Q: What is AWS CloudHSM?

The AWS CloudHSM service helps you meet corporate, contractual, and regulatory compliance requirements for data security by using dedicated Hardware Security Module (HSM) instances within the AWS cloud. AWS and AWS Marketplace partners offer a variety of solutions for protecting sensitive data within the AWS platform, but for some applications and data subject to contractual or regulatory mandates for managing cryptographic keys, additional protection may be necessary. AWS CloudHSM complements existing data protection solutions and allows you to protect your encryption keys within HSMs that are designed and validated to government standards for secure key management. AWS CloudHSM allows you to securely generate, store, and manage cryptographic keys used for data encryption in a way that keys are accessible only by you.

Q: What is a Hardware Security Module (HSM)?

A hardware security module (HSM) provides secure key storage and cryptographic operations within a tamper-resistant hardware device. HSMs are designed to securely store cryptographic key material and use the key material without exposing it outside the cryptographic boundary of the hardware.

Q: What can I do with AWS CloudHSM?

You can use AWS CloudHSM to support a variety of use cases and applications, such as database encryption, Digital Rights Management (DRM), Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), authentication and authorization, document signing, and transaction processing. For more information, see AWS CloudHSM use cases.  

Q: How does CloudHSM work?

To use the AWS CloudHSM service, you first create a CloudHSM Cluster. Clusters can contain multiple HSMs that are spread across multiple Availability Zones (AZs) in a region. HSMs in a cluster are automatically synchronized and load-balanced. You receive dedicated, single-tenant access to each HSM in your cluster and each HSM appears as a network resource in your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). Adding and removing HSMs from your cluster is a single call to the AWS CloudHSM API (or on the command line using the AWS CLI). After creating and initializing a CloudHSM Cluster, you can configure a client on your EC2 instance that allows your applications to use the cluster over a secure, authenticated network connection. AWS CloudHSM automatically monitors the health of your HSMs, but no AWS personnel have access to your keys or data. Your applications use standard cryptographic APIs, in conjunction with HSM client software installed on the application instance, to send cryptographic requests to the HSM. The client software maintains a secure channel to all of the HSMs in your cluster and sends requests on this channel, and the HSM performs the operations and returns the results over the secure channel. The client then returns the result to the application through the cryptographic API.

Q: I don’t currently have a VPC. Can I still use AWS CloudHSM?

No. To protect and isolate your cluster from other Amazon customers, AWS CloudHSM must be provisioned inside an Amazon VPC. Creating a VPC is easy. Please see the VPC Getting Started Guide for more information.

Q: Does my application need to reside in the same VPC as the CloudHSM Cluster?

No, but the server or instance on which your application and the HSM client are running must have network (IP) reachability to all HSMs in the cluster. You can establish network connectivity from your application to the HSM in many ways, including operating your application in the same VPC, with VPC peering, with a VPN connection, or with Direct Connect. Please see the VPC Peering Guide and VPC User Guide for more details.

Q: Does AWS CloudHSM work with on-premises HSMs?

Yes. While AWS CloudHSM does not interoperate directly with on-premises HSMs, you can securely transfer exportable keys between AWS CloudHSM and most commercial HSMs by using one of several supported RSA key wrap methods.  

Q: How can my application use AWS CloudHSM?

We have integrated and tested AWS CloudHSM with a number of third-party software solutions such as Oracle Database 19c and web servers including Apache and Nginx for SSL offload and configuring a Windows Server as a CA. Please see the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for more information.

If you are developing your own custom application, your application can use the standard APIs supported by AWS CloudHSM, including PKCS#11, Java JCE (Java Cryptography Extensions), OpenSSL Dynamic Engine, or Microsoft KSP/CNG. Please refer to the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for code samples and help with getting started.Q: Can I use AWS CloudHSM to store keys or encrypt data used by other AWS services?

Yes. You can do all encryption in your AWS CloudHSM-integrated application. In this case, AWS services such as Amazon S3 and Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), will only see your data encrypted.

Q: Can other AWS services use AWS CloudHSM to store and manage keys?

AWS services integrate with AWS Key Management Service, which in turn is integrated with AWS CloudHSM through the KMS custom key store feature. If you want to use the server-side encryption offered by many AWS services (such as EBS, S3, or Amazon RDS), you can do so by configuring a custom key store in AWS KMS.

Q: Can AWS CloudHSM be used to perform personal identification number (PIN) block translation or other cryptographic operations used with debit payment transactions?

Currently, AWS CloudHSM provides general-purpose HSMs. AWS Payment Cryptography provides cryptography operations in cloud-hosted payment applications. Over time we may provide payment features. If this is of interest to you, please let us know.

Q: How do I get started with AWS CloudHSM?

