi-tenancy (the ability to securely manage multiple
users/customers/departments on the same hardware/software).
- Provide true separation of duties (ability to manage firmware/
software updates without having access to application keys).
- Provide secure audit logs that integrate with SIEM tools such
as Splunk, and offer configurable alerts.
- Deliver built-in high availability and load balancing without
costly external appliances.
Legacy HSMs require professional services and a weeklong
class to get trained on deploying the solution. Additional “soft
costs” associated with these deployments can be significant as
well. Legacy HSMs have to be offline for firmware/software updates,
which means unproductive downtime and admins required
to travel worldwide to make administrative changes to data centers.
Because they are so difficult to manage, few within a company
understand how they work, requiring additional training
classes. With next-generation HSMs, there is no downtime during
software updates, and centralized remote key management software
does not require admins to fly around the globe.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.