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Cloud is a key-management pain: NIST

Too many services, too little oversight

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The ISA's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – recently accused of collaborating with the NSA to weaken security standards – has put together a paper highlighting the key-management challenge posed by cloud computing platforms.

As readers will know, key multiplication (and therefore management) can be headache-making even in in-house IT environments. Just one service, SSH, was criticised by its creator earlier this year for spreading 1unwanted keys far and wide.

The paper, Cryptographic Key Management Issues & Challenges in Cloud Services, would be available at http://www.nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2013/NIST.IR.7956.pdf if it were not for the fact NIST's site has been DOSed by the US government shut down. The Reg has popped it into Dropbox here as a PDF. (See - we don't need no lousy government, do we?)

As the paper, authored by Ramaswamy Chandramouli, Michaela Iorga and Santosh Chokhani, states, crypto key management – already a challenge for anybody with a large IT infrastructure – starts to look a little nightmarish when you start spreading your systems far and wide into cloud environments you don't control.

Key management, they write, “becomes more complex in the case of a cloud environment, where the physical and logical control of resources (both computing and networking) is split” between different locations, different applications, and different virtual machines.

“Furthermore, the pattern of distribution varies with the type of service offering - Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS),” they note.

Key management has to be able to cover securing the interactions with the cloud environment, as well as securing the data the cloud service creates. Moreover, “in many instances, the KMS required for managing the cryptographic keys needed to protect that data have to be run on the computing resources provided by the cloud Provider.”

The paper offers a variety of architectural templates for key management, depending on the deployment scenario under consideration. ®

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