You can provision a CloudHSM Cluster in the AWS CloudHSM console, or with a few API calls through the AWS SDK or API. To learn more, about getting started, please see the AWS CloudHSM User Guide. For information about AWS CloudHSM APIs, see the AWS CloudHSM Documentation page.

Q: How do I terminate AWS CloudHSM service?

You can use the AWS CloudHSM console, API, or SDK to delete your HSMs and stop using the service. Please refer to the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for further instructions.


Q: How will I be charged and billed for my use of the AWS CloudHSM service?

You will be charged an hourly fee for each hour (or partial hour) that an HSM is provisioned to an AWS CloudHSM cluster. A cluster with no HSMs in it is not billed, nor are you billed for our automatic storage of encrypted backups. For more information, please visit the AMS CloudHSM pricing page. Note that network data transfers to and from your HSMs are charged separately. For more information please review data transfer pricing for EC2.

Q: Is there a Free Tier for the CloudHSM service?

No, there is no free tier available for AWS CloudHSM.

Q: Do charges vary depending on how many users or keys I create on my HSM?

No, the hourly fee, which varies by region, does not depend on how much you use your HSM.

Q: Do you offer reserved instance pricing for AWS CloudHSM?

No, we do not offer reserved instance pricing for AWS CloudHSM.

Provisioning and operations

Q: Are there any prerequisites for using AWS CloudHSM?

Yes. To start using AWS CloudHSM, a few prerequisites are needed, including a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) in the region where you want the AWS CloudHSM service. Refer to the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for more details.

Q: Do I need to manage the firmware on my HSM?

No. AWS manages the firmware on the hardware. Firmware is maintained by a third-party, and every firmware must be evaluated by NIST for FIPS 140-2 Level 3 compliance. Only firmware that has been cryptographically signed by the FIPS key (which AWS does not have access to) can be installed.

Q: How many HSMs should I have in my CloudHSM Cluster?

AWS strongly recommends that you use at least two HSMs in two different Availability Zones for any production workload. For mission-critical workloads, we recommend at least three HSMs in at least two separate AZs. The CloudHSM client will automatically handle any HSM failures and load balance across two or more HSMs transparently to your application.

Q: Who is responsible for key durability?

AWS takes automatic encrypted backups of your CloudHSM Cluster on a daily basis. AWS takes additional backups when cluster lifecycle events occur (such as adding or removing an HSM).For the 24-hour period between backups, you are solely responsible for the durability of key material created or imported to your cluster. We strongly recommend ensuring that any keys created are synchronized to at least two HSMs in two different Availability Zones to ensure the durability of your keys. See the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for more detail on verifying key synchronization.

Q: How do I set up a high availability (HA) configuration?

High availability is provided automatically when you have at least two HSMs spread across two Availability Zones in your CloudHSM Cluster. No additional configuration is required. In the event an HSM in your cluster fails, it will be replaced automatically, and all clients will be updated to reflect the new configuration without interrupting any processing. Additional HSMs can be added to the cluster via the AWS API or SDK, increasing availability without interrupting your application.

Q: How many HSMs can be contained in a CloudHSM Cluster?

A single CloudHSM Cluster can contain up to 28 HSMs, subject to account service limits. Learn more about service limits and how to request a limit increase in our online documentation.

Q: Can I back up the contents of my CloudHSM Cluster?

Your CloudHSM Cluster is backed up on a daily basis by AWS. Keys can also be exported (“wrapped”) out of your cluster and stored on-premises as long as they were not generated as “non-exportable."

Q: Is there an SLA for AWS CloudHSM?

Yes, you can find the service level agreement (SLA) for AWS CloudHSM here.

Security and Compliance

Q: Do I share my AWS CloudHSM resources with other AWS customers?

No. As part of the service you receive single-tenant access to the HSM. Underlying hardware may be shared with other customers, but the HSM is accessible only to you.

Q: How does AWS manage the HSM without having access to my encryption keys?

Separation of duties and role-based access control is inherent in the design of AWS CloudHSM. AWS has a limited credential to the HSM that permits us to monitor and maintain the health and availability of the HSM, take encrypted backups, and to extract and publish audit logs to your CloudWatch Logs AWS has no access to any keys or data inside your CloudHSM Cluster and cannot perform any operations other than those allowed for an HSM appliance user.

Please see the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for more information on the separation of duties, and the capabilities each class of user has on the HSM.

Q: Can I monitor my HSM?

Yes. AWS CloudHSM publishes multiple Amazon CloudWatch metrics for CloudHSM Clusters and for individual HSMs. You can use the Amazon CloudWatch console, API or SDK to obtain and alarm on these metrics.

Q: What is the ‘entropy source’ (source of randomness) for AWS CloudHSM?

