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Understanding the Role of Hardware Security Modules in Digital Identities for Machines

Threats of cyberattacks continue to grow every day, and with business fueling the accelerated growth of digital transformations and processes, it is not just the human participants that are at risk. Humans are not the only ones that need the security of a digital identity. Machines used in digital transactions are a target for hackers, necessitating the protection that digital identities provide for all stakeholders in order to prevent security breaches.

Here we discuss the role that hardware security modules play in creating and managing digital identities for machines.

What is Considered a Machine

In the past, the definition of a machine was typically reserved for a physical device, such as a PC or server. However, what is now considered a machine extends beyond the realm of a physical piece of equipment. Today, there are various devices, not just physical ones that are considered machines in digital transformation, including:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets
  • Web services and application servers
  • Network appliances and routers
  • Containers
  • Cloud instances
  • Clusters
  • Microservices
  • Smart algorithms

This expanded definition makes adequate authentication management essential for these devices to safely communicate with other machines and for humans participating in digital transactions. As a result, businesses need to develop a strategy throughout their enterprise to manage machine identities, digital certificates, and confidential data. Typically, this strategy will include the addition of hardware security modules to aid with secure machine identity management.

Automating Managing Identity Management

In a digital transformation, it is an imperative that machine identity management is automated so that it is secure, quick, reliable, and scalable. Automating the process eliminates the need for human intervention during machine-to-machine communications and avoids mistakes caused by human error.

Digital certificates are used to issue and validate machine identities of devices. These certificates are signed by a trusted third-party certificate authority via public key infrastructure. PKI eliminates the need for passwords and multi-factor authentication because it uses cryptographic keys to protect data. Ideally, these keys are protected with an HSM to comply with data security regulations.

Role That HSMs Play in Digital Identity

Devices, such as IoT and others require certificate management for machine identity throughout their entire life-cycle, from build to use. For example, IoT devices undergo a key injection process to inject one or more digital certificates during their build to give each device a unique identity. When the device is introduced to the IoT through PKI, the machine identity is initialized. As a result, secure authentication will take place for its users as well as other devices with which it communicates.

An HSM is needed to monitor and manage the injected keys and the private cryptographic keys used to create unambiguous and verifiable identities. HSMs are trusted because they:

  • Are built on top of specialized hardware that is tested and certified by special laboratories.
  • Have security-focused operating systems.
  • Actively hide and protect cryptographic material.
  • Provide limited access through their network interfaces that are strictly controlled by internal rules.

Expect automated and rapid orchestration of secure and reliable HSM key generation, installation and hardware security by integrating machine identity protection with Utimaco HSMs.

 Blog post by Dawn Illing.

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