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Cybersecurity Tips

The security of a cloud-based password vault explained

By Passportal Blogger

If you are a managed services provider (MSP), your customers likely expect you to help them navigate today’s cybersecurity threats. From educating staff about social engineering attacks to more effectively managing passwords, organizations need to be aggressive about protecting their IT environment. That’s why they’ve engaged your expertise as an MSP—to help secure their proprietary data, ensure business continuity, and support them in the face of a constantly changing threat landscape. That means you and your team need to offer your customers a comprehensive package of cybersecurity solutions to help prevent attacks.

The importance of encryption

Sophisticated data encryption for credentials and proprietary information has emerged as a critical strategy for keeping organizations protected from digital threats. Encryption translates information into indecipherable strings of characters, commonly referred to as ciphertext. Authorized users can make sense of these strings by using a key that decrypts the ciphertext into a readable or more usable format. 

Unfortunately, traditional methods of encryption often run up against the same dilemma: what happens if bad actors go after the key rather than the strings of encrypted data? If these cybercriminals are successful, they’ll have the tools needed to access mission-critical information. However, with a strategy known as zero-knowledge (or no-knowledge) data encryption, MSPs can add another layer of protection to essential assets protected in cloud-based enterprise password vaults.

What is zero-knowledge encryption?

When users log into systems, they must provide credentials that authenticate their identity before they can gain access to critical data or systems. To do so, traditional systems match the credentials the user inputs with credentials the system stores, organizes, and updates. Usually, the passwords used here are either encrypted or hashed to make sure they aren’t sent in plain text. If the hashed or encrypted password matches what’s stored in the system, they’re granted access. As we know, if the password doesn’t match, they’re denied. 

Unfortunately, this traditional system has some flaws. If someone cracks the password vault storing those passwords, they can bypass safeguards. Even if stakeholders have taken the time to mandate password complexity requirements with a password management tool, a cyberattack that breaches the network password manager could have disastrous consequences.

Zero-knowledge encryption was designed to solve this dilemma. Originally developed in the 1980s by Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, and Charles Rackoff—a trio of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—the zero-knowledge model aims to verify whether a user has the right credentials without revealing what those credentials actually are. The process that governs these interactions is complex, but it functions by mathematically linking a private key maintained by the user and a public one maintained by the system doing the verifying. 

At the encryption level, zero-knowledge protection means data owners are the only ones with access to their information. Even though data owners may store that information with external service providers via cloud-based tools, those providers will only know that information is there without being able to actually see the data. Whether it’s specific organizational credentials or valuable proprietary information, third-party service providers will not know the specifics of the information data owners are storing on their systems. 

Where does zero-knowledge encryption drive value?

Zero-knowledge processes are complex, but they’re quickly becoming a critical value-add to many organizations’ cybersecurity portfolios. With traditional password vaults, there’s always the risk that cybercriminals attempt brute force attacks to gain access to stores of mission-critical information. While brute force attacks of this kind are difficult to pull off successfully, the potential of a successful cyberattack is likely enough to make organizational stakeholders pause. 

This risk has grown particularly concerning as many firms engage third-party providers for a diverse array of services. In fact, the entire cloud services market means more businesses are relying on external providers to keep their information safe while using their tools from afar. These providers certainly do their part to protect their customers’ data, but there’s no way to guarantee that cyberattacks won’t occur and won’t expose private data. 

Zero-knowledge encryption can help reduce risk. Without the organization key—the credentials maintained only by the data owner—third-party providers don’t even have the ability to unencrypt stored data. While they’ll know that organizations are storing information on their systems, that information will be indecipherable to them and only useful to the data owner. If bad actors successfully carry out a brute force attack and gain access to their systems, data encrypted with zero-knowledge processes will most likely be safe, as it will also be indecipherable to them if they didn’t get your private key as well.

What proven cloud-based, encrypted password vaults are available?

MSPs tasked with protecting their customers’ IT infrastructure should consider what role zero-knowledge encryption can play in their cybersecurity portfolio. By offering customers tools with zero-knowledge safeguards built into their infrastructure, you can offer greater peace of mind when handling their information and establishing defenses against a full range of digital threats. 

With N-able Passportal, MSPs can leverage robust password management software [] and IT documentation management on behalf of their customers. Passportal uses advanced encryption techniques for all password records. They are protected by 2048-bit RSA keys in transit, and over 300 different rounds of 256-bit symmetric encryption at rest, with six different randomly generated keys. A unique encryption key (organization key) is the final step in unencrypting your data for view within the browser. The organization encryption key is not stored or maintained anywhere in the Passportal infrastructure—it stays with the customer organization for maximum peace of mind. 

For managing organizational credentials, password resets, and IT documentation, N-able Passportal delivers industry-leading protection with zero-knowledge data encryption. To learn more and see if Passportal is right for your organization, access a free trial today. 


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