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How to do manual encryption for ASP.NET Core Identity 2.1. Not that you should be doing it.
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AspNetCoreIdentityEncryption Initial sample Jun 4, 2018
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Adding Encryption to ASP.NET Core Identity and Entity Framework

Firstly let us be clear - this is a sample project meant to demonstrate the capability for developer based encryption in ASP.NET Core Identity 2.1. It is not meant to demonstrate best practice, as it is likely that your business has unique requirements, be they regulatory (HIPAA, GDPR, PCI etc.) or culture driven and no sample can take that into account. You should work with your privacy champions or consultants to work out what is right for your circumstances.

This sample is not supported by Microsoft. If you roll your own encryption you risk losing data if you do it wrong. Basically don't do this if you can at all help it.

Use your database or operating system capabilities first

Some databases or storage mechanisms allow for encryption at rest, encrypting your stored data with no work needed for any software that accesses the data. This is, by far, the easiest and safest option; let the database manage keys and encryption for you. Using the manual encryption providers should be viewed as a last resort.

For example, Microsoft SQL and Azure SQL provide Transparent Data Encryption (TDE), and Azure has encrypted SQL database by default since May 2017, as well as encrypting blobs, files, tables and queue storage since August 2017.

For databases that don't provide built-in encryption at rest, you may be able to use disk encryption, such as Bitlocker to provide the same protections. Linux has encrypted file systems so as eCryptfs and EncFS.

But my server admins won't encrypt ...

Your risk assessment, or your server administrators, may have decided that full disk encryption is not suitable for your needs, and you must encrypt personal data "manually". ASP.NET Core Identity 2.1 has the facility for you to add encryption and decryption that runs within the application before the data is written to the database.

This approach requires that you understand the fundamentals of encryption. It is also worth noting that encrypted data is going to take up more space than unencrypted data. For example, encrypting "" changes the 15 characters normally taken to 194 characters, because we can't change the underlying schema to be binary and not strings. You will be responsible for safely storing your keys and ensuring they are not lost. You may end up with truncated data.

To repeat, this approach is a last resort.

Implementing ASP.NET Identity manual encryption

Identity provides two interfaces to protect your data: ILookupProtector used by the User manager, and IPersonalDataProtector which is used by Entity Framework. At a minimum you must implement an instance of ILookupProtector. The default implementation of IPersonalDataProtector uses ILookupProtector.

Crypto Agility

Before you get started down this (again, last resort) path you need to think about crypto agility. The last few years have seen various cryptographic algorithms fall by the wayside. At some point, no matter what you pick, you're going to have to switch your algorithms to a new one. This sample embeds an algorithm identifier in the cipher text which will allow for the implementation of new algorithm choices.

In order to address this in the sample I use ProtectorAlgorithmHelper. This contains an enum which is used to identify the algorithms used, and a corresponding class which returns the current algorithm identifier, and also creates the algorithms for an identifier.

Managing keys

ASP.NET Core Identity protection provides a basic interface to allow you to manage and rotate keys: ILookupProtectorKeyRing. When data is protected the your protected should ask the key ring for the corresponding key for the keyId it's passed. You then use that to protect the data, or if you want to be more secure, use the key provided as a master key, with key derivation used to produce keys for encryption and decryption, and for authenticated signatures. When unprotecting the data, get the key for the specified keyId, retrieve that key from the key ring, and go through the process in reverse. ASP.NET Core Identity will prepend your data with the key identifier used to encrypt the plain text.

The key ring also has a property: CurrentKeyId. This is the identifier for what key will be used to protect new data. This property can be used to provide key rotation, with a new id being returned when keys rotate according to your requirements.

Thus before we can protect and unprotect we need to implement a keyring. To provide a simple example we're going to generate and persist a symmetric key based on the default algorithm from the algorithm helper.

Key storage is out of scope for the framework as it is dependent on your requirements (again driven by regulation or company culture), and your infrastructure. At a minimum you obviously need to persist your encryption keys somewhere safe, separate from the data being encrypted. You also need to plan for key rotation, supporting multiple keys, with only the most recent being used to encrypt new data. Solutions such as Azure Key Vault can be used to store and rotate your keys.

A simple implementation of a key ring is contained in ProtectorAlgorithmHelper. It stores keys in a sub-folder of your application directory. If no key is present it will create one. It does not support key rotation or sharing of keys between multiple applications like a real world implementation would do, nor does it protect the keys at rest, they're sitting there in plain text.

You may have noticed that the key ring only gives you one key. When you are encrypting you will want multiple keys, one for encrypting, one for authenticated signing (because, of course, you won't store data without signing it, then validating the signature before attempting to decrypt). So you are going to need to derive keys before you use them. We do that in our protector implementations.

