The Key to Security: Optimizing Your Key Management Lifecycle

Aroop Menon Fortanix
Aroop Menon
Published:Jun 4, 2024
Reading Time:4mins
key management lifecycle

Data breaches have only been increasing and according to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023 [source], global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, 15% more than in 2020. 

Although it’s the bigger data breaches that are often in the news, smaller businesses are also on the radar of a hacker. Every business - big or small - needs to be able to prevent data breaches. And in todays data-driven world, it’s best to rely on a method that focuses on the data itself. 

Encryption is the most reliable method of protecting your data. Organizations worldwide are increasingly turning to encryption to protect sensitive data, but they are still struggling to get the key management right.   

“The proper management of cryptographic keys is essential to the effective use of cryptography for security. Keys are analogous to the combination of a safe. If a safe combination is known to an adversary, the strongest safe provides no security against penetration. Similarly, poor key management may easily compromise strong algorithms.”

~ NIST Recommendation for Key Management

That is why key management should be one of your top priorities as far as data security and privacy are concerned.

Understanding the Risks: The Perils of Ineffective Key Lifecycle Management 

Knowing where your keys are. As per a recent ESG survey, 68% of the respondents cited encryption as their primary mode of data security—but when and where to apply it emerged as the top challenge. The proliferation of data and encryption key has created silos leading to control and visibility challenges for security and compliance teams 

To reduce data exposure risks, security teams need visibility into keys. But discovering these keys across a dispersed environment is complex and often requires manual data collection. 

Operational hurdles. As per the survey, Operational Key Management Service (KMS) complexities emerged as the top challenge amongst businesses embarking upon their cryptographic journey. Some operational concerns are: 

  • Complex key generation- Generating strong encryption keys with optimal randomness is a challenge. 
  • Incorrect use of keys- every key should be created and used for a specific purpose. 
  • Key sprawl- Managing thousands and thousands of keys distributed across multiple geographic locations. 
  • Compatibility with IT infrastructure- Integrating KMS with API and DevOps automation tools and further integrating those applications developed in house.
  • Non rotation of keys- Rotation of encryption keys periodically is critical to maintain their security posture. 
  • Inadequate protection and storage- Ensure that keys are managed as per compliance requirements. 

What does this mean for your enterprise security posture and its impact on business?  

Some of these vulnerabilities in enterprise key management can lead to a perilous situation for enterprise data security.  

The impact can be catastrophic, often leading to insider attacks (use of key by an employee to access data and use it for malicious intent), increased risk of data exposure and of course, risks with non-compliance, legal complications, penalties, and brand damage. 

How to Optimize Key Lifecycle Management?  

Here are some tips to optimize key lifecycle management to better secure your data. 

  1. Discover and catalogkeys and data services. In a distributed multicloud environment, your key management system (KMS) should be able to find keys, give visibility and map them to data services. Users are immediately made aware of the most critical compliance and data security vulnerabilities that require attention. Allows them to plug the key management gaps and swiftly enhance the entire cryptographic security posture of the company. 
  2. Implement centralized key management. Instead of using separate KMS from each cloud provider, opt for a unified solution that can extend to DevOps and integrate with existing IT ecosystem. This customer controlled KMS should extend across platforms like AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure, ensuring consistent encryption key management policies across all cloud service providers, tenants, and regions. This approach simplifies management and enhances security across your entire cloud infrastructure. 
  3. Comprehensive and consistent key lifecycle management. Manage the generation, rotation, expiration, and deactivation from a centralized KMS to ensure secure and consistent key management across on-premises and multicloud environments. The KMS should also be able to track key usage and controls.
  4. Automate key operations. Implement a key management system  that has automation capabilities like automatic key rotation, one-click rotation across regions and clouds, automatic key expiration based key rotations, automatic alerting based on key state changes.
  5. Strong practices for key generation. Keys should be generated using a certified hardware random number generator with a higher degree or amount of randomness or entropy. Keys should be created within a secure environment, like a hardware appliance or a trusted execution environment.  
  6. Audit logging. Track encryption key information such as creation date, key rotations, expiry etc., or in short, the complete history of the key and ensure its audited and logged. 
  7. Secure inside a FIPS 140-2 certified HSM. Many regulated industries including financial services, healthcare, and retail require that encryption keys be stored in FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validated HSMs. Ensure keys are secured and operations executed inside a secure FIPS certified HSM. 
  8. Enforce Zero-trust based access controls. The KMS should offer role-based access control (RBAC) and further fine-grain access control at the key level. Documenting and implementing which roles can access the KMS, what functions can these roles execute (generation of keys, destruction of keys, rotation of keys, etc.) is most needed. A more granular user and group level access should be defined at a key level. 


Encryption is now the most trusted solution for securing your data and key management is the core to it. What is needed is a key management solution that can help enforce some of these best practices required to optimize key lifecycle management practices.  

Download this guide to identify the most important considerations for choosing a key management system and get guidance on selecting the right one for your business.  

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