Each HSM has a FIPS-validated Deterministic Random Bit Generator (DRBG) that is seeded by a True Random Number Generator (TRNG) within the HSM hardware module that conforms to SP800-90B.

Q: What happens if someone tampers with the HSM hardware?

AWS CloudHSM has both physical and logical tamper detection and response mechanisms that trigger key deletion (zeroization) of the hardware. The hardware is designed to detect tampering if its physical barrier is breached. HSMs are also protected against brute-force login attacks. After a fixed number of unsuccessful attempts to access an HSM with admin or crypto officer (CO) credentials, the HSM will lock the admin/CO out. Similarly, after a fixed number of unsuccessful attempts to access an HSM with crypto user (CU) credentials, the user will be locked out and must be unlocked by a CO or admin.

Q: What happens in case of failure?

Amazon monitors and maintains the HSM and network for availability and error conditions. If an HSM fails or loses network connectivity, the HSM will be automatically replaced. You can check the health of an individual HSM using theAWS CloudHSM's APIs, SDKs, or CLI Tools, and you can check the overall health of the service at any time using the AWS Service Health Dashboard.

Q: Could I lose my keys if a single HSM fails?

If your AWS CloudHSM Cluster only has a single HSM, yes it is possible to lose keys that were created since the most recent daily backup. AWS CloudHSM Clusters with two or more HSMs, ideally in separate Availability Zones, will not lose keys if a single HSM fails. See our best practices for more information.

Q: Can Amazon recover my keys if I lose my credentials to my HSM?

No. Amazon does not have access to your keys or credentials and therefore has no way to recover your keys if you lose your credentials.

Q: How do I know that I can trust AWS CloudHSM?

AWS CloudHSM is built on hardware that is validated at Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 Level 3. You can find information about the FIPS 140-2 Security Profile for the hardware used by CloudHSM, and the firmware it runs, at our compliance page.

Q: Does the AWS CloudHSM service support FIPS 140-2 Level 3?

Yes, CloudHSM provides FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validated HSMs. You can follow the procedure in the CloudHSM User Guide under Verify the Authenticity of Your HSM to confirm that you have an authentic HSM on the same model hardware specified in the NIST Security Policy described in the previous question.

Q: How do I operate AWS CloudHSM in FIPS 140-2 mode?

AWS CloudHSM is always in FIPS 140-2 mode. This can be verified by using the CLI tools as documented in the CloudHSM User Guide and running the getHsmInfo command, which will indicate the FIPS mode status.

Q: Can I get a history of all AWS CloudHSM API calls made from my account?

Yes. AWS CloudTrail records AWS API calls for your account. The AWS API call history produced by AWS CloudTrail lets you perform security analysis, resource change tracking, and compliance auditing. Learn more about AWS CloudTrail at the CloudTrail home page, and turn it on through CloudTrail's AWS Management Console.

Q: Which events are not logged in AWS CloudTrail?

AWS CloudTrail does not include any of the HSM device or access logs. These are provided directly to your AWS account via AWS CloudWatch Logs. See the AWS CloudHSM User Guide for more details.

Q: Which AWS compliance initiatives include AWS CloudHSM?

Please refer to the AWS Compliance site for more information about which compliance programs cover CloudHSM. Unlike other AWS services, compliance requirements regarding AWS CloudHSM are often met directly by the FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validation of the hardware itself, rather than as part of a separate audit program.

Q: Why is FIPS 140-2 Level 3 important?

FIPS 140-2 Level 3 is a requirement of certain use cases, including document signing, payments, or operating as a public Certificate Authority for SSL certificates.

Q: How can I request compliance reports that include AWS CloudHSM in scope?

To see what compliance reports are in scope for AWS CloudHSM, review the data on AWS Services in Scope by Compliance Program. To create free, self-service, on-demand compliance reports, use AWS Artifact.

If you’re only interested in the FIPS validation for HSMs provided by AWS CloudHSM, see FIPS Validation.

Performance and capacity

Q: How many cryptographic operations per second can CloudHSM perform?

Performance can vary based on configuration, data size, and additional application load on your EC2 instances. To increase performance, you can add additional HSM instances to your clusters. We encourage load testing your application to determine scaling needs.

For more details, refer to the performance page in the AWS CloudHSM user guide.

Q: How many keys can be stored in a CloudHSM Cluster?

For details on key storage and cluster capacity, see AWS CloudHSM quotas.

3rd Party Integrations

Q: Does AWS CloudHSM support Amazon RDS Oracle TDE?

Not directly. You should use AWS Key Management Service with Custom Key Store to secure Amazon RDS data using keys generated and stored in your CloudHSM Cluster.

