Unlocking cloud potential: a deep dive into key management solutions by AWS, Google, and Microsoft

Itzik Alvas. Co-founder & CEO, Entro
November 15, 2023

In the vast expanse of cloud computing, encryption keys act as the sturdy locks safeguarding the treasures within a formidable fortress. They ensure that data — the crown jewels of any organization — remains untouched and unobserved by bad actors. However, mismanage these keys, and you could find yourself locked out of your own treasury, or worse, let them fall into the wrong hands, and your treasures are up for grabs.

Enter the kingdom of robust key management solutions offered by cloud giants — AWS, Google, and Microsoft. These solutions are tailored to ensure that your encryption keys are handled with the utmost security, yet remain accessible to authorized personnel when needed. They stand as silent guards, ensuring the encryption and decryption processes occur without a hitch while keeping cyber rogues at arm’s length. In this post, we will dissect the key management solutions offered by these cloud behemoths, and explore how they fare against each other.

Understanding Encryption Key Management Software

The Encryption Key Management Software (EKMS) of your choice acts as the frontline defense in data security, especially within cloud settings. Its primary purpose is to oversee the management, distribution, and protected storage of encryption keys, which play a critical role in the encryption and decryption activities surrounding data.

Benefits of Key Management Software

Employing a solid EKMS within a company’s cloud infrastructure delivers multiple advantages, with heightened data security being the most significant. By transforming data into ciphertext, which is only readable with the necessary encryption keys, EKMS keeps the data inaccessible to unauthorized individuals or malicious actors.

Furthermore, EKMS smoothes out the encryption key management lifecycle, covering the secure generation, storage, distribution, utilization, replacement, backup, monitoring, and destruction of cryptographic keys.

Implementing EKMS also lightens the compliance load, as numerous regulatory frameworks demand strict data encryption and key management practices. By meeting these requirements, organizations can avoid substantial fines and the reputational fallout stemming from non-compliance.

Now that we have a good understanding of what EKMS is, let’s look at the top 3 options available today.

AWS Key Management Service (KMS)

AWS Key Management Service (KMS) is a vital service within the vast AWS ecosystem, meticulously engineered to generate, manage, and control encryption keys essential for securing your data. It embodies the concept of centralized key management, ensuring a seamless and secure process for both encryption and decryption of data.

Source: AWS

Pricing

  • AWS KMS follows a straightforward pay-as-you-go pricing model.
  • The cost stands at $1 each month for every key created, calculated on an hourly prorated basis.
  • The pricing remains consistent across various key types, be it symmetric, asymmetric, HMAC, multi-region, or keys with imported key material, including those associated with AWS CloudHSM or an external key store (XKS)​​. Find detailed pricing here.

Features

  • Centralized control: Offers a centralized hub for managing encryption keys, simplifying both access and control over them​​.

  • Integration: Melds effortlessly with other AWS services and AWS CloudTrail, aiding in encrypting data stored in AWS services and auditing key usage​​.

  • Encryption and digital signatures: Provides capabilities for data encryption across AWS workloads, digital signature functionality, and the generation and verification of message authentication codes (MACs)​​.

  • APIs and SDK support: Furnishes a comprehensive set of key management and encryption APIs, and caters to developers needing to encrypt/decrypt data locally within their applications through AWS SDK support​​.

  • Key import and external key management: Permits the import of keys from an organization’s own key management infrastructure, or utilization of keys stored in AWS CloudHSM clusters or an external key manager​​.

  • Key creation: AWS KMS allows for the creation of encryption keys which are enabled by default upon creation. These keys can be disabled, rendering them unusable for cryptographic operations until re-enabled. Disabling a key serves as a safer alternative to deletion, which is irreversible.

  • Key revocation: supports the revocation of specific grants associated with a key to terminate the permissions that the grant allows, ensuring robust control over key access and usage

Pros

  • Centralized control facilitates simplified key management.
  • Seamless integration enhances encryption across AWS services.
  • Utilization of Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) for robust security.

Cons

  • Costs can escalate with the creation of multiple keys.
  • A learning curve for individuals new to AWS or key management systems.
  • Limited flexibility compared to dedicated key management solutions.

Google Cloud Key Management

Google Cloud has been a longstanding titan in the tech arena, and its Cloud Key Management Service continues the tradition of delivering reliable solutions tailored to meet a wide array of needs.

