Securing the Cloud
Chris AllenChris Allen

Securing the Cloud

Organizational Data Security Strategy – Bring Your Own Key (Byok)

By Chris Allen, Senior Solutions Architect, Cryptomathic.

Cloud computing is now the norm. Up to 94% of enterprises reportedly use cloud services, which has forced organizations to rethink their approach toward security. Instead of focusing on securing the perimeter of a local database, a cloud-first approach necessitates safeguarding the data itself.

Encryption solutions can protect data at rest or in motion, but cloud computing raises security concerns relating to encryption keys. Companies frequently struggle with ownership and visibility of encryption keys, which are typically controlled by the cloud service provider. As a result, customers are understandably concerned about the security of their data, as someone else could potentially access their encryption keys.

The Bring-Your-Own-Key (BYOK) approach has emerged as a solution to data encryption key vulnerability. Let’s examine the workings of BYOK and explore the business benefits and challenges associated with the technology.

How BYOK Works

BYOK is a data security method that allows organizations to bring their own encryption keys to a cloud environment, providing some level of control and management of them. This helps address concerns around key visibility and ownership, preventing infrastructure providers like cloud service providers (CSPs) from accessing those keys unencrypted.

It must be noted that organizations store and safeguard such BYOK keys in the cloud environment, which limits the control provided by a BYOK environment. However, the cloud service providers incorporate their BYOK capabilities with a traditional hardware security module (HSM) – so that they are protected from unauthorized access.

Benefits of BYOK

Data is a crucial element for companies in the current business environment. As a company’s most important non-human asset, additional safeguarding measures such as BYOK can be beneficial. Let’s examine some of the business advantages that BYOK can offer.

BYOK can enhance data security as part of a comprehensive security program. It enables organizations to utilize data as needed, including cloud data analytics and internal sharing, while preserving the highest security standards. BYOK can be a potential control mechanism for compliance regulations such as GDPR, which mandate advanced data protection practices, including “the right to be forgotten”.

BYOK offers enhanced data control for organizations. Previously, cloud-stored data was encrypted with keys owned by CSPs, leaving companies without control over their own data. This is especially concerning for highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare. With BYOK, organizations can manage their own keys and regain control over their data.

BYOK offers increased flexibility for organizations operating across multiple geographies as it enables the use of the same keys to safeguard data regardless of the cloud service provider. Additionally, it allows for customization of key management systems to meet specific security requirements.

Organizations assume data breaches will happen, but BYOK can minimize the impact of such breaches. As the root keys are controlled by the customer, data that are protected through BYOK makes it unreadable and useless to inside attacks (within the CSP) and external hackers alike. BYOK can also prevent potential compliance fines and lost business that a breach can create. It serves as an indirect cost-savings method.

Potential challenges associated with BYOK

When implementing any technology, including BYOK, organizations should be aware of potential drawbacks and have a plan in place to address them.

Implementing BYOK requires a transfer of control to the data owner, which includes greater responsibility over data and keys. The CSP must enable key generation and provide a reliable mechanism for protecting data in the cloud environment.

The meaning of BYOK varies among different CSPs and not all BYOK options may be fully compatible with CSPs. Therefore, conducting extensive research in the initial stages of finding a BYOK solution is crucial to avoid wasting time on meetings with vendors who may not meet one’s requirements.

There are additional expenses associated with setting up and managing BYOK. Depending on the level of service provided by the vendor, additional staff may be required to maintain the system. Organizations may also need to invest in HSMs, which can increase costs.

Three questions you need to answer

While cloud computing undeniably offers a plethora of benefits and efficiencies for organizations, it simultaneously creates new security concerns. For organizations looking to leverage a BYOK security strategy, there are a few key considerations:

  1. Is the service user friendly?

It might seem an obvious point, but most organizational encryption strategies are run by the organization’s Chief Security Officer, who is typically not an expert in cryptographic encryption. It is important to ensure that whoever is responsible for the encryption strategy can understand and leverage the service without issues.

  1. Does the service use hardware security modules?

By using hardware security modules as the foundation for data security, organizations can safely store, manage and push their own encryption keys. This provides added peace of mind in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. Being rooted on hardware security modules provides an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access from third parties.

  1. Does the service include key movement tracking?

Some services cover key movement tracking requirements with time stamps and the identity of users administrating keys. This is vital for setting up comfortable audits to meet regulatory compliance standards.

BYOK can reduce the risk of data loss during data transfer, but it relies on an organization’s ability to safeguard the keys. It is important to have a strategy for securing, replacing, and retiring keys.

Due to the shift towards cloud technology and the increasing importance of data, all organizations, particularly those in regulated industries, must adopt a security approach that prioritizes data protection. This involves incorporating features that restrict access to data and prevent exposure in the event of a security breach. BYOK is a helpful tool for achieving this goal and has become essential for contemporary security implementations

About the Author

Securing the CloudA graduate of Cambridge University in Computer Science, Chris has spent the majority of his career involved with the development of Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) specializing in the on-board programming of HSMs. Chris is now the Senior Solutions Architect at Cryptomathic. Chris can be reached online on LinkedIn or at our company website

October 16, 2023

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