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AES Encryption Performance on the IBM i (AS/400, iSeries):


Understanding the basics can help you avoid problems! 

As enterprise customers deploy data security solutions to meet various compliance regulations (PCI DSS, HIPAA, etc.), they are frequently surprised by the performance impacts of encryption. Inadequate preparation in an encryption project can lead to increased costs, delayed (or even failed) projects, inability to meet compliance requirements, and even exposure in the event of a data breach. AES Encryption 30-day free trial

By its very nature, encryption and decryption are resource intensive processes. Enterprise customers can be surprised to discover that encryption from one vendor can perform very differently than the very same encryption from another vendor. While the various vendor solutions accomplish the same tasks, they vary greatly in how efficiently they do these tasks. The differences can vary by a factor of 100 or greater! This can have a large impact on business applications that perform encryption and decryption tasks. One vendor’s solution may encrypt a data in 10 minutes, and another vendor’s solution may take 10 hours to perform the same task!

Avoid surprises, ask for performance metrics:

Armed with the knowledge that encryption performance is important, you can take action to avoid potential problems. Before acquiring an encryption solution, ask your data security vendor to provide performance metrics for their solution. How long does it take to encrypt one million credit card numbers? Can they provide you with source code and demonstrate this performance on your server? Optimizing software for performance is a complex task and usually involves specialized technical talent and some experimentation with different computational techniques. Unless an encryption vendor is deeply committed and invested in encryption technologies, they may not make performance enhancements to their applications.

Create your own proof-of-concept applications that measure encryption and decryption performance in your application environment. Be sure to measure how well the encryption solution performs under your current transaction loads, as well as anticipated future transaction loads. A good rule of thumb is to be sure you can handle three times your current encryption volume. This will position you for increased loads due to unexpected changes in the market, or an acquisition of another company. It also insures that you are seeing real-life performance metrics, and not just the vendor’s marketing message.

Avoid hidden costs, ask for pricing calculations:

Ask your purchasing and accounting departments to include performance upgrade costs in the pricing calculation during vendor evaluation. Be sure these costs include any increases in software license fees. If an encryption solution consumes one third of the CPU processing power of a server, you might want to include the cost of upgrading to a processor twice as powerful as the one you have. Working these costs in during the product evaluation phase can provide a more realistic view of the actual cost of a vendor encryption solution. Upgrading hardware can lead to unexpected additional software costs. Some software vendors license their solutions to the number of processors, or speed of the processors, in your server. Upgrading hardware to solve a performance problem can result in increased software license fees.

Avoid red flags, not all AES encryption solutions are the same:

Some encryption solutions use “shadow files” (files external to your application) to store encrypted data. The use of shadow files normally indicates that the vendor has an incomplete implementation of the AES encryption suite, or that the system architecture is limited in some way. The use of shadow files can impose severe performance penalties. In order to perform an encryption or decryption task an addition file read or write is required which essentially doubles the file activity. This may also increase processor loads as your application mirrors the data to a hot backup system. You will want to be very careful in measuring the performance impacts of encryption solutions that use shadow files.

If an encryption vendor will not provide you with a fully functional evaluation of their solution, this represents a clear warning signal. Your application environment is unique and you will need to be able to evaluate the impact of encryption in your environment with a limited test. A vendor who refuses to provide you with a clear method of evaluating the performance of their solution may not have your best interests in mind.

Avoid frustrations, take a test drive with us:

Despite an organization’s best efforts, data will get out. The best way to secure sensitive information is with strong encryption that is NIST compliant and FIPS 140-2 compliant key management that meets or exceeds the standards in PCI, HIPAA/HITECH, and state privacy laws. For a more technical look at AES encryption, including FieldProc exit points and POWER8 on-board encryption, check out this blog by Patrick Townsend, Founder and CEO of Townsend Security: How Does IBM i FieldProc Encryption Affect Performance?

Our proven AES encryption solution encrypts data 115x times faster than the competition. But don’t just take our word for it, we provide a fully functional evaluation!  Request a free 30-day trial (full version) of our popular Alliance AES Encryption and see for yourself.

