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What is Cryptographic Key Management and How is it Done?

  • Pragya Soni
  • Feb 18, 2022
What is Cryptographic Key Management and How is it Done? title banner

People nowadays are looking for ways to grow and double their hard-earned money. Cryptography is the most preferred route for the same. The increasing dependence of cryptography also increases its vulnerabilities towards the risks and threats. 


There is a variety of data that is stored in crypto networks and if they are subjected to risk. It can cause both communal and individual harm. Though the process of cryptography is maintained by cryptographic keys, it is essential to maintain them too.


In this blog we will be discussing cryptographic key management.


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What is the meaning of cryptographic keys?


Just as a usual key which is used to open locks at your home, cryptographic keys are used to unlock cryptographic features. A cryptographic key is defined as a string of data that is used to lock or unlock cryptographic functions. These functions include authentication, authorization and encryption. 


And like the physical keys, cryptographic keys also come in different shapes and sizes and perform different functions. These cryptographic keys are classified into different categories according to the work they perform.


Types of Cryptographic Keys


Before coming to the actual topic that is management of cryptographic keys, let us understand the types of cryptographic keys. Primary cryptographic keys are classified into three categories: Symmetric keys, Private keys and Hash keys. Further cryptographic keys are classified into the following types:


1. Private signature key:


Private signature keys are those key pairs that are used by public key algorithms to generate digital signatures. It is used for possible long-term implications. Private signature keys are used with possible long-term implications. It is used to provide authentication, integrity, and non-repudiation.


2. Public signature verification key:


Public signature verification key is used to verify digital signatures and to authenticate a user’s identity. At the same time, it is used to determine the integrity of data and for non-repudiation.


3. Symmetric authentication key:


These keys come with symmetric key algorithms and provide assurance of the integrity and source of messages, stored data and communication sessions.


4. Private authentication key:


It is an asymmetric key pair that is used to provide the identity of the originating entity or the sources of messages, communication sessions or stored data.


5. Public authentication key:


An asymmetric key pair used with a public key algorithm to determine the integrity of information. It is also used to authenticate the identity of entities, or the source of messages, communication sessions and stored data.


6. Symmetric data encryption key:


These key algorithms provide confidentiality protection to information.


7. Symmetric key wrapping key:


It is used to encrypt other keys using symmetric key algorithms.


8. Random number generation keys:


These include both symmetric and asymmetric keys used to generate random numbers.


9. Symmetric master key:


It is used to derive other symmetric keys. These keys employ symmetric cryptographic methods.


10. Private key transport key:


It includes private keys of asymmetric key pairs that are used to decrypt the encrypted public keys. Key transport keys are used to establish keys by key wrapping and data encryption.


11. Public key transport key:


Public transport keys are used to encrypt keys using a public key algorithm. They are used as other keying material for example, initialization vectors.


12. Symmetric key agreement key:


Symmetric keys are used to establish keys and other keying material using a symmetric key agreement algorithm.


13. Private static key agreement key:


Set of private keys of asymmetric key pairs that are employed to establish keys.


14. Public static key agreement key:


These are the public keys of asymmetric key pairs that are used to establish keys and other keying material.


Other important types of keys that are used to perform important cryptographic functions include Private ephemeral key agreement key, Public ephemeral key agreement key, Symmetric authorization key, Private authorization key and Public authorization key.


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What is Cryptographic Key Management?


Cryptographic key management generally refers to key management. It is basically defined as management of cryptographic keys that are used to deliver different purposes in a cryptographic network. 


The basic cryptographic key management deals with the generation, exchange, storage, use, replacement and destruction of keys. The process involves cryptographic protocol design, key servers, user procedures, and other relevant protocols.


Key management is essential to maintain the security of cryptosystems. It is one of the most different states of cryptography and involves aspects such as system policy, user training, organizational and departmental interactions.


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Process of Cryptographic Key Management


Cryptographic key management includes following steps:

Process of cryptographic key managementKey exchange.Key storage.Key use.

Process of Cryptographic Key Management

  1. Key exchange


Sometimes some cryptographic functions required cryptographic key exchange. Public keys can be openly exchanged symmetric keys requiring a secured connection. 


Traditional approach involves secure channels such as diplomatic bags and protocols like Diffie-Hellman key exchange. While modern methods employ modern systems such as OpenPGP compatible systems and asymmetric key algorithms.


Another modern method of key exchange includes key encapsulation with one another. It is a cumbersome and expensive method that involves breaking a master key into multiple parts and sending each with a trusted courier.


  1. Key storage


Key storage is basically the allocation of the keys. Distributed keys should be stored securely. This is so done to ensure communication security. There are various methods to ensure perfect storing of the cryptographic keys. 


The most common technique employed for the purpose is an encryption application. the application manages the key, and its usage depends on an access password to control the use of the key.


  1. Key Use


As the duration of the usage of keys increases, risk factors also shoot high. as the risk of a hacker is directly proportional to its duration of use. That’s why the keys should be frequently changed. This limits the loss of vulnerable information. 


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Challenges involved in Cryptographic Key Management


There are several challenges and threats that cause risks to the cryptographic keys. Following are the challenges that are involved in cryptographic key management:


  1. Unintended use of the Keys


These keys should be used for the specific function for which they are designed for. It should not be used for other purposes. As when keys are used for intended purpose, they cause a risk to the protection.


  1. Weak Keys


Logically, keys are nothing else but the combination of random numbers and characters. Easier this combination, the hacker can easily crack these keys. Keys should be strong enough to protect the data and its vulnerabilities. An ideally qualified random number generator should be used to create the keys.


  1. Reuse


Sometimes improper reuse of the already used keys is also a threat to the protection of cryptographic keys.


  1. Poor storage of keys


Sometimes the keys are stored alongside the data that they are meant to protect. In such cases any exfiltration of the protected data compromises the security of the key also. Thus, the keys should be stored in an appropriate manner.


  1. Non-rotation


Using the same older symmetric algorithms again and again increases the threat issue for the keys. To avoid this key should be rotated and updated regularly.


  1. Non destruction


If the expired keys are not destroyed immediately, it can lead to the accidental compromise of future data. Thus, keys should be securely deleted leaving no trace, once they are expired.


  1. Unencrypted keys


As keys ensure the safety of data, that’s why they should be stored encrypted. Because unencrypted keys are vulnerable to risks even at an offline stage.


  1. Insecure movement


Cryptography techniques often involve the movement of keys. When these keys are moved insecurely, it can ultimately lead to data loss. Thus, the movement of keys should be accomplished in an encrypted way via a pre-shared transport key.


  1. Audit logging


The entire lifecycle of the key should be fully logged and recorded, to avoid any further forensic investigation. 


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But these threats can be covered by following some measures and checks. A strong Electronic Management System and Hardware Security Module (HSM) should be used to generate strong keys and protect them. Following measures can also help with the same:


  1. Full lifecycle management of cryptographic keys.


  1. Generation of strong keys.


  1. Protection of keys.


  1. Automatic key rotation.


  1. Destroy used keys.


With these points in mind, the management of cryptographic keys would be easy. In the coming times, cryptocurrency is going to be the ultimate global currency. So the budding investors should keep themselves updated with the new terms.

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