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Key management
Most backup software products leave it up to backup administrators to create the encryption key (usually a password). The backup software then uses this key to encrypt all backups on that server and possibly all client servers under the central backup software's management.

This situation is desirable in some cases. Companies that outsource their backups to third-party backup service providers typically find the backup service provider uses software like Asigra Televaulting. To protect the integrity of each client's data, individual clients are issued a complex, randomly generated encryption key that's known only to the clients; this is used for all of that client's backups. This arrangement precludes the backup service provider from ever accessing client data stored at its facility.

Scott Restivo, MIS director at J.A.M. Distributing, and an Asigra Televaulting user, finds that Asigra's mechanism for encryption key management puts the onus entirely on the administrator to manage the encryption key. Although backup service providers are diligent in providing their users with best practices for encryption key management and preservation, there's no way to retrieve or recover the encrypted data should the key ever become lost. As a result, says Restivo, "I guard the key with my life."

Unacceptable risk
But entrusting encryption key creation and/or

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management to a specific individual or using a single key for all corporate backups isn't an acceptable risk for all firms. Corporate One Federal Credit Union, a financial services provider to nearly 800 credit unions in the U.S., is subject to specific external regulations such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) Regulation Part 748. That necessitated Corporate One Federal Credit Union to take extra precautions in its key generation and management.

Corporate One Federal Credit Union evaluated most of the available encryption options and eventually selected Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc.'s Decru DataFort encryption appliance. An encryption appliance distinguishes itself from other encryption architectures in that a company can continue to use its existing backup infrastructure because the appliance is installed as a device in the data path between the backup software and the target storage device. This architecture eliminates any dependencies on backup software or tape libraries for ongoing key management, and the encryption appliance usually includes an ASIC to expedite the compression and encryption of backed up data.

This was first published in November 2007

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