AES Encryption 30-day free trial

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FAQ: IBM i System Logging for IBM Security QRadar


When our customers consider deploying Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar on their IBM i (AS/400, iSeries) servers, they often have a number of questions about how the application works. Here are a few of the common questions we encounter:

IBM i Security QRadar Log Collection Can I monitor security events collected in the IBM security audit journal QAUDJRN?
Yes, all of the events in the QAUDJRN security journal are processed by Alliance LogAgent and assigned a severity level that is recognized by QRadar. Be aware that the security event information collected in the QAUDJRN security audit journal depend on system values that you define. Minimally you should configure your IBM i server to collect all *SECURITY level events. See the Alliance LogAgent documentation for more information.

Can I monitor user messages in the security audit journal QAUDJRN?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar processes all user-defined events in the security audit journal. If you wish to write user-defined events to QAUDJRN you should be aware of the data format defined for QRadar called the Log Event Extended Format, or LEEF. The LEEF format documentation is available from IBM.

Why is Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar better than what I already have?
Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar has several security advantages over the native AS/400 DSM definition in QRadar. The most important is that Alliance LogAgent processes security events in real time. This means that QRadar can perform event correlation and alerting more effectively. There is less chance that a security breach will result in the loss of data. Additionally, Alliance LogAgent provides more information for security events. For example, when a user profile is changed all of the granted authorities are reported to QRadar, not just the summary information. Lastly, Alliance LogAgent collects information from a variety of sources including IBM i Exit Points, the system message file QHST, the system operator’s message queue, and user defined messages via a data queue. For all of these reasons Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar will improve your IBM i security.

Do I have to make any changes to QRadar?
No, you just need to pull the latest QRadar Device Support Module (DSM) definitions from IBM and you are ready to use Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar. If you are automatically updating your DSM definitions you probably already have the DSM support you need. Townsend Security worked with the IBM QRadar team for the DSM definitions. You do not need to do any manual work for IBM QRadar to recognize and process IBM i security events transmitted by Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar.

Is Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar certified by IBM?
Yes, Townsend Security worked directly with the IBM Security QRadar technical team to certify the security events transmitted by Alliance LogAgent. Out of the box the QRadar SIEM will recognize and process events sent by Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar. Townsend Security is validated to the Ready For IBM Security Information program.

What is the performance impact?
Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar runs as a low priority batch job on the IBM i platform and will have minimal impact on CPU and other resources. The application uses normal IBM APIs for security event information and does not bypass normal application performance controls. You should not notice any significant impact on interactive user jobs or system resources.

Can I filter messages that are sent to QRadar?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar provides several ways to filter messages sent to IBM QRadar including:

  • Which QAUDJRN events are reported
  • Which QAUDJRN user events are reported
  • Which System Values are reported
  • Which libraries and objects are included or excluded
  • Which IFS directories and files are included or excluded
  • Which user profiles are excluded.
  • Which IBM i Exit Points are monitored
  • Which files and tables are monitored at the field level

As you can see you have many options for filtering which events are transmitted to IBM QRadar.

How much storage does Alliance LogAgent use, and will I need to add storage?
Alliance LogAgent does not make any temporary or permanent copies of security information and will not impact your storage utilization. The only storage you need is for the Alliance LogAgent program objects (about 100 Megabytes) and you will not need to add additional storage.

How are security events transmitted to QRadar, and will I need third party software for this?
Alliance LogAgent provides the communications applications as a part of the base product and you will not need any third party software.

Can I monitor exit points like FTP?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent monitors the FTP exit point and several other critical exit points provided by IBM. These include the exit points for remote data queues, SQL (including ODBC), DB2, FTP and many others. Please contact Townsend Security if you have questions about a specific exit point. New Exit Point monitors are added on a periodic basis.

Can I monitor messages in the system history file (QHST)?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar can monitor messages in the QHST system history files. It automatically detects new QHST files created by the operating system and processes messages in near real time.

Can I monitor changes to database files at the field level?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar includes a license for the File Integrity Monitoring module. This gives you the ability to monitor access to one or more fields in any database file. There is no limit to the number of fields or files that you can monitor. Monitoring also includes processing file open and close requests so that you have a full picture of user access to a file.

Can I my RPG and CL applications write messages to QRadar?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent can monitor one or more user data queues and transmit messages to QRadar. Your application can write the important security information to the data queue and Alliance LogAgent will add the QRadar headers, convert to the ASCII character set, and transmit the event to QRadar in the appropriate format. There is no limit to the number of data queues you can define or the number of messages.

