Industrial Flash Storage Encryption and Security Features
For industrial flash storage, data security encryption is a critical consideration. This kind of memory is used within devices that frequently contain sensitive data in industries such as healthcare, transportation, and automation, as well as governmental and military applications. If data can be accessed by unintended parties, the security risks are enormous.
Great strides have been made in technology that have allowed flash storage to provide reliable encryption and security. Additionally, industrial flash storage is always designed with data integrity and security in mind. This allows engineers to design devices that incorporate the many benefits of flash memory without concerns about its security.
What is industrial flash storage data encryption?
In the most basic sense, data encryption makes it impossible for someone without the key to unlock the encryption and read the data. When industrial flash memory has data encryption, the data are translated into a completely unintelligible format. The encrypted data may sometimes be called cipher text. In order for someone to access and read the data, they would need an encryption key, which unlocks—or decrypts—the data.
In industrial flash memory, data encryption typically isn’t the only security feature. However, it does typically form an important building block of the full suite of security features. Data encryption is especially helpful when used in devices that are prone to being lost. For instance, if you use an industrial USB that could be misplaced or easily stolen, having the data on the device be encrypted makes it significantly less likely that the information could be accessed by unauthorized parties.
Data encryption has long been used by government and military groups to allow for the transmission of secret information. However, it is now extremely common to see in industrial applications. One of the benefits of data encryption is that it can be used for both static information and information in transit. Static information is information that is being stored on a device. For example, industrial flash data encryption is being adopted by retail businesses that store sensitive customer information, including credit card numbers. If that information is hacked, it will not be valuable to anyone without the encryption key. Data encryption also protects information during transfer on the internet, wide and local area networks, and so on.
How do decryption keys for industrial flash memory work?
There are two main types of keys for decrypting data. One is a symmetric key, also called a private key. With this kind of encryption key, the person sending or writing the data must have the same encryption key as the person who is receiving or reading the data. The key may be a password that is shared between the parties, or it could be a set of numbers that is created by a secure RNG, or random number generator.
Public keys are the other common kind of industrial flash memory data encryption key. Public keys allow anyone to send or write encrypted data. However, only the person receiving or reading the data has the key that is required to decrypt it. An example of this kind of key is someone using a banking website to send a message. The message will be automatically encrypted when sent, and only the bank that receives the message has the secure key required to decrypt the message.
Both forms of keys are appropriate for use in different situations. For OEMs and engineers using industrial flash memory, the question isn’t which key is better. Rather, it is which key is better aligned with how their specific application will be used.
What are some of the data encryption formats for industrial flash memory?
You can find many different kinds of data encryption systems for industrial flash memory. Here is a closer look at some of the most widely used ones.
One of the most popular—and most secure—forms of data encryption is AES. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, and it is used throughout the US government to encrypt classified information. It is also seen in a wide range of software and hardware products.
AES uses a form of encryption called a block cipher. Block cipher encryption works by encrypting one block of data at a time. The blocks are fixed in size. Block cipher encryption works in contrast to stream cipher encryption, in which encryption happens bit by bit as data is streamed.
AES consists of AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256. The numbers refer to the size of the block of data that is encrypted and decrypted at once. For example, with AES-256, a block of data consists of 256 bits. Each format of AES also has multiple rounds. Rounds are the process through which plain data become cipher data. AES-128 has 10 rounds, while AES-192 has 12 and AES-256 has 14.
AES is a form of symmetric key encryption. Users on each end of the process have to have the same key in order to access the data. This offers a high level of security, unless the process of transferring the key is not done securely. If that process is disrupted by an unauthorized user and they obtain the key, they will be able to easily decrypt the data. For this reason, key security is obviously a critical issue.
Triple Data Encryption Standard, or 3DES, is a newer version of the previously popular Data Encryption Standard, or DES. This symmetric encryption design actually encrypts data three times using three individual 56-bit keys. This triple-encryption design means that 3DES works more slowly than other encryption methods.
There are a few additional concerns for industrial flash memory users to consider with 3DES. The blocks of encrypted data used by 3DES are short. That makes them easier to access, decrypt, and share. Many banks have historically used 3DES for security, but they are starting to phase it out in favor of more advanced encryption formats.
