@CloudExpo Authors: John Mertic, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Blog Feed Post

The Encrypted Elephant in the Cloud Room

Encrypting data in the cloud is tricky, defying long held best practices regarding key management. Porticor aims to change that

Anyone who’s been around cryptography for a while understands that secure key management is a critical foundation for any security strategy involving encryption. Back in the day it was SSL, and an entire industry of solutions grew up specifically aimed at protecting the key to the kingdom – the master key. Tamper-resistant hardware devices are still required for some US Federal security standards under the FIPS banner, with specific security protections at the network and software levels providing additional assurance that the ever important key remains safe.

In many cases it’s advised that the master key is not even kept on the same premises as the systems that use it. It must be locked up, safely, offsite; transported via a secure briefcase, handcuffed to a security officer and guarded by dire wolves. With very, very big teeth.

No, I am not exaggerating. At least not much. The master key really is that important to the security of cryptography.

That’s why encryption in the cloud is such a tough nut to crack. Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt those Amazon S3 objects? Where, exactly, do you store the keys used to encrypt disk volumes in any cloud storage service?

Start-up Porticor has an answer, one that breaks (literally and figuratively) traditional models of key management and offers a pathway to a more secure method of managing cryptography in the cloud.

SPLIT-KEY ENCRYPTION andyburton-quote

Porticor is a combination SaaS / IaaS solution designed to enable encryption of data at rest in IaaS environments with a focus on cloud, currently available on AWS and other clouds. It’s a combination in not just deployment model – which is rapidly becoming the norm for cloud-based services – but in architecture, as well.

To alleviate violating best practices with respect to key management, i.e. you don’t store the master key right next to the data it’s been used to encrypt – Porticor has developed a technique it calls “Split-Key Encryption.”

Data encryption comprises, you’ll recall, the execution of an encryption algorithm on the data using a secret key, the result of which is ciphertext. The secret key is the, if you’ll pardon the pun, secret to gaining access to that data once it has been encrypted. Storing it next to the data, then, is obviously a Very Bad Idea™ and as noted above the industry has already addressed the risk of doing so with a variety of solutions. Porticor takes a different approach by focusing on the security of the key not only from the perspective of its location but of its form.

The secret master key in Porticor’s system is actually a mathematical combination of the master key generated on a per project (disk volumes or S3 objects) basis and a unique key created by the Porticor Virtual Key Management™ (PVKM™)  system. The master key is half of the real key, and the PVKM generated key the other half. Only by combining the two – mathematically – can you discover the true secret key needed to work with the encrypted data.

split key encryptionThe PVKM generated key is stored in Porticor’s SaaS-based key management system, while the master keys are stored in the Porticor virtual appliance, deployed in the cloud along with the data its protecting.

The fact that the secret key can only be derived algorithmically from the two halves of the keys enhances security by making it impossible to find the actual encryption key from just one of the halves, since the math used removes all hints to the value of that key. It removes the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly unless they have both halves at the same time. The math could be a simple concatenation, but it could also be a more complicated algebraic equation. It could ostensibly be different for each set of keys, depending on the lengths to which Porticor wants to go to minimize the risk of someone being able to recreate the secret key correctly.

Still, some folks might be concerned that the master key exists in the same environment as the data it ultimately protects. Porticor intends to address that by moving to a partially homomorphic key encryption scheme.


If you aren’t familiar with homomorphic encryption, there are several articles I’d encourage you to read, beginning with “Homomorphic Encryption” by Technology Review followed by Craig Stuntz’s “What is Homomorphic Encryption, and Why Should I Care?” If you can’t get enough of equations and formulas, then wander over to Wikipedia and read its entry on Homomorphic Encryption as well.

Porticor itself has a brief discussion of the technology, but it is not nearly as deep as the aforementioned articles.

In a nutshell (in case you can’t bear to leave this page) homomorphic encryption is the fascinating property of some algorithms to work both on plaintext as well as on encrypted versions of the plaintext and come up with the same result. Executing the algorithm against encrypted data and then decrypting it gives the same result as executing the algorithm against the unencrypted version of the data.

So, what Porticor plans to do is apply homomorphic encryption to the keys, ensuring that the actual keys are no longer stored anywhere – unless you remember to tuck them away someplace safe or write it down. The algorithms for joining the two keys are performed on the encrypted versions of the keys, resulting in an encrypted symmetric key specific to one resource – a disk volume or S3 object.

The resulting system ensures that:

  • No keys are ever on a disk in plain form
  • Master keys are never decrypted, and so they are never known to anyone outside the application owner themselves
  • The "second half" of each key (PVKM stored) are also never decrypted, and are never even known to anyone (not even Porticor)
  • Symmetric keys for a specific resource exist in memory only, and are decrypted for use only when the actual data is needed, then they are discarded

This effectively eliminates one more argument against cloud – that keys cannot adequately be secured.