We use Splunk for log collection, can we use IBM QRadar at the same time?
Yes, many customers use both Splunk and QRadar at the same time. You will find information in the IBM and Splunk documentation on how to implement these solutions together. It is recommended that you send information to QRadar in the native Log Event Extended Format (LEEF) first, and then forward the information to Splunk. This will give you the best security implementation.

How is Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar licensed?
Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar is licensed on a Logical Partition (LPAR) basis at a flat fee per LPAR. Multiple license discounts are available. Please contact Townsend Security for pricing and support options.

I am using a different SIEM solution, can I use Alliance LogAgent?
Yes, Alliance LogAgent works with all major SIEM solutions including, but not limited to, LogRhythm, Alert Logic, AlienVault, Splunk, McAfee and managed service providers like Dell SecureWorks, NTT/Solutionary and others. If you decide to upgrade to IBM Security QRadar you can easily upgrade to Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar.

I need help installing IBM Security QRadar, can you help us?
Townsend Security provides no-charge support for installation and configuration of Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar on your IBM i server. If you need assistance with installing, evaluating and using IBM Security QRadar we will provide you with an introduction to a certified IBM QRadar partner company.

Can I try Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar on my IBM i server?
Yes. Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar can be downloaded and installed on your IBM i server at no charge. During the evaluation period the solution is fully functional and you can integrate it with IBM Security QRadar at no charge for the Townsend Security software (IBM QRadar EPS charges may apply).

How do I get started with Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar?
Once you request an evaluation of Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar you will receive information on how to download the software and install it on your IBM i server. The Townsend Security customer support team will provide you with training and support at no charge.

If you have any other questions about Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar, or other Townsend Security solutions, please contact us.

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The Boyd Gaming Case Study of LogAgent for IBM QRadar


Collecting and Monitoring Real-time IBM i Security Events with Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar

Collecting and Actively Monitoring System Logs is Important Across ALL Operating Systems!

Because the IBM i (AS/400, iSeries) can handle multiple applications, it doesn’t log information like other systems do. The IBM i collects logs simultaneously from multiple sources and deals with large volumes: Up to 3,500 events per second…250 Million events per day!  The essence of good log security is externalizing the systems logs and collecting them in a central repository, which helps remove the risk of tampering. Close monitoring of system logs can help you detect a breach before it happens, it can be a requirement for compliance with security regulations, and it can be a very difficult, inefficient, and cumbersome process.

PDF of Boyd Gaming Case Study of LogAgent for QRadar

For years, our Alliance LogAgent solution has been helping businesses using the IBM i to collect logs from the QAUDJRN security journal, convert them to common syslog formats and then transmit to a central log server or SIEM product for collection, analysis, and alert management. Now, with Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar, deeper threat intelligence and security insights can be gained in real-time.

For example, having chosen IBM Security’s QRadar SIEM, the security team at Boyd Gaming needed a solution to collect IBM i security and application logs into a coherent strategy for log collection, analysis and alert management. Before they started using Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar, Boyd Gaming used a Device Support Module (DSM) that made copies of their security journal and sent them out over FTP to a server, where QRadar would go grab them – a very cumbersome and inefficient process. By implementing Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar, they brought their IBM i platform into a common strategy for log consolidation and analysis with the security events from other servers.

Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar does exactly what it needs to do. It was built for the IBM i and gives you the data you need,said Anthony Johnson, IT Security Engineer, Boyd Gaming.Knowing that Townsend Security worked with IBM made Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar an easy choice. By being able collect all security events and convert them to the IBM Log Event Extended Format (LEEF) made a seamless deployment.

For Boyd Gaming, getting started was very simple. With 15 installations of Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar, it only took one hour for them to get them to set up, configured, and begin collecting logs from their IBM i platform.

Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar fits the bill for everything. It is very simple to set up, minimal maintenance, and once you set it, you never have to make any adjustments – set it and forget it,finished Johnson.

Not only does IBM Security QRadar perform real-time monitoring of events across the Enterprise, it learns from the events over time in order to recognize normal patterns, detect anomalies, and better identify attacks and breaches. Combined with this intelligent platform IBM Security QRadar provides a broad set of compliance reports that are ready to use. Townsend Security’s Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar helps IBM i customers realize the full benefits of the IBM QRadar Security Intelligence solution.

