what is a hardware security module hsm realsec

What is a Hardware Security Module (HSM)?

For any organization, both the protection of its own critical assets and the sensitive information of its customers is essential within its business strategy.

But, in addition, there are certain critical infrastructures such as financial institutions (banking, Fintech, methods of payment, cryptocurrency and blockchain companies…) and Government and Defense entities, where the robustness for the protection of their data is only possible through an HSM (Hardware Security Module).

An HSM is a cryptographic hardware-based device for the protection of sensitive information and critical assets.

These hardware security modules are responsible for the generation, storage and custody of cryptographic keys through the most secure encryption algorithms on the market: symmetric and asymmetric. At the same time, they perform a hardware acceleration process for fast and secure information processing.

HSMs are our best allies for the security and confidence of our customers for:

  • Information encryption and decryption processes
  • Digital signature
  • Methods of payment/transactions (credit cards)
  • Protection of personal customer information and identities and trade secrets
  • Business documents (i.e., supplier data, inventory data, etc.)
  • Generation and custody of keys for Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) Certificates
  • Verification and validation of digital identity
  • Key protection in Blockchain & IoT solutions

An HSM can operate independently or be connected to other hardware or server, either within the company’s own facilities or in a third-party data center.

Types of HSM     

According to Wikipedia “HSM is a hardware-based cryptographic device that generates, stores and protects cryptographic keys and provides hardware acceleration for cryptographic operations. These devices can have SCSI/IP or other connectivity and provide high-performance public key (PKI) cryptographic functionality that is performed within the hardware itself.”

In addition, there are two types of HSM on the market:

  • General Purpose HSM: whose implementation and use applies to any type of company and whose functions are, among others, the generation and custody of generic cryptographic keys, protection of DB, key management in Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), etc.
  • Financial HSM: the one that has specific applications and commands for the banking and methods of payment sector and is commonly used for the protection of sensitive information contained in bank cards used in different payments and transactions.

In which areas do organizations use HSMs?

With HSM we can add extra security in the protection of databases, servers, websites, social networks and other mobile applications where personal data is stored, as well as transactions and payments made with credit and debit cards in the specific case of HSM for Payments.

Among many other instances, the use of cryptographic keys also covers:

  • Corporate virtual private networks (VPN)
  • Transport layer security (TLS) to protect your servers
  • Secure payment data
  • Zero-trust environments
  • Digital signature of documents
  • Sign code
  • Emails encryption and backup files
  • Sensitive data processing and storage

Which industries use HSMs?

Considering the high level of protection offered by HSMs, most of the business world employs HSMs in their operations. That said, the most common industries that use HSMs to protect their data and their customers’ data because of their consideration as critical infrastructure are:

  • Traditional banking and Fintech
  • Financial services companies
  • Private corporations in critical services such as healthcare
  • Government and defense agencies

These industries could also benefit from the security measures of HSMs:

  • Automotive
  • Energy and utilities
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Gaming
  • Media and entertainment
  • Road infrastructure
  • Telecommunications
  • Cloud services

Advantages of using HSM

HSMs provide a lot of benefits that other security systems simply cannot match, such as:

  • High levels of trust and authentication. Both organizations and customers can rest assured that their personal data is safe and protected, minimizing the risk of cyber-attacks.
  • TamperResistant and TamperResponsive. Different hardware security module systems have different levels of tamper resistance, but many of them are designed to withstand tampering and show evidence of tampering in case of a fraudulent use.
  • Detailed access logs. By providing detailed access logs, you can securely track who interacts with the HSM and what they do with it.
  • Single cryptographic key storage. The only place your private key exists is in the HSM. This reduces the likelihood of theft and makes it easier key tracking and traceability.

Certifications for an HSM

HSMs can also be used to help organizations meet with security regulations set by international security bodies such as the PCI Consortium, whose PCI DSS certification for the financial sector ensures the protection of bank card data.

Likewise, it is essential that the HSM is aligned with the security objectives defined in the international certification FIPS endorsed by NIST.

Start Safeguarding Your Data Today

Protecting your business data is a strategic axis within any organization and although many companies already have protection measures in place, the implementation of an HSM within its security core will provide you with an extra layer of security as well as greater trust and credibility from your customers.

HSMs are useful in many industries and offer security features other systems do not have.

To learn more about how HSMs can benefit your company, please contact our team at REALSEC.

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