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(Part 1) Store and Share Sensitive Information - Current solutions

A few weeks ago I had to share admin and billing access keys of  an Azure account. This account is used by a product that is in production.
Usually this is a simple task, you send an encrypted email with this information or you write them on a paper. But I sad NO, let's see why and what other solutions we could have.
Sharing sensitive information is not a simple task and to store them in a save and secure way is harder. Sensitive information can be anything, from username and password, tokens, email and password or connection string. Basically anything that grands you access to a specific resource (Azure Account, WebApp, VM, Email Account and so on).

For my personal content I use an encrypted USB, that is all the time kept in a secure location. This cannot be applicable when you have customer or production access keys.
Let's see where you should never store this kind of information:

  1. On a piece of paper - anybody can see it and make a photo of it. On top of this, you need to store it in a secure location. Your drawer, even if it has a key is not secure enough. You don't have any kind of "Audit Mechanism", you never know who, when saw that specific information
  2. As an email - no, this is not secure. You have your email on your phone, on your PC, on your laptop and so on. Anybody has access to one of this devices, could copy this information easily. Old email will end up in an archive that is stored on your PC, that can be copied, decrypt and used. Another funny situations is when you have a virus or a worm. In that moment, it might everything that you have on your computer is compromised.
  3. On your phone using a 'secure app' - Well, it might be okay, but you need to trust the company that develop that app and you company (and/or client) needs to accept that sensitive information can be stored there. 
  4. A special desktop app - This is okay, as long as you don't have a virus, you keep in a safe place your hardware, you have a secure password..... hmmm..... this is not such a good idea in the end.
  5. Your own encryption algorithm that is in your head - What happens is you have an accident? Access is lost to that resources. Are you so smart? All the time you will find people that are smarter than you that will break your unbreakable encryption system. 
... and so on ...

Now, let's assume that we have sensitive information stored in the previews storage environments. How we can share this information in a secure ans safe way.
  1. On a piece of paper > copy it and give to that person - it might be okay, but you cannot control or audit what happens after the moment when you give the paper. A similar situation is when you tell directly to somebody else.
  2. As an email > Forward the email to that specific person - it the connection between Email Servers secure enough? You would be surprise to find our that even if your email client communicate over HTTP with Mail Server, between Mail Servers, there can be cases when the fallback communication channel is HTTP or you are over HTTPS but with no encryption. 
  3. On your phone using a 'secure app' > Share content between different users of the same app. This solution is great, but not all the time you can do something like this. You don't have control over the encryption level when the content is send from one device to another. > Share content like in case 1 and 2. When we end up with similar problems.
  4. A special desktop app > You need a feature that allows you to share content. Similar with case 3, but you might have better control of the transfer protocol and security level. Export content to encrypted files or physical storage (USB) > This is a very powerful mechanism but, you don't have control on what is happening with the data that is exported.   
  5. Your own encryption algorithm that is in your head > Plain text (sound). Simple but insecure. > In an encrypted way, but you need to share the encryption algorithm.
Of course, there is no perfect way to share or store sensitive content. The most simple solution is to not store it at all. In the next post we will see how we can use Azure Key Vault Service to share and store in a secure and reliable way all the sensitive information that we need. 

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