For more detail, please read the whole case study on Boyd Gaming:

IBM i QRadar SIEM Case Study

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Congratulations on taking the first step with IBM QRadar!


Now it’s time to take the next step and improve your IBM i security.

Take a victory lap, you deserve it!

IBM i Security QRadar Log Collection You deployed one of the best security applications to help protect your IBM i data - IBM Security QRadar. As a Gartner Magic Quadrant leader in SIEM the QRadar solution is proving a valuable part of your company's’ security strategy. IBM QRadar is easy to deploy, easy to use, easy to manage, and automatically learns about your environment to get better over time. Actively monitoring your network, applications and systems is one of the Top 10 security controls, and QRadar is one of the leading SIEM solutions. You deserve that victory lap!

After you take that victory lap and catch your breath, it is time to take the next step.

The NEXT STEP ???   I thought I was DONE !!!

Not quite. Like all SIEM solutions IBM QRadar works best when it gets information in real-time. When QRadar can see an authority failure, a rogue SQL statement, a change to a system value, or any other critical security event in real time it can correlate that event with all of the others from across your Enterprise. It can evaluate its likely impact and compare it with other events to understand the severity of the event. Real-time monitoring is crucial for good security.

The default Device Support Module (DSM) provided by IBM QRadar provides for a periodic, batch view of basic IBM i security events. Because it is a batch process most IBM i users only collect security events once or twice a day. There is no real-time collection available and your QRadar implementation is not functioning as well as you might like.

Fortunately, it is really easy to fix this. Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar from Townsend Security helps you take the next step by providing that real-time monitoring for your IBM i server. Running in the background, Alliance LogAgent collects security events, converts them to IBM QRadar format, and transmits them to QRadar as they happen. Attempted hacks to your IBM i server are captured when they happen, not hours later. And QRadar sees them immediately. You get better security within a few minutes of installing Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar.

In addition to real-time monitoring, you also get these critical security functions that are not included in the default QRadar DSM for the IBM i:

  • File Integrity Monitoring (FIM) for any DB2 database file on your system. You can monitor access to sensitive data on a field level.
  • System history file (QHST) monitoring for critical messages and interactive logon and logoff activity.
  • User data queue monitoring so that you can write your own security events from your RPG and CL applications.
  • Exit Point monitoring so that you can monitor and record the host server activity and send the information to QRadar.
IBM Business Partner: Certified Ready for Security Intelligence

Active monitoring with IBM Security QRadar is one of the most important things you can do. Deploying Townsend Security’s Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar will make you more secure by making QRadar better. It’s affordable and easy to deploy. You can download a fully functional evaluation and see for yourself. Alliance LogAgent for IBM QRadar is certified by IBM and supported by the QRadar DSM.

That next step is not a big one, but it has big benefits.


IBM i Security QRadar Log Collection
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IBM i Access for Windows 7.1 Security Update Announcement


IBM i customers should be aware of a new security issue with IBM i Access for Windows version 7.1. This issue will affect a large number of IBM i users as Access for Windows is very commonly used by IBM i customers. US-CERT/NIST in the NVD database indicates this issue has a base score of 7.2 and an impact score of 10. This means that IBM i customers should give this issue attention as soon as possible.

  • The vulnerability ID is CVE-2015-2023 and you can find the details here
  • IBM provides a description of this issue on their website here
  • A fix from IBM is available with Service Pack SI57907 and can be found here

If you are an IBM security administrator I recommend that you sign up for notifications on the NVD website. While the volume of IBM i issues is relatively small, they do occur from time to time and some of them are severe enough to warrant quick action. You can also review IBM i security notifications on the IBM i website here (but be sure to monitor the NVD site too).


Webinar: Sec

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To Key or Not to Key: That is the Question


"This article was originally posted on Pantheon’s blog. Pantheon is a website management platform for Drupal and WordPress."

What Data Needs To Be Encrypted In Drupal? To keep something safe, you protect it under lock and key, right? Same is true in Drupal and WordPress. Except in these CMSs, that key is unfortunately often hidden under the “Welcome” mat called your database. Not always a very secure place for such important items. So, the question is, what can you do to keep the key safe?

Let’s back up a few steps. Why are there keys and where are they in the first place? 

