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How can vaultless tokenization protect data in the cloud?

How do vaultless tokenization and standard tokenization differ, and what is the best way to use them for securing cloud data? Expert Dan Sullivan offers guidance and use cases.

What is the difference between vaultless tokenization and standard tokenization techniques when it comes to securing...

data in the cloud? Are there certain use cases when an enterprise should use one over the other?

For starters, tokenization in security is the process of substituting sensitive or confidential information with a token. It's important to ensure the original data cannot be derived from the token. A simple case of tokenization would involve substituting a Social Security number with a generic string of nine numbers. This kind of tokenization is used when the original data does not need to be recovered, but some data must be in place to satisfy other requirements -- for example, a column cannot be empty during a data load process.

There are some use cases where the original data must be recoverable, such as in the case of storing credit card data. The PCI DSS standard dictates controls that must be in place when storing credit card data, including the primary account number (PAN). Instead of copying PANs to multiple databases and locations, application developers can generate tokens for each PAN and store the token. If a system storing tokens -- but not PANs -- is compromised, there is no risk of losing the card number.

Since there may be times when the PAN is required, some applications need to store the original PAN with the token. These can be stored in a relational database or in some type of key value database; these are known as token vaults. Alternatively, a token may be generated using the original PAN and a secret key or parameter that allows calculation of the PAN with the secret key and the token. These are vaultless tokens.

Vaultless tokenization does not require a database to store key value pairs, reducing the time required to complete a transaction that requires PAN recovery. Calculations on tokens are generally faster than database lookups, which can have longer latency. In both cases, a resource needs to be secured and maintained. In the case of token vaults, the database needs to be constantly available and able to scale to spikes in demand. In the case of vaultless tokenization, the secret key must be protected. Updating the secret key because the original is compromised, for example, will require updating all tokens computed with the original compromised key. Enterprises should weigh the pros and cons of token vaults and vaultless tokenization in light of their respective requirements, access to scalable database servers, and expected load on their applications.

Next Steps

Find out more about how tokenization in the cloud could replace encryption

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