Understanding Encryption Key Management in Snowflake

This topic provides concepts related to Snowflake-managed keys, customer-managed keys, and Tri-Secret Secure.

In this Topic:

Overview

Snowflake manages data encryption keys to protect customer data. This management occurs automatically without any need for customer intervention.

Customers can use the key management service in the cloud platform that hosts their Snowflake account to maintain their own additional encryption key.

When enabled, the combination of a Snowflake-maintained key and a customer-managed key creates a composite master key to protect the Snowflake data. This is called Tri-Secret Secure.

Snowflake-managed Keys

All Snowflake customer data is encrypted by default using the latest security standards and best practices. Snowflake uses strong AES 256-bit encryption with a hierarchical key model rooted in a hardware security module.

Keys are automatically rotated on a regular basis by the Snowflake service, and data can be automatically re-encrypted (“rekeyed”) on a regular basis. Data encryption and key management is entirely transparent and requires no configuration or management.

Hierarchical Key Model

A hierarchical key model provides a framework for Snowflake’s encryption key management. The hierarchy is composed of several layers of keys in which each higher layer of keys (parent keys) encrypts the layer below (child keys). In security terminology, a parent key encrypting all child keys is known as “wrapping”.

Snowflake’s hierarchical key model consists of four levels of keys:

  • The root key

  • Account master keys

  • Table master keys

  • File keys

Each customer account has a separate key hierarchy of account-level, table-level, and file-level keys, as shown in the following image:

Snowflake's hierarchical key model

In a multi-tenant cloud service like Snowflake, the hierarchical key model isolates every account with the use of separate account master keys. In addition to the access control model, which separates storage of customer data, the hierarchical key model provides another layer of account isolation.

A hierarchical key model reduces the scope of each layer of keys. For example, a table master key encrypts a single table. A file key encrypts a single file. A hierarchical key model constrains the amount of data each key protects and the duration of time for which it is usable.

Encryption Key Rotation

All Snowflake-managed keys are automatically rotated by Snowflake when they are more than 30 days old. Active keys are retired, and new keys are created. When Snowflake determines the retired key is no longer needed, the key is automatically destroyed. When active, a key is used to encrypt data and is available for usage by the customer. When retired, the key is used solely to decrypt data and is only available for accessing the data.

When wrapping child keys in the key hierarchy, or when inserting data into a table, only the current, active key is used to encrypt data. When a key is destroyed, it is not used for either encryption or decryption. Regular key rotation limits the life cycle for the keys to a limited period of time.

The following image illustrates key rotation for one table master key (TMK) over a period of three months:

Key rotation of one table master key (TMK) over a time period of three months.

The TMK rotation works as follows:

  • Version 1 of the TMK is active in April. Data inserted into this table in April is protected with TMK v1.

  • In May, this TMK is rotated: TMK v1 is retired and a new, completely random key, TMK v2, is created. TMK v1 is now used only to decrypt data from April. New data inserted into the table is encrypted using TMK v2.

  • In June, the TMK is rotated again: TMK v2 is retired and a new TMK, v3, is created. TMK v1 is used to decrypt data from April, TMK v2 is used to decrypt data from May, and TMK v3 is used to encrypt and decrypt new data inserted into the table in June.

As stated previously, key rotation limits the duration of time in which a key is actively used to encrypt data. In conjunction with the hierarchical key model, key rotation further constrains the amount of data a key version protects. Limiting the lifetime of a key is recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to enhance security.

Periodic Rekeying

This section continues the explanation of the account and table master key lifecycle. Encryption Key Rotation described key rotation, which replaces active keys with new keys on a periodic basis and retires the old keys. Periodic data rekeying completes the life cycle.

While key rotation ensures that a key is transferred from its active state to a retired state, rekeying ensures that a key is transferred from its retired state to being destroyed.

If periodic rekeying is enabled, then when the retired encryption key for a table is older than one year, Snowflake automatically creates a new encryption key and re-encrypts all data previously protected by the retired key using the new key. The new key is used to decrypt the table data going forward.

Note

For Enterprise Edition accounts, users with the ACCOUNTADMIN role (i.e. your account administrators) can enable rekeying using ALTER ACCOUNT and the PERIODIC_DATA_REKEYING parameter:

ALTER ACCOUNT SET PERIODIC_DATA_REKEYING = true;

The following image shows periodic rekeying for a TMK for a single table:

Rekeying one table master key (TMK) after one year

Periodic rekeying works as follows:

  • In April of the following year, after TMK v1 has been retired for an entire year, it is rekeyed (generation 2) using a fully new random key.

    The data files protected by TMK v1 generation 1 are decrypted and re-encrypted using TMK v1 generation 2. Having no further purpose, TMK v1 generation 1 is destroyed.

  • In May, Snowflake performs the same rekeying process on the table data protected by TMK v2.

  • And so on.

In this example, the lifecycle of a key is limited to a total duration of one year.

Rekeying constrains the total duration in which a key is used for recipient usage, following NIST recommendations. Furthermore, when rekeying data, Snowflake can increase encryption key sizes and utilize better encryption algorithms that may be standardized since the previous key generation was created.

Rekeying, therefore, ensures that all customer data, new and old, is encrypted with the latest security technology.

Snowflake rekeys data files online, in the background, without any impact to currently running customer workloads. Data that is being rekeyed is always available to you. No service downtime is necessary to rekey data, and you encounter no performance impact on your workload. This benefit is a direct result of Snowflake’s architecture of separating storage and compute resources.