Private API Keys

Private API keys are actually used frequently within a CMS by services like, PayPal, MailChimp, etc., and stored in the clear. If your site gets hacked, so does access to the services that you have integrated into your site. For example, if your Amazon S3 API key were in your stolen database, hackers would have access to your entire offsite S3 storage. Let’s take MailChimp, for example:  If your MailChimp API key becomes compromised, hackers could send out emails as if they appeared from you, leaving customers surprised to learn that you just got into selling Viagra.

Encryption Keys

In Drupal, for example, there are several modules (EncryptField EncryptionEncrypted Files, etc.) that allow you to encrypt various types of data. This is a very necessary step to keeping your data secure, however what happens to the key to unlock that data? Typically, developers will store their encryption keys locally in either a file protected on the server, in the database, or in Drupal’s settings file. Not very secure places. Further, for companies who fall under data security compliance requirements like HIPAA, FISMA, or PCI DSS, key management requirements are pretty clearly spelled out, and these default methods don’t even come close to being sufficient. Essentially, the compliance requirements all say the same thing: encryption keys should never reside in the same environment or server as the encrypted data. This is a technical way of saying, don’t leave your key under the doormat a hacker walks in over.

Unfortunately in WordPress, there are isolated solutions, but no plugin that provides and manages the encryption process. The team working on the Drupal encryption modules are also working to bring the same functionality to WordPress.

Now that we have established storing sensitive keys within the CMS is not secure, what should we do with them?

Key Management

Keys need to be stored outside of the CMS and developers need to consider how they’ll manage all of these keys. Most encryption modules are designed to create a new key each time the encrypted data is accessed and re-encrypted. As you can imagine, versions of keys add up quickly and managing them is quite a task—not something that you’d want to do manually (luckily your server can’t put a sticky note of keys on its hard-drive).

There are solutions and services designed specifically for key management that can run on a wide variety of platforms ranging from in the cloud, to VMware, to a physical hardware security module (HSM). These solutions can safeguard your API keys, as well as manage encryption keys through the entire lifecycle—from creation to destruction.  Additionally, an external key manager will allow for:

  • Key naming and versioning

  • Key change and rotation

  • Secure key retrieval

  • Key mirroring

  • Key import and export

  • Password and passphrase protection

  • User and group control for key access

Modules and Plugins for Key Management

Luckily, for Drupal users, there is a super easy way to integrate external key management (and follow security best practices). This can happen by way of the “Key” module. Key acts as a central routing API for keys and is easily extended to integrate with your key management vendor of choice.

These modules act as the bridge between the various encryption/API modules and an external key manager. They give site administrators the ability to define how keys are stored, which provides an increased level of security and allows sites to meet compliance requirements and security best practices. With these modules installed, users no longer need to settle for storing their keys in insecure places.

While there currently isn’t a Key equivalent for WordPress, efforts are being made to remedy this.  By early 2016, we can expect to see great progress in the way of managing encryption and API keys in via a plugin similar to that in the Drupal environment.  For now, WordPress developers need to rely on an  external service such asLockr to secure these keys.

Who Holds the Keys to Your Kingdom?

There are three important questions that need to be asked when considering your key management strategy:

  1. Do I want to manage the keys myself or use a service?

  2. Do I need to meet any compliance requirements?  

  3. What is my budget?

Your budget and needs can play a large part in determining which route you take. With a low entry price point, a multi-tenant managed key service (where your keys are stored alongside other companies’ keys on the same key manager) is a great option. These services typically operate in the cloud and allow businesses to remove their keys from under the “Welcome” mat and store them in a more secure environment. As businesses or security needs grow, managed key services can easily scale and migrate users to a dedicated, FIPS 140-2 compliant key manager that can help them meet compliance (PCI DSS, FISMA, etc.).

For users who feel more comfortable with a hands-on approach—or don’t trust anyone but themselves with their keys)—a dedicated and self-managed option may be right for them. Dedicated key managers are available virtually (AWS, Azure, VMware) or physically as a Cloud HSM or HSM, and have a wide variety of licensing options.

To Key or Not to Key?

By now the choice should be fairly obvious. Protecting keys is an important aspect of  a strong security posture. As the headlines show, data breaches are a reality—regardless of the size of your business. They can happen as a result of a hacker or disgruntled employee.  Properly protecting API and encryption keys is a very easy way to manage the risk and severity of a data breach.

