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Hardware security module

Hardware security module definition

Hardware security module (HSM) refers to a device that keeps cryptographic keys safe and performs secure operations, like encryption, hashing, and digital signing, in a very secure environment. An HSM can come in various forms, such as PSIe cards, USB-connected tokens, and network-attached appliances. This module is designed to protect sensitive data, such as encryption keys, digital certificates, and cryptographic algorithms, from unauthorized access and tampering.

Some of the HSM’s key benefits include strong security measures, compliance with modern privacy laws, great performance, and easy scalability. However, not only can this be expensive to deploy and maintain, but HSMs are also complex and provide a single point of failure — if their security fails, all of the company’s private communications can be at risk.

See also: cryptographic key, tcp wrapper

How do hardware security modules work?

An HSM device is physically installed within the organization's premises, such as a data center. These devices are directly connected to the organization's servers to provide cryptographic services and key management within the organization's IT environment. These services are performed within the HSM to protect sensitive data.

HSMs can also provide many key management features, such as key generation, importing and exporting, wrapping, and key lifecycle management.