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HomeBlogThe Key to Compliance: Embrace Encrypted Key Loading to Keep Pace with PCI PIN

The “Key” to Compliance: Embrace Encrypted Key Loading to Keep Pace with PCI PIN

Imagine your organization’s compliance with PCI PIN security requirements as similar to your smartphone operating system updates. Just like your phone requires regular updates for new features, bug fixes, and security improvements, your organization needs to adapt to evolving compliance demands.

For many organizations, compliance is about to change in a big way. PCI recently updated its PCI PIN security requirements. According to “PIN Security Requirement 32” guidelines, organizations use encrypted key loading. This applies to Point-of-Interaction (POI) v5 and higher devices.

If your organization is loading keys and dealing with POI devices, you’ll need an encrypted key loading solution. Compliance is essential as a badge of trust for your customers and partners. This helps maintain revenue while reducing management overhead. Staying compliant with encrypted key loading is crucial in that regard.

Here is everything you should know about encrypted key loading.

What is encrypted key loading?

Key loading is the process of securely injecting cryptographic keys into hardware devices. The keys safeguard any data captured or transmitted by the devices.

Encrypted key loading is an enhanced method where key material is encrypted throughout the process. This start-to-finish encryption eliminates security gaps and prevents exposure of cleartext keys.

Encrypted key loading nests keys within a secure cryptographic ecosystem. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access and key compromises.

What makes encrypted key loading better

Encrypted key loading fills the last security gap in legacy key loading processes.

Traditionally, key injection operators connect HSMs with endpoint devices using SSL/TLS secure channels. Cleartext key material is passed along these channels. Since keys are being transferred in the clear, PCI compliance requires operators to load keys in a secure room.

On the other hand, encrypted key loading encrypts keys from the outset. Keys are never transferred in the clear, resulting in tighter security.

Here’s how the new process works:

First, you need a solution that can handle encrypted key loading. A hardware security module (HSM) or cloud cryptography service that uses an encrypted key loading application is best.

Next, connect the encrypted key loading solution to a key loading device or POI terminal. The encrypted key loading application running on your HSM (or cloud service) creates a shared symmetric encryption key. The application adds the shared key to the HSM’s core application and the POI device.

The HSM creates key material and encrypts it with its shared symmetric key. The encrypted key loading agent passes the key material to the endpoint device, which decrypts it using its matching shared key. This establishes a cryptographically secured connection between the HSM and the POI, along which key material can move.

Major updates incoming: PCI PIN v3

In the evolving landscape of data protection, staying ahead of regulatory mandates like PCI PIN is crucial.

PCI has updated the PCI PIN standard. Effective Q1 2024, organizations must use encrypted key loading for POI v5 and higher devices. At no point in the encryption process can top-level encryption keys be transmitted or loaded in an unencrypted, cleartext state. Instead, keys must be encrypted from the very start of the process.

The new regulations add more encryption to the key loading process. More encryption means more data security, and more data security is always a good thing.

To reach that higher level of security, as well as full PCI PIN compliance, organizations need to implement encrypted key loading solutions.

Encrypted key loading solutions

Encrypted key loading may be more secure, but that doesn’t mean encrypted key loading solutions have to be more complicated.

Impacted organizations should look for an encrypted key loading solution that easily integrates with their current HSM or cloud HSM solution. If you’re using an HSM, find an encrypted key loading solution your HSM can run as an application. If you’re using cloud cryptography, you’ll want a solution you can run as a service in your cloud HSM platform.

There are even more benefits to encrypted key loading than compliance and security. For example, leading solutions will use encrypted TLS connection via ethernet or WIFI to communicate with endpoint devices. Since the key is always encrypted, you can transfer it over USB. This adds simplicity and flexibility to the key loading process.

OS updates keep your phone running smoothly and securely. In the same way, encrypted key loading will help your organization simplify workflows while complying with PCI PIN.


Why is encrypted key loading crucial for organizations handling PCI PIN security requirements, especially with the recent update to PCI PIN standard v3?

Encrypted key loading is crucial for organizations dealing with PCI PIN security requirements, particularly with the recent update to PCI PIN standard v3, because it enhances the security of key loading processes. The updated standard mandates the use of encrypted key loading for Point-of-Interaction (POI) devices version 5 and higher. This ensures that top-level encryption keys are never transmitted or loaded in an unencrypted, cleartext state, aligning with PCI compliance standards and minimizing security risks.

How does encrypted key loading enhance security compared to traditional key loading processes?

Encrypted key loading enhances security compared to traditional key loading processes by eliminating the transmission of cleartext key material. In traditional processes, cleartext key material is transferred between hardware security modules (HSMs) and endpoint devices through SSL/TLS secure channels, necessitating key loading in secure rooms to comply with PCI standards. Encrypted key loading encrypts keys from the outset, ensuring that keys are never transferred in the clear. The process involves using a solution capable of encrypted key loading, connecting it to a key loading device or POI terminal, creating a shared symmetric encryption key, and securely passing encrypted key material between the HSM and the endpoint device.

What key features should organizations seek in an encrypted key loading solution for seamless integration with their existing HSM or cloud HSM solution?

Organizations seeking an encrypted key loading solution should prioritize compatibility with their current HSM or cloud HSM solutions. The solution should be capable of running as an application on the HSM or as a service in the cloud HSM platform. Additionally, it should use encrypted TLS connections via ethernet or WIFI to communicate with endpoint devices and allow the transfer of encrypted keys over USB. These features not only ensure compliance with PCI PIN standards but also add simplicity and flexibility to the key loading process, simplifying workflows and maintaining operational efficiency.

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For over 40 years, Futurex has been a trusted provider of hardened, enterprise-class data security solutions. More than 15,000 organizations worldwide have used Futurex’s innovative hardware security modules, key management servers, and cloud HSM solutions to address mission-critical data encryption and key management needs.

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