Townsend Security’s dedicated Alliance Key Manager is in use by over 3,000 customers worldwide and is the only dedicated key manager with Drupal integrations. Cellar Door Media also recently launched Lockr, a managed key service for Drupal and WordPress that’s free during development, and once deployed to a site, pricing starts at $30 per month. Lockr also offers managed dedicated key service for enterprise customers.

What Data Needs Encrypted In Drupal?
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Looking Back on 2015 Data Breaches


Data Breach Statistic for 20152015 was a year of large and sometimes very controversial data breaches across a broad industry spectrum.  The Identity Theft Resource Center 2015 Breach List contains 780 breaches and 177,866,236 exposed records. Here are just a few that everyone should be aware of:



    • 78.8 million highly sensitive patient records
    • 8.8 to 18.8 million non-patient records
    • Names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, employment information, and income data


    • Over 11 million subscribers
    • Names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, and bank account information.


    • 10 million members
    • Names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, financial account information, and claims information


Avid Life Media (ALM), the parent company of Ashley Madison

    • 37 million user accounts
    • Email addresses, first and last names, and phone numbers.


    • 6.4 million children accounts
    • 4.9 million customer (parent) accounts
    • Photos, names, passwords, IP addresses, download history, and children’s gender and birth dates.

Hello Kitty (SanrioTown)

    • 3.3 million customers, including children
    • Full names, encoded by decipherable birth dates, email addresses, and encrypted passwords, along with password reset questions and answers.


T-Mobile via Experian

    • 15 million records
    • Names, birth dates, addresses and social security numbers and/or an alternative form of ID, such as drivers’ license numbers. (This was an unusual hack because the company itself (in this case T-mobile) didn’t have a data breach rather Experian (a credit reporting company) had a data breach which leaked T-mobile’s consumers’ data)


    • 3 breaches affecting up to 4 million user records
    • Names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, TalkTalk account details and payment card information


    • Over 200,000 users
    • Login credentials were sold on the dark web


Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

    • Over 4 million personnel files
    • Over 21 million federal employees and contractors
    • Social Security numbers, security clearance information, fingerprints, and personal details that could leave federal personnel vulnerable to blackmail.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    • Over 100,000 taxpayers
    • Online transcripts and significant personal information was accessed as a result of access to previously stolen identity information.

Wrapping up the year; on December 20th, 191 million registered U.S. voter records were exposed online. The database that was discovered contained more than the voter’s name, date of birth, gender, and address; which on their own is a good amount of personally identifiable information (PII). It also include the voter’s ethnicity, party affiliation, e-mail address, phone number, state voter ID, and whether he/she is on the “Do Not Call” list.

As we head into 2016, we will be focused on prevention and how we can best provide information and solutions to protect your sensitive & valuable data.

Let us know how we can help you!

The Encryption Guide eBook

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Fixing Encryption Key Management Audit Failures in Microsoft Windows C# Applications


It seems like every week I talk to a new Microsoft Windows customer who has just failed a security audit because they are not handling encryption keys correctly in their Microsoft applications. I hear an assortment of descriptions like this:

Encryption Key Management for Microsoft .NET We’re doing encryption, but the encryption key is stored in a table in the database.

We’re doing encryption, but the key is burned in our C# code.

We’re doing encryption, but the key is stored in a flat file protected with a password.

We’re doing encryption, but our encryption key is weak - it’s just a password

These Microsoft customers are trying to do the right thing when it comes to encrypting sensitive data, they just did not get the proper security controls in place for the encryption keys. And this is understandable, Microsoft does not provide very good guidance in this area, and it is probably the area where most organizations fail to get encryption right. When you do encryption, using strong encryption keys and protecting them properly is the hardest part.

You’ve made a big investment in your application built on the Microsoft C# .NET architecture, so what do you do now?

It turns out that it is not difficult to remediate this problem. You need a few things:

  • A good key manager built and certified to industry standards.
  • A Windows software library that is friendly to your C# application.
  • A developer who can implement some simple methods for key management.

Let’s look at how we help our customers solve these three challenges:

1) A key manager is easy. Our Alliance Key Manager solution is an easy-to-install and configure key management solution that runs as a Cloud instance (AWS, Azure), as a VMware virtual machine, as a network-attached hardware security module (HSM), or as a dedicated Cloud HSM. It configures in a few seconds and you have a fully functional, dedicated, FIPS 140-2 compliant key management solution. It even automatically creates unique encryption keys for you on the first boot.

