Google to Let Cloud Customers Use Own Keys to Encrypt Data

Google's bring your own keys program marries cost benefits of public cloud computing with robust encryption security, the company says.

cloud security

Customers of Google's cloud services who are concerned about the security and privacy of their workloads can now use their own cryptographic keys to encrypt their data.

The company has launched a beta version of its Customer-Supplied Encryption Keys for Google Compute Engine program that lets customers encrypt data using keys that are fully owned and controlled by the customers themselves.

"You create and hold the keys, you determine when data is active or at rest, and absolutely no one inside or outside Google can access your at rest data without possession of your keys," Google Product Manager Leonard Law said in a blog post July 28.

"Google does not retain your keys, and only holds them transiently in order to fulfill your request," Law said.

The Google program appears designed to alleviate continuing concerns within many organizations over the integrity of enterprise data in the hands of cloud providers. The biggest worries have to do with improper or unauthorized data access, data leaks, and compromises resulting from accidental or malicious causes.

Edward Snowden's revelations two years ago about the National Security Agency's data collection programs have added greatly to those concerns. Cloud customers, and those planning to migrate to the cloud, have expressed concern over the potential for the government to snoop on enterprise data held by U.S. cloud providers, via secret court orders and other mechanisms. The concerns have been particularly high in Europe and in overseas markets, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in lost business for cloud providers such as Google, Microsoft and others over the past two years.

Google and the other major cloud vendors have insisted that enterprise data is safe in their hands. They have been trying to get permission from the government to disclose more details about the data they have provided to the NSA and others in response to court orders and subpoenas.

By offering customers an opportunity to use their own keys to encrypt data in the cloud, Google says it is giving them the ability to take advantage of cloud economics while also addressing their security concerns at the same time.

"Google Compute Engine already protects all customer data with industry-standard AES-256 bit encryption," Law noted. "Customer-Supplied Encryption Keys marries the hardened encryption framework built into Google's infrastructure with encryption keys that are owned and controlled exclusively by you."

Google's Customer-Supplied Encryption Keys will give organizations a way to encrypt all of their compute assets in Google's cloud using AES-256 standard cryptography. Customer-Supplied Encryption Keys covers all forms of data at rest, including data in boot disks, solid-state disks (SSDs) and data volumes, according to the company.

The service will be rolled out to customers in multiple countries and will be available for free through Google's Developer Console, its gcloud command line interface and the company's API.

Customer-supplied encryption keys give administrators total control over how their data is encrypted within Google Compute Engine, Law said. The one caveat is that if a customer loses the encryption keys, there is absolutely nothing Google can do to recover encrypted data, he cautioned.

"With great power comes great responsibility," Law quipped in his blog.

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.