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Centralised Key Management

Published 08 June 2009 | By Cryptomathic

Today MasterCard Europe benefits from a fully automated and centralised key management system developed by Cryptomathic. Every member bank has a number of hardware security modules that are now fully managed and handled centrally from Brussels.


Key management centre to MasterCard Europe


Updating the keys

When using cryptographic keys for high volumes of sensitive data, it is important to change the encryption keys at regular intervals. These network keys are used by all NSPs to communicate within their own virtual network.

When the keys are updated, it is of utmost importance that they are updated on as many NSPs as possible and in as short a time as possible. At the same time, it is important that all events are logged securely and that the key management centre (KMC) allows the administrators to communicate with each NSP individually to ensure all communication to and from the NSPs and the KMC is non-repudable.

Jean Paul Boly, of MasterCard Europe, said: With the key management centre we are able to reduce costs while increasing network security and performance. We chose to outsource the design and development of the KMC to Cryptomathic due to their extensive knowledge and strong market position within e-security – especially cryptography.

It was important to us that all relevant de facto and industry standards were followed to ensure interoperability throughout the network and to guarantee our member banks a cost-efficient and highly secure infrastructure.

The KMC is an extremely useful tool for updating and maintaining the security in our networks – this is a good example of the efficiency that allows us to stay in the lead.


MasterCard Europe

MasterCard Europe is a European banking organisation that owns and manages many of the most commonly used payment systems, including Maestro, EC (EuroCheque), Cirrus, CLIP and Eurocard. MasterCard Europe is a subsidiary of
Mastercard Corp.


Managing the keys

MasterCard Europe used to put much effort into maintaining the keys in their network. They had staff who would travel between their hundreds of member banks and update the keys in their network by entering them manually into each box in the distributed network.

Today they manage this process centrally from their secured operations venue with multiple and secure user authentication, each with their unique administrative role and credentials. From here the operators can update and configure the cryptographic keys on each individual network security platform (NSP) as well as enter new, shared network keys into all boxes with just a click on a button.


Solution overview

The KMC system is built around a three-tier architecture with an application server (KMC server), which provides services for a number of client applications (KMC client). An Oracle database server is used as repository for the system. The KMC server has a network interface to the NSPs and uses a hardware security module to secure all keys.

The KMC system is primarily used for managing the system keys, eg:

  • Generating and updating keys for the NSPs
  • Importing and distributing keys from member banks
  • Performing key back up and recovery

Secondly, the operators use the system to monitor the availability and performance of the NSPs. This is done by:

  • Checking the NSP status
  • Validating and importing NSP statistics
  • Backing up audit log information from the NSPs for archival purposes
  • Strong user authentication

Secure operations have been a design goal from the beginning of the project. The KMC server is located on a physically secured operations site to which only a limited number of system operators have access.

Smart cards are used in order to provide strong user authentication. All sensitive operations must be performed within the secured area and with the presence of multiple operators. All non-sensitive operations can be carried out by auditors and operators who are not allowed on the secured operations site.

The first version of the KMC system was introduced in spring 2000. Since then the system has been continuously extended and enhanced. The KMC system allows a high degree of flexibility while preserving the highest level of security for operating the network security platforms.