In the wake of last year's National Security Agency spying revelations and after the discovery of the high-profile "Heartbleed" vulnerability, security has become a top priority for cloud services providers.
Microsoft, for its part, is hardening its Azure Web Sites service with support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC), announced Erez Benari, an Azure Web Sites program manager. Azure Web Sites is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering that enables customers to quickly spin up and scale Websites and applications.
"Elliptic curve cryptography is an encryption technology based on the algebraic structure of elliptic curves over finite fields," explained Benari in a June 9 blog post. "The symmetry and computational complexity in this sort of function allows us to efficiently create a public and private key set that are much harder to break."
After generating a private key, Microsoft uses "a selected elliptic function" to come up with a private key. The process yields encryption that is much tougher to crack. "Reversing this (as in, an attacker calculating the private key from the public key) is a monumental computational task that would be unrealistic with today's technology and should remain so for many more years," Benari said.
"Compared to the classic private/public key generation, this is harder by a factor of 10, approximately," he added.
"A 256-bit long key set generated using ECC is equivalent to a key over 2,600 bits long in RSA," versus the industry-standard 2,048 bits, Benari said. As a result, compromising an ECC key set would be "virtually impossible even for someone with access to supercomputers."
On Azure Web Sites, customers can now step up to "next-generation cryptography." Benari said, "Instead of buying a regular SSL Certificate to secure your site, you can choose to purchase an ECC certificate instead, thus having better security."
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) solutions have come under close scrutiny after the Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL was discovered and subsequently patched in April. The flaw, present since March 2012, essentially undermined OpenSSL's cryptographic protections by exposing data held in a server's memory.
As a precaution, security experts widely advised Internet users to change their passwords. In the months since Heartbleed, the open-source community has been busily patching OpenSSL for every new—and not so new—bug in the open-source implementation of the Web encryption standard.
ECC certificate providers are few and far between, however. Symantec and Entrust are two, but Benari expects other providers to "soon jump on the wagon, as well." ECC-protected sites may also not work with older software, he said. Users of the Windows Vista OS, or later, will be able to browse their sites "over SSL regularly without any configuration or changes to the client."