September 20, 2022 By Michael Saldarriaga 2 min read

Encryption is an essential part of any data security strategy. A key management system (KMS) can make encryption easier by enabling you to transform data to indecipherable cyphertext and control who can access it in clear text. That helps keep data secure from unauthorized use, alteration, exfiltration or deletion.

While encryption is a great tool for keeping data safe, it also comes with drawbacks. You have to manage the keys used to encrypt and decrypt the data. At the same time, you must make the data available in a timely fashion for users.

In addition, key management can become an operational and security burden of its own. Using a storage device’s native encryption often means that you will also need to manage thousands or hundreds of thousands of data encryption keys that encrypt data at the row or column level. You also need to take into account that certain regulations and security hygiene require that someone regularly rotates, creates, deletes and secures encryption keys.

What are the benefits of a key management system?

KMS solutions help customers:

  • Store their data encryption keys outside of the encrypted device — a security best practice
  • Automate the life cycle, rotation and other management workflows of their many keys
  • Secure their data encryption keys by encrypting them with a master key. From there, you can safely store that master key in the application itself or in an external hardware security module.

KMS solutions can be platform-specific or platform agnostic. Enterprises with varied storage media or a wide range of self-encrypting media (including both storage and non-storage devices) may opt for a solution that is platform agnostic.

These solutions use interoperability protocols (for example, the Key Management Interoperability Protocol) to support endpoints, like a disk or tape library. Other protocols or application programming interfaces may also be used to the same effect.

KMS helps keep encrypted data available

While KMS solutions are essential for managing and securing data encryption keys, you need to balance out the security they provide with the availability of encrypted data. Data that has been encrypted cannot be decoded without its encryption key. Keys that reside in a KMS won’t work if the application serving the keys is down or disconnected.

That’s why, when designing an encryption key management strategy and choosing which vendors to use, it’s essential to review the solution’s options for high availability and redundancy. You will want a solution that is as reliable as it is secure.

IBM’s Guardium Key Lifecycle Manager rated top solution

To help enterprise storage leaders with their investment decisions, the analyst firm Omdia recently reviewed leading KMS solutions on the market today based on 10 essential categories related to key management. This included IBM Security’s Guardium Key Lifecycle Manager.

The vendors were ranked as market leaders or challengers. Omdia designated Guardium Key Lifecycle Manager as a leader in the EKM market space alongside Oracle’s Cloud Key Management. Find the full report here.

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