2) The second thing you need is a good Windows .NET software library that makes retrieving the encryption key seamless. We provide that at no charge in the form of our Windows .NET Client. It installs on Windows in the usual way and is ready to add to your Visual Studio project. The Windows .NET Client software DLL handles all of the complexities for you. It makes the authenticated connection to the key server, audits all key retrieval activity, and caches the key for the best performance. Sample C# code shows you exactly how to do key retrieval from your code and is easy to implement.

3) The third thing you need is a good developer. With over 2 million Windows developers out there it is not hard to find one. Maybe this is you? Making the code change to incorporate key retrieval with Alliance Key Manager’s Windows .NET Client is really simple in C#. You just remove the logic of the burned in key or the logic to retrieve it from a file, add the Alliance Key Manager Windows .NET Client to your Visual Studio project, and put in code that looks something like this (see the sample code for the complete picture):

// Load the data to be encrypted
plaintext = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(data);
// Initialize for the client configuration file
// Retrieve the encryption key from the key server
key = keyService.GetSymmetricKey(keyName, instance);
// Perform encryption
using (var algorithm = new RijndaelManaged())
algorithm.Key = key.KeyBytes();
using (var encryptor = algorithm.CreateEncryptor())
ciphertext = encryptor.TransformFinalBlock(plaintext, 0,
// Display the ciphertext (you would probably save it in a database)
Console.WriteLine("ciphertext: " + BitConverter.ToString(ciphertext));

The Alliance Key Manager Windows .NET Client code handles a lot of issues for you. Here are just a few:

The Windows .NET Client performs the TLS connection to Alliance Key Manager and handles the full authentication sequence. You get a secure, mutually authenticated TLS connection without needing to handle that in your C# code.

High Availability Failover
You can define one or more Alliance Key Managers in a high availability failover group. If one key manager is not available due to a network failure or a key server failure, the client-side code will automatically use the next available key server. You can define a primary and multiple failover key servers, and you can mix and match cloud, virtual, and HSMs in your key management topology.

The Alliance Key Manager Windows .NET Client is designed for high performance. It will automatically securely cache encryption keys so that you don’t need to retrieve the keys more than one. If the key has been retrieved before in your current process it will be returned to you without a round-trip communications session with the key server. That gives you maximum performance.

PCI Compliance - Coalfire and PAG
Alliance Key Manager is FIPS 140-2 compliant (certificate 1449) and has been PCI validated by Coalfire, a top-tier QSA auditor. This means that you can achieve very rapid compliance with PCI and other compliance regulations without a lot of fuss. If you are under the gun to fix a compliance failure, you should start with a solution that provably meets the compliance regulation. Alliance Key Manager does exactly that. The PCI Product Applicability Guide is here.

Most C# applications that we see are well-modularized and the encryption logic is in one place, or a very small number of locations in the code. This makes the change to your code easy to make and easy to test. The complexity is handled for you in the Alliance Key Manager Windows .NET Client software.

You can find the Alliance Key Manager Windows .NET Client application on the supplemental download for the product. It is available at no charge and there are no client-side license fees. In addition to the installation package you will find full sample code and documentation.  For interested developers, we also offer a free developer program.  As always, let us know if you have any questions.



Encryption Key Management for Microsoft .NET

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Top 10 Signs Your Encryption Strategy May Have a Problem


With apologies to David Letterman, the category today is: Signs Your Encryption Strategy May Have a Problem...  Here they are, your Top 10!

Number 10:

Your decryption fails when you can’t remember where you placed the Annie Oakley decoder ring.

Number 9:

The photos of you in your unicorn costume at Comic-Con, yes, THOSE PHOTOS, are being posted on twitter by anonymous.

Number 8:

Managing encryption keys involves sticky notes on your desk and computer.

Number 7:

When you tell your CEO that the company has poor key management, and he fires you for being disrespectful.

Number 6:

Your encryption strategy is the ransomware that the CEO accidentally downloaded.

Number 5:

When you find out that Pig Latin is not a viable encryption strategy.

Number 4:

Your System Administrator installs new software from a compact disc that has "Totally Legit" written on it in sharpie.

Number 3:

Your passcode is 1234.

