New Tokenization Technology Promises to Streamline Encryption Key Management

Compliance / Privacy
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Token Manager from nuBridges substitutes format-preserving tokens for sensitive data.


The number of electronic security breaches in the past year has climbed at a rate that makes one question whether moving to cloud computing at this time really make sense. Breaches during the past year exceeded that of the previous four years combined, and if that rate continues, the public will likely lose all faith in a company's ability to protect sensitive data--if it hasn't already.


Both industry organizations and the government have passed numerous data security regulations and privacy laws during the past several years. Many businesses as a result are stepping up to protect sensitive data, but breaches continue on a daily basis nevertheless. We have written in this column about the need for implementing a sound encryption solution in systems where personal data such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, customer loyalty information, and student records are kept. We also have offered several solutions that users might want to consider when reviewing the field of encryption products and services.


At the COMMON conference and expo in Reno, Nevada, last month, nuBridges demonstrated its latest advance in encryption technology. I spoke this week with Gary Palgon, vice president of product management at nuBridges, about the company's new tokenization product--Token Manager--that makes managing encrypted data a little easier. It protects sensitive data in remote facilities and also on development platforms that traditionally have used live data for testing. It also reduces the amount of storage otherwise needed by encrypted data.


Palgon explained that many of the data breaches we've read about in the news during the past few years have been the result of breaches occurring on servers beyond the central data repository. For instance, if you have a Windows-based point-of-sale application, a user's credit card data may be stored there. Then the data moves on to an e-commerce solution--say, on an AIX platform--before finally getting stored in DB2 on the System i. Now we have the person's credit card information stored in three places, which makes protecting it three times more difficult than if it's in only one location.


Token Manager, a component to nuBridges Protect, generates format-preserving tokens and inserts them in place of the sensitive data. Working in conjunction with Protect, the solution encrypts the original data and stores the ciphertext in a central data vault (or local vault, depending on the system). This not only secures the data, but also makes the encryption management process a lot easier to handle. Since the token is not actual data, the repository is unlikely to be under PCI scrutiny by an auditor so the scope of an audit can be reduced. 


Because of the increase in the number of breaches recently, companies are rushing toward encryption and other related security solutions, including, hashing, masking, and event logging. The only problem is that the more data you encrypt, the more difficult it becomes to effectively manage the necessary encryption keys. The keys have to be kept safe from unauthorized users, but they have to be available when you want to read the data.


Managing the various keys takes some finesse because a security officer has to first generate the key and then eventually destroy it. In between, he or she may have to distribute it, archive it, store it, rotate it, retrieve it, back it up, and set an expiration date for it. How these processes are managed is important not only because if you screw it up you could either give away access to--or lose access to--the data, but also because the procedures may be reviewed by an auditor at a future date.


The Payment Card Industry (PCI) and government regulations say how these keys will be handled. It can be a challenge that leads some companies to avoid the whole endeavor, but it's one of the few sure ways to protect customer data. Because the threat to sensitive data can reside not only outside an organization, but inside as well, encrypting or using tokens truly protects information from the bad guys. While external breaches get most of the headlines, the fact is nearly three-fourths of all breaches are the result of attacks or misuse from inside the organization that no firewall or perimeter security can protect against.


"Tokenization"--a term coined by nuBridges--is a new and promising technology that may allow midsize and larger companies to manage their encryption processes and encryption keys in a more streamlined and effective manner. The solution does require connectivity between remote locations where data is stored and the central repository. Where connectivity is not present, a local encryption solution is likely the better choice, either approach being one that Protect is said to manage elegantly.