Impact of Rekeying on Time Travel and Fail-safe

Time Travel and Fail-safe retention periods are not affected by rekeying. Rekeying is transparent to both features. However, some additional storage charges are associated with rekeying of data in Fail-safe (see next section).

Impact of Rekeying on Storage Utilization

Snowflake customers are charged with additional storage for Fail-safe protection of data files that were rekeyed. For these files, 7 days of Fail-safe protection is charged.

That is, for example, the data files with the old key on Amazon S3 are already protected by Fail-safe, and the data files with the new key on Amazon S3 are also added to Fail-safe, leading to a second charge, but only for the 7-day period.

Hardware Security Module

Snowflake relies on one of several cloud-hosted hardware security module (HSM) services as a tamper-proof, highly secure way to generate, store, and use the root keys of the key hierarchy. Using an HSM provides the following security benefits:

  • The HSM is designed to ensure that keys never leave the HSM and to ensure that all cryptographic operations are performed within the HSM.

  • All keys in the key hierarchy require HSM to be unwrapped.

  • In addition to generating new encryption keys when creating new accounts and tables, the HSM generates secure, random encryption keys during key rotation and rekeying.

    Note that this behavior is true for AWS and Microsoft Azure but not true for Google Cloud Platform.

Snowflake uses the HSM’s high-availability configuration with backup to reduce the possibility of service outages due to encryption key unavailability to protect from losing the most important keys in the hierarchy.

The following image shows the relationship between the HSM, the account master keys, table master keys, and the file keys:

Key hierarchy rooted in Hardware Security Module

Customer-Managed Keys

A customer-managed key is a master encryption key that the customer maintains in the key management service for the cloud provider that hosts your Snowflake account. The key management services for each platform are:

The customer-managed key can then be combined with a Snowflake-managed key to create a composite master key. When this occurs, Snowflake refers to this as Tri-Secret Secure (in this topic).

Important

Snowflake does not support key rotation for customer-managed keys and does not recommend implementing an automatic key rotation policy on the customer-managed key.

The reason for this recommendation is that the key rotation can lead to a loss of data if the rotated key is deleted because Snowflake will not be able to decrypt the data. For more information, see Tri-Secret Secure (in this topic).

Benefits of Customer-Managed Keys

Benefits of customer-managed keys include:

Control over data access

You have complete control over your master key in the key management service and, therefore, your data in Snowflake. It is impossible to decrypt data stored in your Snowflake account without you releasing this key.

Disable access due to a data breach

If you experience a security breach, you can disable access to your key and halt all data operations running in your Snowflake account.

Ownership of the data lifecycle

Using customer-managed keys, you can align your data protection requirements with your business processes. Explicit control over your key provides safeguards throughout the entire data lifecycle, from creation to deletion.

Important Requirements for Customer-Managed Keys

Customer-managed keys provide significant security benefits, but they also have crucial, fundamental requirements that you must continuously follow to safeguard your master key:

Confidentiality

You must keep your key secure and confidential at all times.

Integrity

You must ensure your key is protected against improper modification or deletion.

Availability

To execute queries and access your data, you must ensure your key is continuously available to Snowflake.

By design, an invalid or unavailable key will result in a disruption to your Snowflake data operations until a valid key is made available again to Snowflake.

However, Snowflake is designed to handle temporary availability issues (up to 10 minutes) caused by common issues, such as network communication failures. After 10 minutes, if the key remains unavailable, all data operations in your Snowflake account will cease completely. Once access to the key is restored, data operations can be started again.

Failure to comply with these requirements can significantly jeopardize the integrity of your data, ranging from your data being temporarily inaccessible to it being permanently disabled. In addition, Snowflake cannot be responsible for 3rd-party issues that occur or administrative mishaps caused by your organization in the course of maintaining your key.

For example, if an issue with the key management service results in your key becoming unavailable, your data operations will be impacted. These issues must be resolved between you and the Support team for the key management service. Similarly, if your key is tampered with or destroyed, all existing data in your Snowflake account will become unreadable until the key is restored.

Tri-Secret Secure

Tri-Secret Secure is the combination of a Snowflake-maintained key and a customer-managed key in the cloud provider platform that hosts your Snowflake account to create a composite master key to protect your Snowflake data. The composite master key acts as an account master key and wraps all of the keys in the hierarchy; however, the composite master key never encrypts raw data.

If the customer-managed key in the composite master key hierarchy is revoked, your data can no longer be decrypted by Snowflake, providing a level of security and control above Snowflake’s standard encryption. This dual-key encryption model, together with Snowflake’s built-in user authentication, enables the three levels of data protection offered by Tri-Secret Secure.

Attention

Before engaging with Snowflake to enable Tri-Secret Secure for your account, you should carefully consider your responsibility for safeguarding your key as mentioned in the Customer-Managed Keys section (in this topic). If you have any questions or concerns, we are more than happy to discuss them with you.

Note that Snowflake also bears the same responsibility for the keys that we maintain. As with all security-related aspects of our service, we treat this responsibility with the utmost care and vigilance.

All of our keys are maintained under strict policies that have enabled us to earn the highest security accreditations, including SOC 2 Type II, PCI-DSS, HIPAA and HITRUST CSF.

Enabling Tri-Secret Secure

To enable Snowflake Tri-Secret Secure for your Business Critical (or higher) account, please contact Snowflake Support.

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