|Acra Live Demo||Acra Engineering Demo||Documentation||Installation||Examples and tutorials|
What is Acra
Acra — database security suite for sensitive and personal data protection.
Acra provides selective encryption, multi-layered access control, database leakage prevention, and intrusion detection capabilities in a convenient, developer-friendly package. Acra was specifically designed for web and mobile apps with centralised data storage, including with distributed, microservice-rich applications.
|Perfect Acra-compatible applications||Typical industries|
|Web and mobile apps that store data in a centralised database or object storage||
|IoT apps that collect telemetry and process data in cloud|
|High-load data processing apps|
Acra gives you tools for encrypting the data on the application's side into special cryptographic containers, storing them in the database or file storage, and then decrypting them in a secure compartmented area (separate virtual machine/container).
Cryptographic design ensures that no secret (password, key, etc.) leaked from the application or database will be sufficient for decryption of the protected data chunks that originate from it. Acra minimises the leakage scope, detects unauthorised behavior, and prevents the leakage, informing operators of the incident underway.
Major security features
|during storage and transmission|
|protect only the sensitive data to have both good security and performance|
|built-in tools for key distribution, key rotation, and compartmentalisation|
|datastore and application components can be compromised, yet the data is protected|
|through a built-in SQL firewall|
|to give an early warning about suspicious behaviour|
|coming in the (near) future releases|
Developer and DevOps friendly
|your infrastructure is secure from the start without additional configuring|
under the hood
|no risk of selecting the wrong key length or algorithm padding|
|easy to configure and automate|
|via binary packages or Docker images|
|client-side encryption libraries support ~10 languages|
| throughout all Acra components;|
compatible with ELK stack, Prometheus, Jaeger
|rollback utilities to decrypt database into plaintext|
|numerous web-based and Docker-based demo projects|
Acra relies on our cryptographic library Themis, which implements high-level cryptosystems based on the best available open-source implementations of the most reliable ciphers. Acra strictly doesn't contain self-made cryptographic primitives or obscure ciphers. To deliver its unique guarantees, Acra relies on the combination of well-known ciphers and smart key management scheme.
|Default crypto-primitive source||OpenSSL|
|Supported crypto-primitive sources ᵉ||BoringSSL, LibreSSL, FIPS-compliant, GOST-compliant, HSM|
|Storage encryption||AES-256-GCM + ECDH|
|Transport encryption||TLS v1.2+ / Themis Secure Session|
|KMS integration ᵉ||Amazon KMS, Google Cloud Platform KMS, Hashicorp Vault, Keywhiz|
Try Acra without writing code
Acra Live Demo (see Acra in action in one click)
Acra Live Demo is a web-based demo of protecting data in a typical web-infrastructure (deployed on our servers for your convenience).
From the users' perspective, the website's work is unchanged. However, the data is securely protected so that even hacking the web application won't lead to data leakage.
The available actions include:
- adding new rows to the database (in plaintext and encrypted form);
- watching the database content change in real-time;
- running malicious SQL queries that will be blocked by AcraCensor;
- rolling back the encrypted data;
- intrusion detection.
Requirements: Chrome, Firefox, or Safari browser.
Note: We create separate playground for each user, that's why we ask for your email; you'll receive the invitation link.
How does Acra work?
To better understand the architecture and data flow in Acra, please refer to the Architecture and data flow section in the documentation.
Protecting data in SQL databases using AcraWriter and AcraServer
This is what the process of encryption and decryption of data in a database looks like:
- Your application encrypts some data through AcraWriter by generating an AcraStruct using Acra storage public key and then updates the database. AcraStructs generated by AcraWriter can't be decrypted by it — only the Acra's server side has the keys for decryption.
- To retrieve the decrypted data, your application talks to AcraServer. It is a server-side service that works as database proxy: it sits transparently between your application and the database and listens silently to all the traffic that's coming to and from the database.
- AcraServer monitors the incoming SQL requests and blocks the unwanted ones using the built-in configurable firewall called AcraCensor. AcraServer only sends allowed requests to the database. Certain configurations for AcraServer can be adjusted remotely using AcraWebConfig web server.
