Wednesday, October 31, 2007

TechWorld article on P1619.3

There was an article yesterday in TechWorld about the IEEE P1619.3 standard, and HP and NetApp's (i.e., Decru) involvement in shaping the current state of this standard. See this link:

Security: the protocol is the key by Chris Mellor

While it's good to get lots of press on P1619.3, it's not clear that the article articulated its point very well. Aside from a plethora of misspelling errors, the content seemed somewhat questionable. I've pulled out a quote from the article below, with commentary:

Blair Semple, a security evangelist at NetApp, [s]ays that IEEE has initiatives, meaning working groups, relating to storage security. These are:-

- IEEE 1619.0 relates to disk security,
- IEEE 1619.1 relates to tape security,
- IEEE 1619.2 relates to securing big blocks on disk,
- IEEE 1619.3 relates to key management.

Sempl says that 1619.3 is much earlier along in the standards process than the disk and tape device focussed standards. NetApp sits on all these committees and submitted the API, jointly with HP, from the Decru DataFort's Lifetime Key Management product, the Open Key API, as technology to be used for the 1619.3 protocol. He said the: "spec is approved and is the foundation for 1619.3."

(For the record, P1619 and P1619.1 are both in submission to IEEE, and should be published by early next year. P1619.2 is still a little ways off, and does not have a tight time schedule, yet)

I'm a little confused about the part that says "[NetApp] submitted the API, jointly with HP". The P1619.3/D1 draft was submitted to my knowledge only by NetApp (Decru). If HP had a hand in it, they kept quiet about their part. In fact, HP has kept quite about all their partnerships with key management. All the key management vendors I've talked to think they are HP's secret mistress -- NetApp included.

Another point is the quote that the "spec is approved". The IEEE P1619.3 standard isn't approved until IEEE sponsor ballot completes with an affirmative vote. The draft was approved by the working group, but this is only providing a rough starting point. We expect there to be many changes before it's all done. It may look nothing like OpenKey (i.e., Decru's API for their DataFort key management appliance) -- although it's hard to say because you need a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to even see OpenKey.

NetApp mentioned that it has several OpenKey partners, including Symantec and Quantum. From my experience, this has been a little bit of a marking-driven statement that hasn't had much engineering work to back it up. Quantum has announced its own QEKM (Quantum Enterprise Key Management), which is a rebranding of IBM's Java-based EKM. Quantum has not announced any products that use OpenKey.

With the general availability of the encrypting LTO-4 (using P1619.1 GCM encryption), the only remaining problem left is universal key management. Several groups are working on this problem, but at this stage, the group with the biggest industry membership is the IEEE P1619.3 group. HP wasn't sure if IEEE is the right place to do this standards work (according to the article), but I haven't seen a better place yet. The standard is still in the early stages of development and needs some more time, but it will get there.

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