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The 140 series of Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are U.S. government computer security standards that specify requirements for cryptography modules.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issues the 140 Publication Series to coordinate the requirements and standards for cryptographic modules which include both hardware and software components for use by departments and agencies of the United States federal government.

The requirements cover not only the cryptographic modules themselves but also their documentation and (at the highest security level) some aspects of the comments contained in the source code.

And is not related only to NIST or only to US.

The Government of Canada also recommends the use of FIPS 140 validated cryptographic modules in unclassified applications of its departments.

And the Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP) is operated jointly by the United States Government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Computer Security Division and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of the Government of Canada. The use of validated cryptographic modules is required by the United States Government for all unclassified uses of cryptography.

As of December 2016, the current version of the standard is FIPS 140-2, issued on 25 May 2001.

User agencies desiring to implement cryptographic modules should confirm that the module they are using is covered by an existing validation certificate. FIPS 140-1 and FIPS 140-2 validation certificates specify the exact module name, hardware, software, firmware, and/or applet version numbers. For Levels 2 and higher, the operating platform upon which the validation is applicable is also listed. Vendors do not always maintain their baseline validations.

FIPS 140-2 defines four levels of security, simply named “Level 1” to “Level 4”. It does not specify in detail what level of security is required by any particular application.

  • FIPS 140-2 Level 1 the lowest, imposes very limited requirements; loosely, all components must be “production-grade” and various egregious kinds of insecurity must be absent.
  • FIPS 140-2 Level 2 adds requirements for physical tamper-evidence and role-based authentication.
  • FIPS 140-2 Level 3 adds requirements for physical tamper-resistance (making it difficult for attackers to gain access to sensitive information contained in the module) and identity-based authentication, and for a physical or logical separation between the interfaces by which “critical security parameters” enter and leave the module, and its other interfaces.
  • FIPS 140-2 Level 4 makes the physical security requirements more stringent, and requires robustness against environmental attacks.

Today most storage solution could be certified FIPS 140-2 Level 1 or Level 2.

Level 1 could be reached with software based solution only, but for Level 2 you need at least Self-encrypting drives (SED). In both cases you probably will need an external Key Management Server (KMS) but there are also some Level 1 solution that may included an own KMS component.

Andrea MauroAbout Andrea Mauro (3031 Posts)

Virtualization, Cloud and Storage Architect. Tech Field delegate. VMUG IT Co-Founder and board member. VMware VMTN Moderator and vExpert 2010-18. Dell TechCenter Rockstar 2014-15. Microsoft MVP 2014-16. Veeam Vanguard 2015-18. Nutanix NTC 2014-18. PernixPro 2014-16. Several certifications including: VCDX-DCV, VCP-DCV/DT/Cloud, VCAP-DCA/DCD/CIA/CID/DTA/DTD, MCSA, MCSE, MCITP, CCA, NPP.


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