- Upon receiving the database response, AcraServer tries to detect the AcraStructs, decrypts them, and returns the decrypted data to the application.
- AcraConnector is a client-side daemon responsible for providing encrypted and authenticated connection between the application and AcraServer. AcraConnector runs under a separate user/in a separate container and acts as middleware. AcraConnector accepts connections from the application, adds an extra transport encryption layer using TLS or Themis Secure Session, sends the data to AcraServer, receives the result, and sends it back to the application.
Protecting data in any file storage using AcraWriter and AcraTranslator
In some use cases, the application can store encrypted data as separate blobs (files that are not in a database, i.e. in a S3 bucket, local file storage, etc.). In this case, you can use AcraTranslator — a lightweight server that receives AcraStructs and returns the decrypted data.
This is what the process of encryption and decryption of data using AcraTranslator looks like:
- Your application encrypts some data using AcraWriter, generating an AcraStruct using Acra storage public key and puts the data into any file storage. AcraStructs generated by AcraWriter can't be decrypted by it — only the Acra's server side has the right keys for decrypting it.
- To decrypt an AcraStruct, your application sends it to AcraTranslator as a binary blob via HTTP or gRPC API. AcraTranslator doesn’t care about the source of the data, it is responsible for holding all the secrets required for data decryption and for actually decrypting the data.
- AcraTranslator decrypts AcraStructs and returns the decrypted data to the application.
- To avoid sending plaintext via an unsecured channel, AcraTranslator requires the use of AcraConnector, a client-side daemon responsible for providing encrypted and authenticated connection between the application and AcraServer. AcraConnector runs under a separate user/in a separate container and acts as middleware. It accepts connections from the application, adds transport encryption layer using TLS or Themis Secure Session, sends data to AcraServer, receives the result, and sends it back to the application.
AcraTranslator and AcraServer are fully independent server-side components and can be used together or separately depending on your infrastructure.
AcraWriter is a client-side library that encrypts data into a special binary format called AcraStruct. AcraWriter is available for Ruby, Python, Go, C++, NodeJS, iOS, Android/Java and PHP, but you can easily generate AcraStruct containers with Themis for any platform you want.
|Client platform||Documentation and guides||Examples||Package manager|
The Server-side Acra components should run as separate services/servers.
There are three possible ways to install and launch Acra components in your infrastructures:
Acra binaries are built for:
|Distributive||Instruction set||Download and install|
|CentOS 7||x86_64||using rpm packages|
|Debian Stretch (9)
Debian Jessie (8)
|x86_64/i386||using deb packages|
|Ubuntu Bionic (18.04)||x86_64||using deb packages|
|Ubuntu Artful (17.10)
Ubuntu Xenial (16.04)
Ubuntu Trusty (14.04)
|x86_64/i386||using deb packages|
Compatibility and integration
AcraServer is a server-side service that works as database proxy: it sits transparently between your application and the database, listens silently to all the traffic that's coming to and from the database. AcraTranslator is database-agnostic: it provides HTTP and gRPC API to decrypt AcraStructs stored anywhere.
Acra is compatible with numerous RDBMS, object and KV stores, cloud platforms, external key management systems (KMS), load balancing systems.
|Cloud platforms||AWS, GCP, Heroku|
|RDBMS|| MySQL v5.7+, PosgtreSQL v9.4-v11, MariaDB v10.3|
Google Cloud SQL, Amazon RDS
|Object stores||filesystems, KV databases, Amazon S3, Google Cloud DataStore|
|Load balancing||HAProxy, cloud balancers|
Open source Acra has limited integration support, more services are available in the Enterprise version of Acra only.
Installation and launch
Quick try (run demo app)
Acra Engineering Demo illustrates the integration of Acra data protection suite into existing applications: Django-based web application and Python CLI application. We took well-known applications and added the encryption layer. Protecting the data is completely transparent for the users and requires minimal changes in the infrastructure.
