Before we talk about the types of encryption
supported in SQL Server 2005, it is important to understand the
function of the master keys and how these keys support your encryption
implementation. As will be discussed throughout the remainder of this
chapter, the relationships you choose to define between the service
master key, the database master key, and the private keys of asymmetric
key pairs and certificates will impact how you will implement your
solution and the level of protection you are placing on the data.
is a light discussion of the master keys in SQL Server 2005. SQL Server
Books Online details master key backup and restore functionality, and
Laurentiu Cristofor's blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/lcris/default.aspx) is an excellent resource for the master keys.
Service Master Key
Each installation of SQL Server 2005 has a single service master key,
which is created when you install SQL Server 2005. The service master
key is used to protect linked server logins and credential secrets, and
can be used to encrypt the database master key.
symmetric key is stored in the master database and is protected by the
Data Protection API (DPAPI) using the service account credentials and
the machine credentials, as depicted in Figure 5-1.
Certain common events may cause either the service account credentials
or the machine credentials to become invalid. On a clustered
installation, a failover will invalidate the machine credential
protection. If the service account is changed, the service credential
protection is invalidated. With two forms of protection, the chances
that the service master key is invalidated due to an external event are
greatly minimized. When the server is started, SQL Server will check
both credentials, and if one of these is proven to be invalid during
the startup, SQL Server will re-create the invalid key based on the
other valid key.
The SQL Server 2005 master key hierarchy
If you choose to rely on the transparent key management in SQL Server 2005,
the service master key is the keystone of your encryption hierarchy. The database master key is also
protected with a password, which significantly minimizes any chance
that you will be unable to decrypt your data—unless the service master
key is corrupt and you also forget your database master key password.
The greatest risks of a corrupt or invalidated service master key are
to your linked server logins and credential secrets. It is important
that you have a backup of your service master key to ensure that you do
not lose these entities that are protected using the service master key.
Database Master Key
Each user database can have only one database master key.
A database master key is a symmetric key that may be used to protect
the private keys of certificates and asymmetric key pairs. If your
encryption implementation does not use certificates or asymmetric keys,
you will not need a database master key, unless you have implemented
Service Broker. If you choose to protect the private keys of
certificates and asymmetric keys with a password, you may also forgo a
database master key.
By default, the database master key is protected using the service master key and a password, as shown in Figure 5-1.
You can choose to drop the encryption by the service master key, but
the database master key must always have at least one password. If you
have required password complexity on your server, SQL Server will
require a strong database master key password.
CREATE MASTER KEY ENCRYPTION BY PASSWORD =
the database master key is protected by the service master key, SQL
Server can automatically and transparently decrypt the database master
key without requiring a password from a user or application. This
default nature is sufficient if your primary concern is to protect your
data in the event that the files are stolen, which is known as data at rest.
If someone were to steal the database files and attach or restore them
to a different instance, he or she would need to know the database
master key password to reencrypt the database master key with the
service master key on the new instance. When you create a strong
password, it will be extremely difficult for these evildoers to guess
your password and gain access to the data. A database master key
protected by the service master key is easy to implement, as you do not
need to explicitly open the database master key when you open dependent
private keys. Users are only granted permissions on the asymmetric keys
or certificates; you do not need to grant CONTROL permissions on the database to open the database master key.
it is easier to manage your keys when the database master key is
protected by the service master key, it does expose the sensitive data
and encryption keys to anyone in the sysadmin fixed server role and db_owner
database role. If your business requires a higher level of data
protection, you will drop the service master key protection, which will
require a password to open the database master key. This will create an
environment to support protecting encrypted data from the sysadmin, but a db_owner continues to have control over the database master key and associated securables. Execute the following statement in the user database to drop the service master key protection:
ALTER MASTER KEY DROP ENCRYPTION BY SERVICE MASTER KEY
the database master key is protected only by a password, you will
explicitly open the database master key prior to using a certificate or
asymmetric key that is dependent on the database master key. A user
must have CONTROL permission on the database to open the key, which gives the user full rights on the database.
OPEN MASTER KEY DECRYPTION BY PASSWORD =
a key is open, it is available for use within the session. Your
biggest hurdle in this implementation will be opening the key with an
elevated user account. If your security requirements dictate that the
application role be a low-privileged user, you may prefer to protect
your asymmetric keys and symmetric keys with a password, as I will
discuss in the sections "
If you are motivated to protect the sensitive data from individuals in the sysadmin
fixed server role, dropping the service master key protection is only
the first step. You will need to consider how to pass the passwords
from the application to open the database master key without exposing
the password to the sysadmin. A sysadmin
may run Profiler on an instance, which can be an issue if you are
managing all database code in stored procedures. Profiler will not
display text from encryption functions (as in the OPEN MASTER KEY statement), but will return any input parameter passed to a stored procedure. A sysadmin
may open the text of any stored procedure, exposing any passwords
hard-coded in the procedure. To properly protect sensitive data from a sysadmin, you will manage key passwords in the application code or in a configuration file where the sysadmin does not have access and open the database master key directly in the application code.
aware that although you may be protecting your sensitive data from
exposure within Profiler, machine administrators and network
administrators may still have access to sensitive data and passwords
using tools to access data stored in server memory or as it crosses the
implementation of the database master key is directly dependent on the
level of protection your business demands. If you are simply interested
in protecting your data at rest, the default behavior with the database
master key encrypted by the service master key is an easy
implementation to provide the level of protection required. If you
require a level of protection from a sysadmin,
you can remove the service master key encryption and simply require a
password to open the database master key. This implementation carries a
number of issues, including elevated database permissions for an
application user to open the database master key. As will be discussed
in subsequent sections, alternative implementations will not require a
database master key and will provide a more flexible implementation to
secure your data from both the sysadmin and the db_owner, if required.