Twofish is another symmetric key encryption system that uses block ciphers. Like 3DES, it evolved from an older encryption standard—in this case, Twofish evolved from Blowfish. The cipher block with Twofish can range from 128 bits to 256 bits. Like AES, it uses rounds to transform plaintext data into cipher block text. However, unlike AES, it does not offer different numbers of rounds. With Twofish, you always get 16 rounds.
There are several advantages for using Twofish encryption. One is that it is not patented and does not require a license to use. This makes it easy to access and use without any restrictions. It has built-in flexibility, including allowing the user to change the speed of the encryption process and set-up of the key to make one faster or slower than the other.
RSA takes its name from Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman. It is an asymmetric encryption system that has both a public key and a private key. The public key cryptology can be shared over an insecure network and, as the name suggests, it can be accessed by anyone. The private key should not be shared. Anyone who wants to access data using RSA has to have access to both keys in order to encrypt and decrypt the data. One of the keys can be used for encrypting and the other for decrypting.
A critical security component of RSA encryption is the key structure. Key numbers are factors of large prime numbers and are extremely long—so complex and long that they are difficult to access for unauthorized users. Typically, RSA keys are 1,024 bits or 2,048 bits. These large sizes are important to data security, but they also make RSA slower than some other encryption models.
How does the design of industrial flash memory impact data encryption and security?
Most industrial flash memory is found on industrial solid state drives, or SSDs. SSDs have been adopted as standard over previously popular HDDs, or hard disk drives, for a few reasons. Because industrial flash memory programs and reads data using a series of electrical charges, SSDs don’t require any moving parts. HDDs rely on a spinning disk that magnetically reads and writes data, which makes it inherently prone to mechanical failures. This design difference also makes industrial flash memory significantly faster than HDDs. These advantages are key to industrial users, who need the increased reliability and speed of SSDs to maintain their normal operations.
Despite these advantages and the widespread adoption of SSDs and flash memory in everything from laptops to airplane entertainment systems, flash storage does require more attention to data security than HDDs. One of the common features of industrial flash memory SSDs is a wear-leveling algorithm. These algorithms exist to ensure data are being secured efficiently across the drive, preventing waste of block space and extending the life of the drive. However, because wear-leveling algorithms spread data out across the drive, erasing sensitive information without wiping the entire drive is not as straightforward as it is with HDDs. Data encryption is one of the ways this information is protected, even if it’s not wiped from the drive.
What is hardware-based, whole-disk encryption?
Some industrial flash storage users opt for hardware-based disk encryption. These hardware designs always use AES standards and work using a crypto processor that is integrated into the flash controller. DMA, or Direct Memory Access, routes data to and from the processor. This design works extremely fast and does not interfere with system performance in the same way that software-based encryption can.
Another advantage of hardware-based encryption for industrial flash memory is that the key for decrypting data is separate from the host system. The authentication of the system usually happens during the boot process. With this kind of whole-disk encryption of flash memory in an SSD, preventing access to data by unauthorized users takes only seconds, since all that is required is to change the key rather than the lengthier process of erasing data or physically destroying the drive.
Hardware-based encryption is also embraced by many industrial flash memory users because it can be used with any operating system. ATA Security or TCG Opal 2.0 software can be used to authenticate and initialize an encrypted industrial flash memory SSD. For embedded industrial systems, ATA security working through system BIOS is the preferred method, thanks to its simplicity. All that is required is creating a password for the ATA, which acts as an authentication key. This same method can be used to effectively erase data by resetting the password, which makes the data inaccessible.
When ATA is not supported, third-party encryption systems that use Opal 2.0 are recommended. It is necessary for the drive and associated software to support Opal 2.0 instead of being backwards-compliant in order to maintain high performance levels. Opal 2.0 allows for stringent security settings, including two-factor, biometric, and network authentication. Plus, it lets different blocks of data have different access keys. That way, access to data doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Users can only access data for which they have the appropriate keys, which allows for different levels of access depending on security needs.
Industrial flash storage has allowed enormous advances in fields as diverse as transportation, gaming, and healthcare, not to mention governmental and military applications. However, data security is a critical consideration for all industrial users, and increased features alone cannot justify the transition to new storage formats if security is lacking. Fortunately, a wide variety of encryption tools make it possible to rely on flash memory to securely store and transfer sensitive data and to thoroughly erase sensitive data when necessary. Let Delkin help you understand the software and hardware encryption and security options that are available to you as you consider industrial flash storage for your application. Our team will help you find the right level of easy-to-use security features to maximize the efficiency of industrial flash storage for your application.
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