In a traditional data encryption solution the only thing you need is the secret key to unlock the data. Using Porticor’s split-key technology you need the PVKM key and the master key used to recombine those keys. Layer atop that homomorphic key encryption to ensure the keys don’t actually exist anywhere, and you have a rejoined to the claim that secure data and cloud simply cannot coexist.

In addition to the relative newness of the technique (and the nature of being untried at this point) the argument against homomorphic encryption of any kind is a familiar one: performance. Cryptography in general is by no means a fast operation and there is more than a decade’s worth of technology in the form of hardware acceleration (and associated performance tests) specifically designed to remediate the slow performance of cryptographic functions. Homomorphic encryption is noted to be excruciatingly slow and the inability to leverage any kind of hardware acceleration in cloud computing environments offers no relief. Whether this performance penalty will be worth the additional level of security such a system adds is largely a matter of conjecture and highly dependent upon the balance between security and performance required by the organization.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Masters Technologies, a leader in Network Visibility and Uptime Solutions, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Interface Masters Technologies is a leading vendor in the network monitoring and high speed networking markets. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Interface Masters' expertise lies in Gigabit, 10 Gigabit and 40 Gigabit Eth...
One of biggest questions about Big Data is “How do we harness all that information for business use quickly and effectively?” Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or spatial technology is about more than making maps, but adding critical context and meaning to data of all types, coming from all different channels – even sensors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, William (Bill) Meehan, director of utility solutions for Esri, will take a closer look at the current state of spatial technology and ar...
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue an...
As software becomes more and more complex, we, as software developers, have been splitting up our code into smaller and smaller components. This is also true for the environment in which we run our code: going from bare metal, to VMs to the modern-day Cloud Native world of containers, schedulers and microservices. While we have figured out how to run containerized applications in the cloud using schedulers, we've yet to come up with a good solution to bridge the gap between getting your conta...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Streamlyzer will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Streamlyzer is a powerful analytics for video streaming service that enables video streaming providers to monitor and analyze QoE (Quality-of-Experience) from end-user devices in real time.
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
So you think you are a DevOps warrior, huh? Put your money (not really, it’s free) where your metrics are and prove it by taking The Ultimate DevOps Geek Quiz Challenge, sponsored by DevOps Summit. Battle through the set of tough questions created by industry thought leaders to earn your bragging rights and win some cool prizes.
Cloud based infrastructure deployment is becoming more and more appealing to customers, from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs due to its pay-as-you-go model. Enterprise storage vendors are able to reach out to these customers by integrating in cloud based deployments; this needs adaptability and interoperability of the products confirming to cloud standards such as OpenStack, CloudStack, or Azure. As compared to off the shelf commodity storage, enterprise storages by its reliability, high-availabil...
The security needs of IoT environments require a strong, proven approach to maintain security, trust and privacy in their ecosystem. Assurance and protection of device identity, secure data encryption and authentication are the key security challenges organizations are trying to address when integrating IoT devices. This holds true for IoT applications in a wide range of industries, for example, healthcare, consumer devices, and manufacturing. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lancen LaChance, vic...
In the next forty months – just over three years – businesses will undergo extraordinary changes. The exponential growth of digitization and machine learning will see a step function change in how businesses create value, satisfy customers, and outperform their competition. In the next forty months companies will take the actions that will see them get to the next level of the game called Capitalism. Or they won’t – game over. The winners of today and tomorrow think differently, follow different...
The IoT industry is now at a crossroads, between the fast-paced innovation of technologies and the pending mass adoption by global enterprises. The complexity of combining rapidly evolving technologies and the need to establish practices for market acceleration pose a strong challenge to global enterprises as well as IoT vendors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Clark Smith, senior product manager for Numerex, will discuss how Numerex, as an experienced, established IoT provider, has embraced a ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and ...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
Effectively SMBs and government programs must address compounded regulatory compliance requirements. The most recent are Controlled Unclassified Information and the EU’s GDPR have Board Level implications. Managing sensitive data protection will likely result in acquisition criteria, demonstration requests and new requirements. Developers, as part of the pre-planning process and the associated supply chain, could benefit from updating their code libraries and design by incorporating changes.
November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Penta Security is a leading vendor for data security solutions, including its encryption solution, D’Amo. By using FPE technology, D’Amo allows for the implementation of encryption technology to sensitive data fields without modification to schema in the database environment. With businesses having their data become increasingly more complicated in their mission-critical applications (such as ERP, CRM, HRM), continued ...