CAVP, FIPS, and Securing Cryptography Systems

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Most security standards, including government standards, require cryptography. We are generally familiar with implementing a cryptographic algorithm that meets these requirements and calling it a day. However, to ensure security, NIST also publishes standards for validating encryption modules to ensure they serve their purpose under federal standards. 

Here, we’re discussing the Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program and its relationship to closely related standards and programs, such as Federal Information Processing Standards and the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program. 


What Is the Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program?

NIST controls and manages the Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program (CAVP), a project to validate cryptographic modules and algorithms for use in various government systems, other organizations, and individuals who require assurance of cryptographic implementations’ security and effectiveness.

Under the CAVP, cryptographic algorithms and modules undergo rigorous testing and evaluation to meet specific security standards and criteria NIST establishes. This process involves testing for compliance with NIST’s Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS), which define cryptographic algorithms and requirements for federal agencies.

The validation process typically includes tests to verify cryptographic implementations’ correctness, security, and performance. Once a cryptographic module or algorithm successfully passes the validation process, it is listed on the NIST website as a validated cryptographic module or algorithm, assuring users that it meets the necessary security requirements.

Overall, the CAVP is critical in ensuring the security and reliability of cryptography used in various applications, including government, finance, healthcare, and telecommunications.


What Are FIPS Requirements for Encryption?

The Federal Information Processing Standards specify various requirements for encryption algorithms and implementations to protect sensitive government information. Specifically, FIPS Publication 140-2 (Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules) outlines the standards for cryptographic modules, including encryption.

Some essential requirements for encryption under FIPS 140-2 include:

  • Cryptographic Algorithm Validation: Encryption algorithms used in FIPS-compliant systems must be validated through the CAVP or other approved validation programs. These algorithms include symmetric encryption algorithms like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and Triple DES (Data Encryption Standard) and asymmetric algorithms like RSA and DSA.
  • Key Management: FIPS-compliant encryption systems must have robust fundamental management mechanisms. This includes securely generating, storing, and handling cryptographic keys. Key management practices should adhere to best practices for key generation, distribution, storage, and destruction.
  • Encryption Strength: FIPS requires encryption algorithms to be sufficiently robust against cryptographic attacks. For example, AES must support key sizes of 128, 192, and 256 bits, and Triple DES must use at least two independent keys.
  • Random Number Generation: Cryptographic modules must use approved methods for generating random numbers, which is essential for generating cryptographic keys and initialization vectors used in encryption.
  • Data Integrity: Encryption mechanisms should include measures to ensure data integrity, such as using cryptographic hash functions to create message digests or digital signatures.
  • Secure Communication Protocols: When encryption is used to protect data during transmission over networks, FIPS requires using secure communication protocols, such as TLS (Transport Layer Security) or IPsec (Internet Protocol Security).
  • Security Policy Enforcement: FIPS-compliant systems must enforce security policies defining how encryption protects sensitive data. This may include access control policies, data classification, and encryption requirements for data at rest and in transit.

These are just some key encryption requirements outlined in FIPS 140-2. Compliance with FIPS standards is mandatory for cryptographic modules used in U.S. federal government systems and is widely adopted in other industries and sectors where data security is critical.


What’s the Relationship Between CVAP and FIPS?

Lazarus Alliance is a NIST National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP)

CAVP and FIPS are closely related programs administered by NIST. While they serve distinct purposes, they are interconnected and complementary in ensuring the security of cryptographic systems used in various applications:


Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program

  • CAVP validates cryptographic algorithms and modules against specific security standards and criteria established by NIST.
  • CAVP validates cryptographic algorithms’ correctness, security, and performance through rigorous testing and evaluation.
  • The validated algorithms and modules are listed on the NIST website, ensuring users meet security requirements.


Federal Information Processing Standards

  • FIPS are standards and guidelines developed by NIST for various information processing systems used by U.S. federal government agencies and contractors.
  • FIPS specifies security requirements for cryptographic modules, including encryption algorithms, key management, random number generation, and other security features.
  • Compliance with FIPS standards is mandatory for cryptographic modules used in U.S. federal government systems, and it is recommended for use in other sensitive applications where data security is critical.

The relationship between the two includes a few requirements and expectations for encryption module security:

  • CAVP validates cryptographic algorithms and modules to ensure they meet the security requirements specified in FIPS standards.
  • CAVP’s validation process ensures that cryptographic algorithms implemented in cryptographic modules comply with the encryption, key management, and other security requirements outlined in FIPS publications, particularly FIPS 140-2 for cryptographic modules.

Therefore, CAVP serves as a mechanism for demonstrating compliance with FIPS standards by providing independent validation of cryptography and related modules used in cryptographic systems.


What Is the Relationship Between CAVP and NVLAP?

The relationship between CAVP and the NVLAP lies in their roles within the broader framework of ensuring the security and reliability of cryptographic systems:

Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program

  • As mentioned above, CAVP validates cryptographic algorithms and modules against specific security standards and criteria established by NIST.
  • CAVP conducts testing and evaluation to ensure that cryptographic algorithms and modules meet security requirements, particularly those outlined in FIPS publications.

National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program

  • NVLAP is a program within NIST that provides an accreditation process for laboratories performing testing and calibration services.
  • NVLAP accredits laboratories based on international standards and guidelines, ensuring they operate competently and produce reliable results.
  • Laboratories accredited by NVLAP can perform testing and validation activities, including those related to cryptographic algorithms and modules.

Relationship between CAVP and NVLAP

  • NVLAP-accredited laboratories may be involved in the testing and validation processes conducted by CAVP.
  • These laboratories may test and evaluate cryptographic algorithms and modules according to the requirements specified by CAVP.
  • By utilizing NVLAP-accredited laboratories, CAVP ensures that testing activities are conducted by competent and reliable organizations that adhere to international standards for testing and calibration.
  • The involvement of NVLAP-accredited laboratories adds credibility and assurance to the validation process conducted by CAVP, as it demonstrates that testing is carried out by qualified professionals using established procedures and methodologies.


Is Your Cryptography Compliant?

Whether you’re implementing the correct cryptography or managing a compliant cryptography lab or set of modules, Lazarus Alliance has you covered. We handle NIST compliance standards, NIAP Common Criteria assessments, and NVLAP lab accreditation.

If you’re looking to kickstart your assessment, contact Lazarus Alliance.

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