Developers and Ops friendly:
- run a single command to deploy the application, database, Acra's components, logs, and dashboards;
- read the code changes and see how little it takes to integrate encryption into the client application;
- learn how Acra works by reading logs, monitoring metrics in Prometheus, and watching Grafana dashboards;
- inspect Docker-compose files, architecture schemes, database tables, and much more.
Requirements: Linux or macOS terminal.
Quick integration into your infrastructure
For a quick and easy integration of Acra into your own infrastructure, we recommend trying Acra with Docker first. Using only two commands, you will get all the Acra's components and database up and running, with a secure transport layer between them. We prepared several typical infrastructure variants to experiment with.
- Select one appropriate use case from the pre-made configurations ("Compose files"): use AcraServer-based configuration to protect the data in a database or select AcraTranslator to protect the files or any other binary blob stored elsewhere.
- Launch Acra's server-side by running the selected docker-compose file: it will generate the appropriate keys, put them into correct folders, perform a public key exchange, run selected services and database, and then it will listen to the incoming connections.
- Integrate AcraWriter into your application code where you need to protect the sensitive data, supply AcraWriter with an Acra storage public key (generated by docker-compose on the previous step). Encrypt the data into AcraStructs and send them into the database or file storage.
- Decrypt data by reading the database through AcraServer or by decrypting the files through AcraTranslator.
Please use the Acra Docker demo stand for testing/experimenting purposes only as the encryption keys are pre-generated in the configuration.
Normal integration into your infrastructure
For production environments, we insist on generating and exchanging keys manually and deploying Acra as Docker containers or from source code. Refer to the Quick Start guide to understand how to download and launch Acra components, generate keys, and perform key exchange properly.
Documentation and tutorials
The most recent version of the documentation, tutorials, and demos for Acra is available on the official Cossack Labs Documentation Server. The Github Wiki documentation is deprecated and no longer updated since v0.82.0.
To gain an initial understanding of Acra, you might want to:
- Read about using the lightweight HTTP web server AcraWebConfig we provide to manage AcraServer configuration in a simple fashion.
- Read the notes on security design and intrusion detection to better understand what you get when you use Acra and what is the threat model that Acra operates in.
- Key and trust management tools: key distribution, key rotation and database rollback.
- Set up rules for AcraCensor (SQL firewall) suitable for your application.
- Read some notes on making Acra stronger, more productive, and efficient and about adding security features or increasing throughput, depending on your goals and security model.
- Read about the logging format that Acra supports if you are using a SIEM system.
|Django sample project||RubyGems sample project|
Acra Load Balancing Demo (HAProxy-based infrastructures)
Acra Load Balancing Demo illustrates building high availability and balanced infrastructure, based on Acra components, PostgreSQL, and Python web application. We prepared several configurations with mulltiple databases and HAProxy.
GDPR and HIPAA
Acra can help you comply with GDPR and HIPAA regulations. Configuring and using Acra in a designated form will cover most of the demands described in articles 25, 32, 33, and 34 of GDPR and the PII data protection demands of HIPAA. Read more about Acra and GDPR compliance here.
Open source vs Enterprise
This open source version of Acra is free to use. Please let us know in the Issues if you stumble upon a bug, see a possible enhancement, or have a comment on security design.
There’s the Enterprise version of Acra available. It provides better performance, redunancy/load balancing, comes pre-configured with crypto-primitives of your choice (FIPS, GOST), integrates with key/secret management tools in your stack, and has plenty of utils and tools for your Ops and SREs to operate Acra conveniently – deployment automation, scaling, monitoring, and logging. Talk to us to get a full feature list and a quote.
It takes more than just getting cryptographic code to compile to secure the sensitive data. Acra won't make you “compliant out of the box” with all the modern security regulations, and no other tool will.
We help companies plan their data security strategy by auditing, assessing data flow, and classifying the data, enumerating the risks. We do the hardest, least-attended part of reaching the compliance – turning it from the “cost of doing business” into the “security framework that prevents risks”.
Contributing to us
If you’d like to contribute your code or provide any other kind of input to Acra, you’re very welcome. Your starting point for contributing is here.
Acra is licensed as Apache 2 open-source software.
To talk to the business wing of Cossack Labs Limited, drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.