The Lord of the Keys

One Key to rule them all
One Key to bind them
One Key to certify
And in the darkness sign them
       — with apologies to JRR Tolkien

Perhaps it was fate that led JRR Tolkien to pen a very similar poem in his Lord of the Rings epic at the same time that Alan Turing began using computers to break codes. As it happens, both Sauron’s plans to dominate Middle Earth and the cryptographic engine securing German war communication shared a similar problem — a single point of failure that brought both Mordor and the Enigma machine down.

A Key for Every Lock

In order to open a locked container you need to have the key. This is fundamental to how locks work: the right key opens the right lock. Encrypted messages are the same — if you have the digital key needed to unlock a message you can unlock it. This is why keys must be kept “secret and safe”.

In fact, digital keys must be kept even more secure than physical keys because, unlike with physical keys, a digital message looks exactly the same after it has been copied. Worse, it isn’t just a company’s private key that must be kept secret, but also the Certificate Authorities keys around the world.

What Happens if a Key Leaks?

While it is difficult to accurately count the cost of leaked keys, we have clear evidence that the tally is growing. For example, from the destruction of Uranium Enriching centrifuges to exfiltration of secret data from the US government and companies we have solid evidence that the private and signing authorities keys are being compromised with some regularity.

Single Points of Failure

A clear eyed look at today’s cybersecurity landscape clearly demonstrates that we have collectively bet the security of our data on our ability to protect our private keys. We have bet the security of our Data in Flight on the ability of dozens of companies, around the world, and their employees to not make any critical mistakes. The leaking of even one private key leads to the problems described above. In other words, each key acts as a Single Point of Failure that could enable the compromise of all secure web traffic.

Why do we accept a Single Point of Failure in the security of our data in flight when we don’t accept Single Points of Failure in any other critical system? We have invested in hot standby servers, backup network connections, power, hard drives and databases, but the security of our data in Flight rests uncomfortably atop dozens of Single Points of Failure.

A Better Way

Perhaps the best explanation for why our security infrastructure has so many single points of failure is that, until now, we haven’t had an alternative.

At KnectIQ we have been sounding the alarm on this issue for years. We also have a solution to this problem that:

  • Removes the stored keys from companies servers
  • Removes the dependence on Certificate Authorities
  • Provides per transaction encryption with no stored keys or single points of failure
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