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Amazon adds crypto modules to AWS cloud

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Amazon is plugging ultra-secure key management appliances into its cloud to calm enterprise security admins while locking them into its way of doing things.

The AWS CloudHSM Service lets cloud customers that need to follow stringent data regulations move secure data into AWS by giving them access to dedicated hardware security module (HSM) appliances in Amazon's data centers. The service became available in two of Amazon's data center hubs on Tuesday, with plans to gradually roll out the technology across the world.

"Some of our customers are in situations where contractual or regulatory needs mandate additional protection for their keys," AWS chief evangelist Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post. "The CloudHSM service helps these customers to meet strict requirements for key management without sacrificing application performance."

The service works by letting customers rent AWS CloudHSMs (which are in fact Luna SA HSM units from SafeNet Inc) on an hourly or monthly basis. These HSMs will sit in an organization's virtual private cloud, and though the equipment is managed by AWS, only the rentee has administrative access to their logical partition within the HSM.

CloudHSM costs $5,000 per HSM, and then $1.88 per hour. Amazon will charge a data-transfer rate of $.02 per gigabyte once a customer is shifting more than five terabytes a month into and out of the service.

The technology supports a variety of use cases, including database encryption, digital rights management, public key infrastructures for authentication and authorization, and document signing and transaction processing, Amazon said. Supported APIs include PKCS#11, MS CAPI, and Java JCA/JCE.

By putting the key-management systems close to EC2 instances, it will take organizations less time to get their data humming in the cloud, Amazon says.

The appliances comply with US Government and international regulatory standards for cryptographic modules. Keys can be stored across multiple CloudHSMs in multiple data-center hubs or continental regions, or even shared between organization's on-premises facilities and the cloud.

CloudHSM is initially available in Amazon's main US data-center hub – US East 1 – along with its European region, located in Dublin.

El Reg is not aware of any of Amazon's competitors offering a similar service. When asked for comment on the launch, Google declined, and Microsoft and Rackspace didn't get back to us by press time. Joyent pointed to its ongoing collaboration with Estonian researchers to implement cryptographic hash functions within its own cloud as its way of reassuring enterprises.

As with all Amazon launches, this technology is designed – as far as we can tell – to lock customers further into AWS. Not only does the feature not exist on other clouds, but it forces customers to structure apps using the security features to work within an AWS VPC architecture. Again, this is something Amazon-specific, and follows Amazon making AWS VPC the default way of doing things for all new EC2 instances.

As with other AWS products, the service will extend over time and knit into other technologies.

"CloudHSM is designed to be a building block for cryptographic applications and services," Amazon explains. "It is possible to use CloudHSM to encrypt data stored in other AWS services, such as Amazon S3. However, the encryption operations must be handled by your application in conjunction with CloudHSM."

The technology seems to have been designed to stop a chief security officer erupting into a blinding rage when their developers inform them that, you know, lots of the company's data is being manipulated in the cloud (Don't worry, boss, we're authenticating via SSL into a trusty tamper-proof box!). But CSOs are paid to be paranoid, so it's likely they'll still wake up sweating in the middle of the night because they realize that their data is not really theirs and is instead under the control of Bezos & Co. ®

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