Hardening the root of trust for digital transformation


It’s common knowledge that cyber-attacks are growing in both frequency and sophistication. Bad actors are more determined and cunning than ever, constantly honing their tools, and working around the clock to find chinks in businesses’ security armour.

In the last few years, news of major data breaches has littered the headlines. Attacks against supply chains have surged, with perhaps no cybersecurity trend being bigger in the last several years than the scourge of attacks related to the supply chain. Cyber incidents, such as the breach at software management partner SolarWinds and Log4j put organisations of every size around the world at risk.

Moreover, leading analysts Gartner predicted that by within two years, nearly half (45%) of global organisations will be impacted in one way or another by a supply chain attack. Concurrently, the number of reported vulnerabilities continues to skyrocket. A 2022 “Hacker-Powered Security Report” by HackerOne revealed that ethical hackers were able to find more than 65,000 vulnerabilities last year alone, up by 21% from the previous year.

Alarmingly, according to a report called “Cost of a Data Breach 2022,” released by the Ponemon Institute and IBM, it takes a staggering average of 277 days for security teams to discover and contain a data breach. And unfortunately, attackers show no signs of slowing down, and existing security tools and solutions are not doing a good enough job when it comes to protecting our systems and data from attack.

A foundation of trust

For any digital business transformation to succeed, it needs to be built on a foundation of digital trust. To ensure digital trust, organisations need to employ cryptography to protect their sensitive data. However, cryptography is under-utilised, often misconfigured, and siloed between different segments or divisions of the business.

To build this critical digital trust, accelerate digital transformation, and lower the risk of a data breach, it is essential for organisations to employ a thorough encryption approach that standardises and centralises cryptographic operations to ensure that encryption becomes standard across all applications, infrastructure, and digital data.

This is where hardware security modules (HSMs) come in, as these are dedicated crypto processors that have been designed to protect the crypto key lifecycle. HSMs act as anchors of trust that safeguard the cryptographic infrastructure of some of the world’s leading entities, by securely managing, processing, and storing cryptographic keys inside a hardened device that is fully tamper-resistant.

Enterprises in every sector invest in HSMs to protect their transactions, identities, and applications, as these devices are excellent tools for securing cryptographic keys and provisioning encryption, decryption, authentication, as well as digital signing services for a wide variety of applications.

No silver bullet

While there’s no silver bullet solution to cyber security, HSMs have many benefits. Firstly, they ensure physical access protection, as well as the secure management of key material, the secure generation of keys, and provide a secure execution environment.

Moreover, HSMs were designed to repel any external attacks or physical tampering, via a wide range of protective mechanisms. These include voltage and temperature sensors, resin-embedded chips, as well as drill protection foil.

For instance, should a threat actor try to drill open an HSM device, by either attempting to break the casing open, or by using acid to erode the layers, sensors will immediately register the attack, trigger an alarm, and launch any countermeasures that have been set up during the configuration, such as deleting keys.

Generating secure keys

Cryptographic keys are not useful unless they are well-protected and random. If they are not, attackers would be able to easily guess them. Traditional IT systems are restricted in their ability to generate secure keys, as they depend on traditional commands that process “if-then” instances.

However, knowing the “if” or input data for any given command can enable a skilled adversary to predict the “then” or output data. HSMs counteract this issue by generating keys that are truly random, registering data from random physical processes in the region, and using unpredictable values to use as the basis for random keys.

In addition, HSMs generate, store, and use these keys when executing signatures, encryptions, and other cryptographic operations, and each and every one of these processes that are so integral to security happens inside the HSM’s secure environment. In this way, all cryptographic operations remain within the HSM, staying safe from logical attacks. It is practically impossible to steal them.

Altron System Integration, through its partners, provides HSMs with the highest level of security by always storing cryptographic keys in hardware. These devices offer a secure crypto foundation as the keys never leave the intrusion-resistant, tamper-evident, FIPS-validated appliance.

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