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Securing the Enterprise Better With Encryption Instructions
In order to achieve faster, more secure encryption -- which makes the use of encryption feasible where it was not before -- Intel introducedthe Intel Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (IntelAES-NI), a set of seven new instructions in the Intel Xeon processor family andthe 2nd gen Intel Core processors:
- Four instructions accelerate encryption and decryption.
- Two instructions improve key generation and matrix manipulation.
- The seventh aids in carry-less multiplication.
By implementing some complex and costly sub-steps of the AESalgorithm in hardware, AES-NI accelerates execution of the AES-basedencryption. The results include performance improvement implications,and cryptographic libraries that independent software vendors (ISVs) can use to replace basic AES routines with these optimizations.
AES-NI implements in hardware some sub-steps of the AES algorithm.This speeds up execution of the AES encryption/decryption algorithms and removes one of the main objections to using encryption to protect data: the performance penalty.
To be clear, AES-NI doesn`t implement the entire AES application.Instead, it accelerates just parts of it. This is important for legalclassification purposes because encryption is a controlled technology in many countries. AES-NI adds six new AES instructions, four forencryption and decryption, one for the mix column, and one forgenerating next round text. These instructions speed up the AESoperations in the rounds of transformation and assist in the generationof the round keys. AES-NI also includes a seventh new instruction:CLMUL. This instruction could speed up the AES-GCM and binary Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC), and assists in error-correcting codes,general-purpose cyclic redundancy checks (CRCs) and data de-duplication. It particularly helps in carry-less multiplication, also known as"binary polynomial multiplication."
Besides the performance benefit of these instructions, execution ofinstructions in hardware provides some additional security in helpingprevent software side-channel attacks. Software side channels arevulnerabilities in the software implementation of cryptographicalgorithms. They emerge in multiple processing environments (multiplecores, threads or operating systems).Cache-based software side-channelattacks exploit the fact that software-based AES has encryption blocks,keys and lookup tables held in memory. In a cache collision-timingside-channel attack, a piece of malicious code running on the platformcould seed. For more information on the AES new instructions, see this report . For more information on the CLMUL instruction and its handling of carry-less multiplication, see explanation.
Encryption Usage Models
There are three main usage models for AES-NI: network encryption,full disk encryption (FDE) and application-level encryption. Networkingapplications use encryption to protect data in flight with protocolsencompassing SSL, TLS, IPsec, HTTPS, FTP and SSH. AES-NI also assistsFDE and application-level models that use encryption to protect data atrest. In all three of these models, improved performance is gained. Such performance improvements can enable the use of encryption where itmight have otherwise been impractical due to performance impact.
In today`s highly networked world, Web servers, application serversand database back-ends all connect via an IP network through gatewaysand appliances. SSL is typically used to deliver secure transactionsover the network. It`s well-known for providing secure processing forbanking transactions and other ecommerce, as well as for enterprisecommunications (such as an intranet).
Where AES-NI provides a real opportunity is in reducing thecomputation impact (load) for those SSL transactions that use the AESalgorithm. There is significant overhead in establishing securecommunications, and this can be multiplied by hundreds or thousands,depending on how many systems want to concurrently establish securecommunications with a server. Think of your favorite online shoppingsite during the holiday season. Integrating AES-NI would improveperformance by reducing the computation impact of all these securetransactions.
With the growing popularity of cloud services, secure HTTPSconnections are getting increased attention -- and use. The growth incloud services is putting enormous amounts of user data on the Web. Toprotect users, operators of public or private clouds must ensure theprivacy and confidentiality of each individual`s data as it movesbetween client and cloud. This means instituting a securityinfrastructure across their multitude of service offerings and points of access. For these reasons, the amount of data encrypted, transmitted,and decrypted in conjunction with HTTPS connections is predicted to grow as clouds proliferate.
For cloud providers, the performance and responsiveness oftransactions, streaming content and collaborative sessions over thecloud are all critical to customer satisfaction. Yet the moresubscribers cloud services attract, the heavier the load placed onservers. This makes every ounce of performance that can be gainedanywhere incredibly important. AES-NI and its ability to accelerate theperformance of encryption/ decryption can play a significant role inhelping the cloud computing movement improve the user experience andspeed up secure data exchanges.
Most enterprise applications offer some kind of option to useencryption to secure information. It is a common option used for email,and for collaborative and portal applications. ERP and CRM applicationsalso offer encryption in their architectures with a database backend.Database encryption offers granularity and flexibility at the data celllevel, column level, file system level, table space and database level.Transparent data encryption (TDE) is a feature on some databases thatautomatically encrypts the data when it is stored to the disk anddecrypts it when it is read back into memory. Retailers can use features like TDE to help address PCI-DSS requirements. University and healthcare organizations can use it to automatically encrypt their data tosafeguard social security numbers and other sensitive information ondisk drives and backup media from unauthorized access. Since AES is asupported algorithm in most enterprise application encryption schemes,the use of AES-NI provides an excellent opportunity to speed up theseapplications and enhance security.
Full disk encryption (FDE) uses disk encryption software, whichencrypts every bit of data that goes on a disk or disk volume. While the term FDE is often used to signify that everything on a disk isencrypted, including the programs that boot OS partitions, the masterboot record (MBR) is not and thus this small part of the disk remainsunencrypted. FDE can be implemented either through disk encryptionsoftware or an encrypted hard drive. Direct-attached storage (DAS) iscommonly connected to one or more Serial-attached SCSI (SAS) or SATAhard drives in the server enclosure. Since there are relatively few hard disks and interconnects, the effective bandwidth is relatively low.This generally makes it reasonable for a host processor to encrypt thedata in software at a rate compatible with the DAS bandwidthrequirements.
In addition to protecting data from loss and theft, full diskencryption facilitates decommissioning and repair. For example, if adamaged hard drive has unencrypted confidential information on it,sending it out for warranty repair could potentially expose its data.Consider, for instance, the experience of the National Archives andRecords Administration (NARA). When a hard drive with the personalinformation of around 76 million servicemen malfunctioned, NARA sent itback to its IT contractor for repairs. By failing to wipe the drivebefore sending it out, NARA arguably created the biggest government data breach ever. Similarly, as a specific hard drive gets decommissioned at the end of its life or re-provisioned for a new use, encryption canspare the need for special steps to protect any confidential data. In adata center with thousands of disks, improving the ease of repair,decommissioning and re-provisioning can save money.
In summary, these AES-NI capabilities are able to makeperformance-intensive encryption feasible and can be easily applied into various usage models.
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