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Zones

Zones #

Zones are a way to cryptographically compartmentalise access to data.

By default, access to encrypted data is compartmentalized by transport authentication. Client applications connected to AcraServer or AcraTranslator through TLS or AcraConnector get access only to the data associated with the ClientID of their transport keys. This mode is called zoneless. You can think of it as all data implicitly belonging to a single ClientID zone.

In zone mode applications can explicitly specify a different ZoneID in their SQL queries (through AcraServer) or requests (to AcraTranslator) to access encrypted data related to this zone. Application will need to know the correct ZoneID as well as which data records are encrypted with keys associated with this ZoneID.

Zone and ZoneID explanation #

Zone is a pair of ZoneID and related symmetric (for AcraBlocks) and asymmetric keys (AcraStructs) used to encrypt data.

ZoneID is a random identifier for the keys. It is constructed of a ZoneID header DDDDDDDD and 16 random ASCII letters, for example DDDDDDDDjKjECtcRBDkmHVBh.

How to encrypt data using zones #

There are two ways to encrypt data with zones: using static or dynamic ZoneID.

In any case, a zone must be created first with acra-addzone tool or using AcraServer’s HTTP API.

Newly generated keys should be placed into AcraServer or AcraTranslator keystore so that they are able to decrypt the encrypted data. You will also get the ZoneID and the public key required by application to perform encryption.

Static ZoneID #

AcraServer can be configured to use a static ZoneID for encryption, flag zonemode_enable should be set to true (enabled).

When AcraServer is used with encryptor config, you can specify which table columns should be encrypted and what Zone should be used. Application doesn’t need to encrypt the data, know the appropriate ZoneID, or store the zone public key. AcraServer will transparently encrypt and decrypt data according to its configuration.

Note: If you need to change Zone configuration, AcraServer must be restarted to apply the new settings.

Dynamic ZoneID #

AcraServer and AcraTranslator support dynamic ZoneID specified on per-request basis.

AcraServer supports encryption using zones. When using AcraServer, client application should encrypt data with correct zone using AcraWriter. Client application should know ZoneID and generated public key. AcraWriter is used to encrypt data in zone mode which is then stored as usual in the database. Only AcraServer/AcraTranslator will be able to decrypt the data back if it has correct Zone keys.

AcraTranslator supports encryption using zones via HTTP or gRPC API. Zone keys are stored on AcraTranslator, and you should supply client application with ZoneID. Client application’s requests to AcraTranslator must include the appropriate ZoneID, then AcraTranslator will locate the associated keys, encrypt data, and return AcraStruct/AcraBlock with a zone.

How to decrypt data using zones #

Decrypt with AcraTranslator #

AcraTranslator supports decryption of “zoned” data via HTTP or gRPC API. Client application sends the encrypted data along with the associated ZoneID in request and receives decrypted data in response.

The application has to know only the correct ZoneID. Decryption keys are stored on the AcraTranslator which looks them up by the provided ZoneID.

Decrypt with AcraServer #

AcraServer supports decryption of zoned data in SQL query responses. Client application needs to send appropriate ZoneID along with the query. AcraServer will find encrypted data stored in the database, decrypt it and return it back to the application in response.

The application has to know only the correct ZoneID. Decryption keys are stored on the AcraServer which looks them up by the provided ZoneID.

Since the application does not know that it communicates with AcraServer and believes that it communicates with SQL database, it’s tricky how it should know about Zones. The SQL query must specify the ZoneID to use in some way, either in the query itself or in the resulting response.

Several options are supported:

  • ZoneID can be stored in the database and queried together with encrypted data.
  • ZoneID can be specified explicitly in SQL queries as a binary literal.

Method 1 – ZoneID stored in the database #

One option is to store the ZoneID along with encrypted data directly in the database, then you query both of them for decryption. This way it’s easy to ensure that correct ZoneID is associated with the data, but the association itself is naturally disclosed in the database.

Here’s an example of database schema for PostgreSQL:

CREATE TABLE application_data (
 id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY,
 zone_id BYTEA,
 data BYTEA
);
INSERT INTO application_data (zone_id, data) 
VALUES (
        'DDDDDDDDjKjECtcRBDkmHVBh'::BYTEA, 
        '\x2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103'::BYTEA
        );

If you use MySQL, data schema might look like this:

CREATE TABLE application_data (
 id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY AUTO_INCREMENT,
 zone_id BLOB,
 data BLOB
);
INSERT INTO application_data (zone_id, data) 
VALUES (
        'DDDDDDDDjKjECtcRBDkmHVBh', 
        X'2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103'
        );

Here we create a table where ZoneID is stored in zone_id column preceding the data column with encrypted data. The columns in the database may have a different order, but SELECT queries must have ZoneID column before the encrypted data. For example, if you make the following query:

SELECT id, zone_id, data FROM application_data

the response for PostgreSQL will be like this:

1 \x44444444444444446a4b6a454374635242446b6d48564268 
\x2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103 

for MySQL:

1 0x44444444444444446A4B6A454374635242446B6D48564268 
0x2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103 

AcraServer processes database response row by row, column by column, matching them for ZoneIDs and AcraStruct or AcraBlock signatures.

  1. Try matching 1. This does not look like anything so AcraServer skips to the next column.

  2. Try matching \x44444444444444446a4b6a45.... This is a correct ZoneID header so AcraServer looks for associated keys. If zone keys are available, AcraServer will use them for processing the following columns of the same row.

  3. Try matching \x222222222222222255454332.... This is a correct AcraStruct header so AcraServer will load the zone’s private key and try to decrypt the AcraStruct. If successful, AcraServer will replace the AcraStruct in response with decrypted data.

This is why the ZoneID column must precede the encrypted data column in SQL queries.

Method 2 – ZoneID provided as a literal #

It is also possible to avoid storing ZoneID in the database, but instead provide it from some another source. Application may store ZoneID locally or derive it from user’s input. In any case, the ZoneID is not stored in the database, only the encrypted data. The database schema may look like this for PostgreSQL:

CREATE TABLE application_data (
 id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY,
 data BYTEA
);
INSERT INTO application_data (data) 
VALUES (
        '\x2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103'::BYTEA
        );

Or if you use MySQL:

CREATE TABLE application_data (
 id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY AUTO_INCREMENT,
 data BLOB
);
INSERT INTO application_data (data) 
VALUES (
        X'2222222222222222554543320000002d116bab650305cf67209623ed3a134fd77bfecd0c9a95107450826e14f950fdd1dba73732872027042654000000000101400c00000010000000200000003f5fd06dbf8bf49be6a8b440ea54f01174934049fd563ce27ff0aafbe5ea9155588e1ddd0ce64804fe5ff347ae097e29dd007fcaa02a3548da568df83300000000000000000101400c00000010000000070000002273af944d98bcde697b914d98fea013b77a358a93959ddfee47858b75d2e86eb5f103'
        );

However, AcraServer still needs to know the ZoneID to decrypt the data.

Instead of querying it from the database, the application specifies ZoneID directly in the query as a literal:

SELECT id, 'DDDDDDDDjKjECtcRBDkmHVBh', data FROM application_data

Here we placed ZoneID as a string literal before the encrypted column data. ZoneID value will be returned by the database before encrypted data in the result rows:

Just like with the previous method, AcraServer will match the ZoneID in response and use it to decrypt AcraStruct data that follows in the next column.

More information about Zones #

  • Tuning Acra: How Zones affect certain tuning strategies for increased performance and security.
  • Using Zones on client: A practical How-To on using AcraWriter with Zones on application side.