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What is an Hardware Security Module (HSM)?

Today, more than ever, organizations need high-level security for their data and the cryptographic keys protecting those assets. The lifecycle of cryptographic keys requires extensive management, making automation of key lifecycle management essential for most companies. This is where Hardware Security Module (HSM) comes in. HSMs provide a dedicated, secure, tamper-resistant environment to protect cryptographic keys and data and can automate the lifecycle of those keys. But what exactly is an HSM, and how does it work?


What is an HSM?

An Hardware Security Module is a dedicated hardware device or appliance designed to securely generate, store and manage cryptographic keys and perform cryptographic operations such as encryption, decryption, digital signing, and authentication. HSMs are extensively used in industries that face increasing security threats and regulatory scrutiny, likefinance, healthcare, government, and cloud services. These devices are tested, validated, and certified to the highest security standards, including FIPS 140-2 and Common Criteria.



General Purpose Hardware Security Module (HSM) 


How does an HSM work?

HSMs are hardened, tamper-resistant hardware devices that secure cryptographic processes by generating, protecting, and managing keys used for encrypting and decrypting data and creating digital signatures and certificates. They provide a high level of security for cryptographic keys, which is critical for maintaining secure systems.

HSMs manage all aspects of a cryptographic key's lifecycle, including:

  • Provisioning: Keys are created by an HSM using a true random number generator.
  • Backup and storage: Copies of keys are securely stored in the HSM, with private keys encrypted before storage.
  • Deployment: Installing the key in a cryptographic device such as an HSM.
  • Management: Keys are controlled and monitored based on industry standards and organizational policies, including key rotation.
  • Archiving: Decommissioned keys are stored offline for potential future use.
  • Disposal: Keys are securely and permanently destroyed when no longer needed.



What are the most important features of an HSM?

  • Secure Design: HSMs use specially designed hardware adhering to government standards like FIPS 140-2 and Common Criteria.
  • Tamper Resistance: HSMs undergo hardening to resist tampering and damage.
  • Secure Operating System: HSMs operate on a security-focused OS.
  • Isolation: HSMs are physically secured in data centers to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Access Control: HSMs control access and show signs of tampering; some become inoperable or delete keys if tampering is detected.
  • APIs: HSMs support a wide range of APIs for application integration to ensure save communication between the application(s) and the HSM.


Why Use an HSM?

Any business that handles valuable or sensitive information should consider using a hardware security module. That type of information includes financial information, intellectual property, customer data, employee information and more.By using an HSM, you leverage several benefits, such as:

  • Enhanced Security: HSMs provide higher security than software-based solutions by safeguarding cryptographic keys with stringent access controls.
  • Compliance Requirements: HSMs help meet regulatory standards and compliance frameworks such as eIDAS,  PCI DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR.
  • Protection Against Key Theft: HSMs protect keys from exposure or theft, mitigating risks of unauthorized access and data breaches.
  • Performance and Scalability: HSMs are optimized for cryptographic operations, offering high performance and scalability.


When do you use an HSM?

HSMs can be used with various applications that perform encryption or digital signing, including:

  • Digital Signatures: Ensuring the authenticity and integrity of electronic documents and transactions.
  • Blockchain: Protect the signing keys and consensus logic.
  • Database Encryption: Secure key management for encrypting sensitive database data.
  • Code Signing: Signing software code and firmware updates to ensure authenticity and integrity.
  • Cloud: Control encryption keys consistently across multiple clouds while retaining full control.
  • IoT: Establish unique identities to enable authentication and prevent counterfeiting of devices and applications.
  • SSL/TLS Offloading: Offloading encryption and decryption tasks to improve web application performance and security.


What is Securosys CloudHSM or HSM as-a-service?

HSM as-a-Service is a subscription-based offering where customers can use an HSM in the cloud to generate, access, and protect cryptographic key material separately from sensitive data. Securosys CloudHSM uses dedicated FIPS 140-2 Level 3 certified HSMs, offering the same features and functionality as on-premise HSMs, combined with the benefits of a cloud service deployment.



Hardware Security Modules play a crucial role in safeguarding cryptographic keys, securing sensitive data, and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards. By leveraging the advanced security features and capabilities of HSMs, organizations can enhance their data protection strategies and mitigate the risks associated with cyber threats and data breaches.


                                        Find the HSM tailored to your needs                 Explore our CloudHSM offer






The device [HSM Primus Cyber Vault] was developed with the aim of providing our customers with the fastest, strongest and most flexible security solution [...]. I am confident that it will be a success and will easily master not only today's cyber challenges, but also future requirements.


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