Source: Google Cloud

This centralized, cloud-based key management service is a one-stop solution, capable of generating, storing, rotating, and destroying both symmetric and asymmetric keys for a variety of encryption systems, including AES256, RSA 4096, and EC P384. It also facilitates interactions with external key managers and hardware-based encryption through HSM, ensuring optimum security.

Pricing

  • The pricing model of Google Cloud KMS is subscription-based, with the monthly cost being a reflection of the usage of the various functions it provides.
  • Although tagged as reasonable, the pricing structure may pose a challenge for those who are inclined toward having a clear cost outline beforehand. Find detailed pricing here.

Features

  • Hardware compatibility: The service melds well with encryption hardware, ensuring a fortified security landscape.

  • Key creation and management: It empowers users with the ability to create, manage, and annihilate encryption keys, establishing a controlled cryptographic infrastructure.

  • External key management: An external key manager is on offer, providing a granular level of control over data, which is pivotal in adhering to stringent security protocols.

  • Diverse cryptographic operations: With Google Cloud KMS, a broad spectrum of cryptographic operations is at your disposal, aiding in the effective management and utilization of encryption keys.

  • Audit logging: It facilitates audit logging, a crucial feature for tracking and analyzing key usage over time, which is instrumental in maintaining a secure and compliant operational framework.

  • Automated key rotation: The service supports automated key rotation, a vital feature for maintaining the integrity and security of encryption keys over their lifecycle.

Pros

  • A broad array of features aimed at ensuring a secure key management landscape.
  • The capability to handle both symmetric and asymmetric keys on notable encryption technologies like AES 256 and RSA-4096.
  • Seamless integration with external key managers.

Cons

  • The complexity of the pricing structure could be a deterrent for those who favor a straightforward pricing model.
  • The vast feature set could present a steep learning curve for newcomers.

Microsoft Azure Key Vault

Microsoft Azure Key Vault is a holistic key management solution from Microsoft’s robust Azure platform, designed to streamline the handling of cryptographic keys and secrets crucial for safeguarding your data. This service enacts a centralized approach to key management, providing a secure and efficient process to both encrypt and decrypt data.

Source: Microsoft Azure

Pricing

  • Azure Key Vault operates on a pay-as-you-go model, where the costs are determined by your usage.
  • New users are graced with a $200 credit to explore and utilize Azure services (including Azure Key Vault) within the first 30 days.
  • Additionally, a slew of over 55 services come with a monthly allowance, free of charge, as a part of the Azure free account, making it a cost-effective solution to at least begin with. Click here for additional information.

Features

  • Effortless key management: Simplifies the chore of managing encryption keys, ensuring they are easily accessible when needed yet securely stored.

  • Hardware security module (HSM) protection: Your keys are securely safeguarded with FIPS 140-2 Level 2 validated HSMs, providing a sturdy line of defense against unauthorized access.

  • Automation galore: Azure Key Vault brings a level of automation to the table, helping streamline tasks related to TLS/SSL certificates, thus saving precious time and reducing the scope of manual errors.

  • Robust access control: Enhances security by granting fine-grained control over who has access to the keys and secrets, ensuring only authorized entities can access critical assets.

  • Application-layer security: By design, the applications don’t have direct access to the keys, adding an extra layer of security and reducing the risk of unwanted exposure.

  • Key import and generation: Facilitates the import or generation of encryption keys, even those tied to Hardware Security Modules, ensuring a versatile key management solution that fits various operational needs.

Pros

  • Designed to minimize latency, ensuring swift access to keys when needed, which is crucial for maintaining operational tempo.
  • Easy to navigate, simplifying the process of managing keys and other secrets, which is a boon for users regardless of their technical proficiency.
  • Seamless integration with other Azure services and external systems.

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer a long-term free version which might be a deal-breaker for those in the initial stages of their project. Users need to transition to a pay-as-you-go model post the initial $200 credit or after 30 days.
  • The pay-as-you-go model means costs can escalate based on usage.

Final thoughts

All in all, AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure offer robust key management solutions, each with its distinct features, pricing, and capabilities. Yet, the journey of ensuring top-notch security doesn’t end with just managing keys efficiently.

Enter Entro, a solution that takes a broader view of secrets management. While the key management solutions discussed help secure key storage and usage, Entro complements them by providing end-to-end visibility into the entire lifecycle of a secret, from its creation to retirement. Its anomaly detection and misconfiguration alerts are a boon for maintaining a tighter security posture, addressing the challenge of secrets sprawl head-on.

Ready to elevate your secrets management game? Discover more about Entro and kickstart your journey towards a seamless and secure secrets management ecosystem.

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