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Understanding Security

By Steve Jones,

SQL Server has become a very complicated product, with so many subsystems and features that I don't know anyone that is an expert in all of them. There are lots of people that become somewhat familiar with many features, and learn to understand enough to use them competently. However there is one area that seems to confuse many people, but is one area that is also quite important to a secure SQL Server: encryption.

It seems that the idea of encryption is easy, but once we get into the actual practice of managing keys, indexing encrypted columns, and dealing with disaster recovery techniques, encryption quickly becomes complex. If the technical people managing servers struggle to deal with encryption, what hope does the average user have to implement encryption? Likely little to no hope of doing it well, which is a problem as many end users will have data on their machines. TDE is supposed to make this easy, but it solves only certain problems and isn't available in all editions.

I ran across a very interesting article in the Economist on what a general understanding of what encryption means in a practical sense. The article is somewhat based on the Dropbox issues I wrote about recently, but also speaks to the general misunderstanding many people have about what encryption actually means.

I've always been hesitant to implement encryption widely, mostly because of the problems of managing keys. Keeping track of them, ensuring they are safe, in multiple places, and easily deployed in a DR situation, is a complex task, and making a mistake can have permanent consequences.

I don't know how to both maintain security, and also implement enough safety to ensure access to encrypted data is available, but I do know that this is a task data professionals need to learn to accomplish.

Steve Jones


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