Number 2:

Your server password list is projected on a big screen as an example during a presentation at the RSA security conference.

And LAST but not LEAST - Number 1:

This is what your encryption key manager looks like:

password book

And those are the Top 10 signs your encryption strategy may have a problem !!!


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When Encrypting Databases, Does Key Connection for SQL Server Cache the Encryption Key?


Customers who need to encrypt data in Microsoft SQL Server databases know that they must protect the encryption key with appropriate controls to meet compliance regulations and to achieve safe harbor in the event of a data breach. Townsend Security's Alliance Key Manager solution provides the Extensible Key Management (EKM) software to make proper key management a breeze. Called Key Connection for SQL Server, this EKM Provider software is installed on the server hosting the SQL Server database and it talks seamlessly to one or more Alliance Key Manager servers running in a separate server instance. Customers get proper key management that meets compliance regulations such as PCI-DSS in an easy-to-deploy solution.

Encryption-Key-Management-SQL-Server Performance is always a consideration when it comes to enabling encryption, so customers naturally ask us about key caching. Does Key Connection for SQL Server cache the encryption keys to enable better performance?

The short answer is Yes, it does.

How it does key caching depends on whether you use Transparent Data Encryption (TDE) or Cell Level Encryption (CLE). Let’s drill into each of these cases.

Transparent Data Encryption (TDE)
The implementation of TDE by Microsoft involves encrypting the entire table space and the database logs. It is the easiest type of encryption to deploy as it requires no changes to the actual application that uses the SQL Server database. You can implement TDE encryption by installing the Key Connection For SQL Server software and issuing four commands through the SQL Server management console. Restart logging to insure that it is encrypted and you are done.

So with TDE, how are keys managed? The TDE architecture involves SQL Server generating a symmetric key (usually a 256-bit AES key) and then asking Alliance Key Manager to encrypt it with an RSA key. This encrypted symmetric key is then stored on the server that hosts the SQL Server database. When you start SQL Server (or restart it, as the case may be) the SQL Server instance asks Alliance Key Manager to use RSA decryption to decrypt the symmetric key. Once that is complete the SQL Server instance has the key it needs and no longer needs to communicate with Alliance Key Manager. There is no need for key caching and the key will be decrypted the next time that SQL Server starts.

Cell Level Encryption (CLE)
The implementation of CLE by Microsoft SQL Server is quite different than for TDE. The EKM Provider software is still responsible for managing the symmetric encryption key, but it is accomplished in a different way. You must make small changes to your application SQL statements to request encryption and decryption of the cell contents. When CLE is activated the Key Connection for SQL Server software is called for each column and row that needs to be encrypted or decrypted. This means a lot more calls to the EKM Provider software and this is where key caching is very important.

The Key Connection for SQL Server software in this case does cache the symmetric encryption key (usually a 256-bit AES key) in order to improve performance. The key is cached using an equally strong RSA key to prevent key capture by malware. When SQL Server calls the Townsend Security EKM provider the software retrieves the key from the key server and will cache it locally for a 24 hour period. For the next 24 hours all subsequent requests for encryption or decryption are satisfied locally without the need to retrieve the key again. After 24 hours, the key is discarded and a fresh key is retrieved from the key server. If the connection to the key server is not available error messages are written to the Windows Event Log, but encryption processes will continue using the locally cached key, once the 24 hour period expires, network connectivity will need to be restored for a fresh key to be retrieved and operations restored. With key caching database encryption, performance is much better.

The architecture of the Alliance Key Manager EKM provider implements other core features needed to help protect your database. These include:

  • Separation of Duties between Key Administrators and Database Administrators
  • Dual Control for key management operations
  • Built-in logging to the Windows Event Manager
  • High availability failover to one or more secondary key servers
  • Automatic recovery of failed EKM Provider services
  • Security of credentials through Windows Certificate Store
  • Easy key rollover using native SQL Server commands

Key caching is important for performance, but this is just one part of an overall key management strategy for Microsoft SQL Server.

As customers move to virtualized and cloud environments, Alliance Key Manager and the Key Connection for SQL Server EKM Provider software will move with you. In addition to traditional IT data centers, all Townsend Security encryption and key management solutions run in VMware (vSphere, ESXi, etc.), Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and in any cloud service provider vCloud environment.

Encryption and Key Management for Microsoft SQL Server

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