Google Releases Details on Its Cloud Data Encryption Measures

In two whitepapers, Google describes measures for protecting data traveling to its networks and within them.

Google Advanced Protection

Google Dec. 13 released two whitepapers describing the measures the company has in place to protect data that is transit from customer networks to the Google Cloud and then internally on its network.

One of the whitepapers describes a system that Google uses called Application Layer Transport Security (ATLS) for protecting service-to-service communication internally, for instance between its data centers.

According to Google, ALTS is somewhat similar to the industry standard Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol that many organizations use to protect data in transit on the Internet. But it has been specifically tailored for use on networks controlled by Google.

"Many applications, from web browsers to VPNs, rely on secure communication protocols, such as TLS (Transport Layer Security) and IPSec, to protect data in transit," Google said in the whitepaper. ATLS is Google's approach to enabling the same protection, but at the application layer.

ATLS, like TLS is a system that uses mutual authentication and encryption to protect all data and communications between Google's internal services and between its data centers. But the trust models on which it is based is very different from the model on which standard TLS is based.

With ATLS for instance, authentication is performed by identity and not by host. Each workload running on Google's cloud infrastructure is assigned its own identity and it is this identity that is used for authentication purposes rather than the identity of the machine on which the workload might be running. This approach, according to Google enables more precise security, especially at the scale at which the company operates.

ATLS also has a simpler design and can be implemented more easily. As a custom developed protocol ATLS is also easier to monitor for bugs and glitches, the company noted.

"It may seem unusual for Google to use a custom security solution such as ALTS when the majority of Internet traffic today is encrypted using TLS," the company conceded in its whitepaper. But the benefits of using a custom-protocol developed from scratch for protecting communications between internal systems outweighed the benefits of adapting the more generic protocol for Google use, the company said.

The second whitepaper reiterated some of Google's earlier disclosures about the measures in place for protecting in transit data.

All customer data for instance is encrypted by default using HTTPs whenever a user connects to Google's cloud. By default Google also authenticates and encrypts all data at one or more network layers whenever data moves outside a network that is directly controlled by or operated on behalf of Google.

All traffic between virtual machines is automatically encrypted if it crosses a network boundary not controlled by Google and the company uses ALTS to authenticate and encrypt data in transit at the application layer.

In addition to the default protections, organizations have additional options for encrypting data in transit including IPsec tunnels and secure IPsec VPN tunnels as well as free and automated certificates for implementing TLS protections, the company said.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.