The problem with indexes

Encrypting data manually presents one key problem, that of indexing. As identity information needs to be retrieved often and decrypted quickly we are restricted to using symmetric encryption. Best practice dictates that every item of data uses a unique initialization vector, randomly generated, so that no inference can be made from the encrypted data. If, for example, we used a fixed IV and encrypted a town name the result would be identical each time, and if your data were exposed you could mine the data to see how many people are in the same town, even though you don't have the encryption key. We use this approach in ASP.NET Core Data Protection, so that if you encrypt "Contoso" multiple times the result will be different on each occasion.

However this presents a problem with indexes. We want data used for lookup to be deterministic, that is, when it is encrypted it has the same value each time, but we also want some variance, we want a different IV for each record.

In order to do this we must derive the IV from the data itself. One approach to this is to take the results of a signed hashing algorithm like an HMAC over the data and use that as the IV into the symmetric encryption algorithm. This approach in itself a drawback, if, for example, we were encrypting a City field an attacker who has the database contents could see which rows were referring to the same city, without knowing what the city itself is actually encrypted as.

Implementing a lookup protector

ILookupProtector has two methods:

public interface ILookupProtector
    string Protect(string keyId, string data);

    string Unprotect(string keyId, string data);

As you can see each method takes two parameters: a keyId and the data to be protected. Where does the keyId come from? Your key ring. When encrypting data ASP.NET Core Identity will pass in the current key identifier, then prepend it to the data returned from your Protect method. When it comes to decrypt data Identity will extract the key identifier from the cipher text and pass it into Unprotect.

The sample implementation of the LookupProtector implements signed encryption using derived keys, as well as solving the indexing problem by using the plain text as the IV.

Enabling index encryption in ASP.NET Core Identity

Now you have a key ring, and a protector, and obviously you've tested both, you need to enable encryption in ASP.NET Core Identity.

In Startup.cs look for the identity configuration code, the default code looks as follows:

services.AddIdentity<IdentityUser, IdentityRole>(options =>
    options.Stores.MaxLengthForKeys = 128;

Change this to set Stores.ProtectPersonalData to true and to add your lookup protector and keyring implementations into DI;

services.AddIdentity<IdentityUser, IdentityRole>(options =>
    options.Stores.ProtectPersonalData = true;
    options.Stores.MaxLengthForKeys = 128;

services.AddScoped<ILookupProtectorKeyRing, KeyRing>();
services.AddScoped<ILookupProtector, LookupProtector>();

What will happen now is the UserStore will use the lookup protector to protect the data it uses for lookups: NormalizedUserName and NormalizedEmail. All other data in your model is left untouched.

If you limit yourself to this approach using the default Entity Framework based store and Identity User running will fail, due to a missing IPersonalDataProtector. This is what you must implement next.

Encrypting non-indexed personal data

Encryption of non-indexed personal data relies on an Entity Framework Core feature called value converters. These run before data is persisted and after data is retrieved. Implementation of this feature involves you implementing an IPersonalDataProtector. This interface is exactly the same as that for a ILookupProtector, however your implementation can produce non-deterministic results, using random IVs, because this isn't used for indexed data. A default implementation is in the framework, which uses whatever ILookupProtector you wire up, but this will then be deterministic and open to cipher text analysis so this may not meet the requirements your risk analysis or regulations require.

The sample PersonalDataProtector avoids the cryptanalysis issue by ensuring data is encrypted with a random IV, it's basically a clone of the ILookupProtector implementation with different derived keys, and no IV generation from source data. You will see that IPersonalDataProtector does not get key identifiers in protect and unprotect, because it doesn't require a key ring. The sample implementation however uses the same keyring implementation as its source for keys and embeds the key identifier in the encryption results, extracting it during decryption.

Once we have an implementation of IPersonalDataProtector we put it into DI:

services.AddIdentity<IdentityUser, IdentityRole>(options =>
    options.Stores.ProtectPersonalData = true;
    options.Stores.MaxLengthForKeys = 128;

services.AddScoped<ILookupProtectorKeyRing, KeyRing>();
services.AddScoped<ILookupProtector, LookupProtector>();
services.AddScoped<IPersonalDataProtector, PersonalDataProtector>();

And we're done.

Marking your EF model for encryption

ASP.NET Core Identity uses attributes to annotate your model and mark classes for encryption. We mark a few things in the default IdentityUser class including the Id, UserName, Email, PhoneNumber and a couple of status fields.

To have Identity encrypt your custom IdentityUser model, annotate your model fields with [ProtectedPersonalData].

In Conclusion

Avoid manual encryption at all costs. It's risky and involves not only an understanding of the data loss risks, but also the ins and outs of cryptography. Letting the database or OS do all the work is a much safer approach, but the capability is there, should you really, truly, desperately need it. Just remember your implementation is supported by you, not Microsoft.

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