Full Disk Encryption solutions selected for US Government use

Arshad Noor arshad.noor at strongauth.com
Mon Oct 8 13:16:18 EDT 2007


ALL the solutions include a KMS.  They all must, because encryption keys
must be generated, escrowed, recovered, managed, policies defined, etc.
for any encryption to work.

And *that* is the problem - each of the KMSs is implemented in the 
vendors own design, using the vendor's proprietary API and protocol.
Since the DAR RFP finally settled on 9 different FDE solutions, the 
end-result is that the agencies must now manage nine different KMSs 
and deal with all that that entails: 9 different KMS implementations,
9 different operating procedures, 9 different training sessions, 9 
different audits, and on and on...

In reality, the agencies are probably going to have to manage more than
9 KMS, because the RFP did not address encryption of databases, devices
(other than disks) and application data that is not persisted to disk.

And that is the precise problem that StrongKey addresses.  It is a single
enterprise-wide symmetric key-management system (SKMS) that provides an
open-source API for any application to integrate, and a potential OASIS
protocol that can work in most environments and platforms.  Our design
goal for StrongKey was that it must function like DNS or DHCP - a 
centralized server environment that defines and manages all KM functions
and a single library on the client to handle requests for any application
on the client while using an industry-standard protocol to get KM services 
from the server, securely.

Even the IEEE 1619.3 WG has recognized the importance of integrating 
their KM protocol for storage devices into an Enterprise Key Management 
Infrastructure (EKMI) and has carved out a name-space within its protocol 
for the OASIS work.

WRT transparency, StrongKey provides key-management services - not FDE - 
unless an OS driver integrated the StrongKey API or the SKSML protocol.  
The open-source implementation provides file, directory and column-level 
database encryption - but does not perform any of this automatically unless 
the application has integrated the Symmetric Key Client Library (SKCL) into

While the standard response to this statement is - "applications will never
get modified to perform encryption and that all customers want automatic
and transparent encryption/decryption at the storage layer", our contention 
is that once you automatically encrypt/decrypt at the disk-drive layer, the 
attackers will just move up one layer above the application/OS stack and 
read-off the plaintext (see slides 21 and 22 for graphics) as the disk-drive
decrypts it for them.  Customers will then need to encrypt at a higher-layer
to protect data agin:


Customers need to protect data - but they do not need to address the same
problem more than once.  Encrypting at the disk-firmware layer is a short-
term solution that will diminish in protection-value very quickly.  Until
the data is encrypted/decrypted in the final application that uses it, 
attackers will keep moving up the application stack.  

Note that this does not mean that encryption-enabled applications are
invulnerable to attacks; all it means is that the attack-surface has now
been reduced to a minimum and that developers/security professionals can
focus their energy on protecting the area that matters most - the actual
applications that use sensitive data.

Arshad Noor
StrongAuth, Inc.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Saqib Ali" <docbook.xml at gmail.com>
To: "Arshad Noor" <arshad.noor at strongauth.com>
Cc: "Cryptography" <cryptography at metzdowd.com>
Sent: Monday, October 8, 2007 11:52:28 AM (GMT-0800) America/Los_Angeles
Subject: Re: Full Disk Encryption solutions selected for US Government use


Some of the solutions already include a KMS. One of the key
requirements of this particular RFP was "Transparency". Can you please
elaborate more on how StrongKey KMS would have improved on


On 10/8/07, Arshad Noor <arshad.noor at strongauth.com> wrote:
> We submitted a letter to the Program Manager, that while they RFP
> was asking for an FDE solution, they really needed to focus on Key
> Management across the agency, rather than the actual encryption
> solution itself, before they deployed any encryption product.
> We proposed our open-source Symmetric Key Management System (SKMS)
> software - StrongKey - as a solution since it includes utilities to
> perform file, directory and column-level database encryption using
> FIPS-certified tokens: smartcards, HSMs and software modules (NSS).
> Given that the solution we proposed was OSS, that it could leverage
> any FIPS-certified token through their published JCE/PKCS11 library,
> and that the StrongKey protocol is winding its way through OASIS
> towards becoming the Symmetric Key Services Markup Language (SKSML)
> with the support of 33 companies/individuals including the DoD, we
> believed that this solution was optimal for the government from many
> different points of view.
> However, because the RFP was narrowly written for FDE products only,
> our submission was not accepted.  That's life in the Federal
> procurement lane.... they think they're buying a state of the art
> security solution and they don't realize that the state of the art
> has already shifted under their feet.
> Arshad Noor
> StrongAuth, Inc.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Steven M. Bellovin" <smb at cs.columbia.edu>
> On Mon, 18 Jun 2007 22:57:36 -0700
> "Ali, Saqib" <docbook.xml at gmail.com> wrote:
> > US Government has select 9 security vendors that will product drive
> > and file level encryption software.
> >
> > See:
> > http://security-basics.blogspot.com/2007/06/fde-fde-solutions-selected-for-us.html
> > OR
> > http://tinyurl.com/2xffax
> >
> Out of curiousity, are any open source FDE products being evaluated?
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