What is KMIP (Key Management Interoperability Protocol)?

What is KMIP (Key Management Interoperability Protocol)?
The Key Management Interoperability Protocol is a protocol standardized by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards). KMIP enables the communication of applications and systems for the storage and management of keys, certificates, or other secret objects.

What is KMIP (Key Management Interoperability Protocol)?

The abbreviation KMIP stands for Key Management Interoperability Protocol and refers to a communication protocol standardized by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards). It is based on the client-server principle and is used for the communication of applications and systems for the storage and management of certificates, keys, or other secret objects.

The non-profit organization OASIS includes well-known companies such as IBM, Cisco, Sun, Red Hat, Brocade, EMC, HP, LSI, Seagate, and many others.

KMIP enables encryption applications and storage, database, or e-mail systems to exchange information securely with key management systems. It ensures uniform standards and data formats and allows the centralization of key management. The handling of errors is also standardized in KMIP. The authenticity of the data can be secured with TLS (Transport Layer Security), for example.

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The goals of the Key Management Interoperability Protocol

The goals of the Key Management Interoperability Protocol are:

  • Simplification of encryption key management
  • Secure storage and provision of a large number of keys and certificates
  • Standardized communication between applications and key management systems
  • Provision of audit-proof management options
  • Avoidance of redundant key management processes
  • Complete key lifecycle management including request, generation, retrieval, and deletion of cryptographic keys
  • Support of different cryptographic objects like symmetric or asymmetric keys, digital certificates, or authentication tokens
  • Higher efficiency and optimized costs in key management

The format of KMIP messages

KMIP messages have a standardized format. They have a header and a message part. The message part can consist of several stacked batch objects. Basically, a distinction between request and response is possible. The message type is defined in the header. Also to be found in the header are the protocol version and the so-called batch count. It provides information about how many operations a message requests.

Central elements of the Key Management Interoperability Protocol

The central elements of the Key Management Interoperability Protocol are:

  • Objects
  • Attributes
  • Operations

Objects are, for example, encryption objects with cryptographic content such as certificates or keys managed by a key lifecycle management system. Attributes specify the objects in more detail. Many different attributes exist, such as the type of certificate or lease time.

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The KMIP standard specifies exactly who is allowed to create, modify or delete certain attributes. Operations are divided into client-to-server and server-to-client operations. Multiple operations can be combined in a single message to form a batch. Example operations include creating a key pair, creating a certificate, retrieving an object, or modifying an attribute.

Server-to-client operations typically require the client to log on to the server. The Key Management Interoperability Protocol does not specify a specific logon type, but it does expect secure authentication.