FIPS Cryptography: What Is It, and Why It Matters
In the digital age in which we live, data privacy and security face a serious threat from prying eyes. Hence, the devices in which we use — and the software that incorporates a host of security features — are aimed at preventing such an adverse turn of events.
Amongst the most secure ways to protect your data is to encrypt this information. Encryption is a part of cryptography, which is used to add a layer of protection to your data. Encryption works by locking and converting your data to a cipher. The cipher can only be decrypted with a key that the owner possesses. It is impossible to guess the key, because it is a string of alphanumerical characters that can have billions of possibilities.
Produced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, FIPS cryptography is amongst the most popular cryptographic security standards used by companies to gauge security measures in order to protect data that comprises computing devices and telecommunication systems.
Among the various FIPS standards, the FIPS 140-1 is used for the governance of cryptographic and encryption services. The devices that use cryptography security measures like encryption must pass tests conducted by the NIST. FIPS-certified devices, software or services hence have approval from the government, giving customers peace of mind when it comes to adopting such products or services for their businesses.
The FIPS 140-2 standard is a replacement to FIPS 140-1, outlining the requirement of cryptographic modules in software or hardware products. The refreshed set of rules are required to be followed by companies that provide products/services to government institutions and other regulated industrial sectors like finance and healthcare. This is essentially due to the fact that these institutions are often required to collect, store, transfer and share sensitive information, making it necessary to have strong data encryption in place.
The FIPS 140-2 validation process has four levels to examine the cryptographic modules:
This is the most basic of all four levels, requiring only one approved algorithm or approved security function to be incorporated in the hardware or software. It doesn’t require having any advanced security measures.
Level 2 requires the device to have hardware security mechanisms that will show some type of evidence against any attempts toward tampering. These hardware additions can be in the form of seals or special coatings. While intended for the software, a role-based authentication feature is required so that the cryptographic module can authenticate the authorization of an operator assigned to perform a specific set of services.
The Level 3 security measures are aimed at adding more layers of functionality to Level 2. The third tier security levels require devices to have tamper evidence methods that are more responsive in identifying or preventing any unauthorized access to the device. It also includes identity-based authentication requirements to enhance the role-based authentication specified at Level 2.
This is the highest security standard and requires the device to have some tough security measures. Devices that are certified by Level 4 security will have modern and powerful systems that are capable of detecting and preventing any unauthorized access. In the event of a hack, the device must be able to delete the files containing sensitive data. At the software front, the cryptographic modules are required to be executed using an operating system that meets the functional requirements specified at Level 3, or an equivalent and trusted operating system.
FIPS Cryptography for Cloud-based Communication
Since FIPS is used to gauge different data transfer and storage methods, it is important to understand the need for FIPS encryption in cloud communications as well.
Many organizations are now turning to cloud communication methods because of their ease of use and remote collaboration features. However, the security aspect of the data generated during the communication is often neglected, resulting in a potential target of many types of attacks. This is where a FIPS-compliant cloud communication system becomes helpful, as it can help to ensure a secure and encrypted communication.
This applies to modern communication methods like:
- UCaaS – Unified Communications as a Service
- CCaaS – Contact Center as a Service
- VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol
- Other types of cloud communication methods
Mandatory certifications from the U.S government show the gravity of subjects related to data and its privacy. The FIPS cryptography kernel standards should be a top priority for organizations willing to adopt a secure cloud communication solution.
Being the most popular cryptographic security standard, FIPS essentially adds a layer of protection to the user's data and keeps it secure from prying eyes. The standard allows organizations to collect, store and share data with a superior level of security through cryptographic modules. Such level of protection is also critical for cloud communication to avoid data breaches, which is often a necessity for government entities, healthcare firms and financial organizations.
FIPS 140-2 is indeed a practical security benchmark for businesses that prefer adopting industry-best practices.
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