Q: Can I use AWS CloudHSM as a root of trust for other software?

Several third-party vendors support AWS CloudHSM as a root of trust. This means that you can utilize a software solution of your choice while creating and storing the underlying keys in your CloudHSM Cluster.

AWS CloudHSM , Client Library, APIs, and SDKs

Q: What is the AWS CloudHSM Client Library?

The AWS CloudHSM Client Library is a software package supplied by AWS that allows you and your applications to interact with CloudHSM Clusters.

Q: Does the CloudHSM Client Library give AWS access to my CloudHSM Cluster?

No. All communication between the client and your HSM is encrypted end to end. AWS cannot see or intercept this communication, and has no visibility into your cluster access credentials.

Q: What are the CloudHSM command line interface (CLI) Tools?

The CloudHSM Client Library comes with a set of CLI tools that allow you to administrate and use the HSM from the command line. Linux and Microsoft Windows are supported today. Support for Apple macOS is on our roadmap. These tools are available in the same package as the AWS CloudHSM Client Library.

Q: How can I download and get started with the AWS CloudHSM command line interface Tools?

You’ll find instructions in the CloudHSM User Guide.

Q: Do the CloudHSM CLI tools provide AWS with access to the contents of the HSM?

No. The CloudHSM Tools communicate directly with your CloudHSM Cluster via the CloudHSM Client Library over a secured, mutually authenticated channel. AWS cannot observe any communication between the client, tools, and HSM. It is encrypted end-to-end.

Q: On what operating systems can I use the CloudHSM Client Libary and CLI tools?

A complete list of supported operating systems is provided in our online documentation.

Q: What are the network connectivity requirements for using the CloudHSM command line interface tools?

The host on which you are running the CloudHSM Client Library and/or using the CLI tools must have network reachability to all of the HSMs in your CloudHSM Cluster.

Q: What can I do with the AWS CloudHSM API & SDK?

You can create, modify, delete, and get the status of CloudHSM Clusters and HSMs. What you can do with the AWS CloudHSM API is limited to operations that AWS can perform with its restricted access. The API cannot access the contents of the HSM or modify any users, policies, or other settings. To learn more, please see the CloudHSM Documentation for information about the API, or the Tools for Amazon Web Services page for more information about the SDK.

Migrating from other third-party HSMs to CloudHSM

Q: How should I plan my migration to AWS CloudHSM?

Start by ensuring that the algorithms and modes you require are supported by AWS CloudHSM. Your account manager can submit feature requests to us if needed. Next, determine your key rotation strategy. We have also published an in-depth migration guide for AWS CloudHSM. You're now ready to get started with AWS CloudHSM.

Q: How can I rotate my keys?

Your rotation strategy will depend on your type of application. Common examples are below.

  • Private keys for signing: Generally, the private key on the HSM corresponds to an intermediate certificate, which is in turn signed by an offline enterprise root. You will rotate keys by issuing a new intermediate certificate. Create a new private key and generate the corresponding CSR using OpenSSL on AWS CloudHSM. Next, sign the CSR with the same offline enterprise root. You may have to register this new certificate with any partners who do not automatically verify the entire certificate chain. Moving forward, you would sign all new requests (such as for documents, code, or other certificates) with the new private key, corresponding to the new certificate. You can continue to verify signatures from the original private key using the corresponding public key. No revocation is necessary. This process is analogous to the process you would follow to retire or archive a signing key.
  • Oracle Transparent Data Encryption: You can transfer your wallet by first switching from a hardware keystore (your original HSM) to a software keystore, and then back to a hardware keystore (AWS CloudHSM). Note: If you are using Amazon RDS, see the above FAQ “Does AWS CloudHSM support Amazon RDS Oracle TDE?”
  • Symmetric key for envelope encryption: Envelope encryption refers to the key architecture where one key on the HSM encrypts/decrypts many data keys on the application host. You likely already have a key rotation process in place to go through and decrypt the data keys with the old wrapping key and re-encrypt them with the new wrapping key. The only difference during migration will be that the new wrapping key will be created and used on AWS CloudHSM instead of your original HSM. If you do not already have a key rotation tool and process in place, you will need to create one.

Q: What if I can't rotate my keys?

Each application and use case is different. Solutions to common scenarios are discussed in the migration guide for CloudHSM. For additional questions, open a support case with details of your application, the type of HSM you are using today, the type of keys you are using, and whether these keys are exportable or not. We will help you determine an appropriate migration path.

Support and maintenance

Q: Does AWS CloudHSM have scheduled maintenance windows?

No, but AWS may need to conduct maintenance in the event of necessary upgrades or faulty hardware. We will make every effort to notify you in advance using the Personal Health Dashboard if any impact is expected.

Please note it is your responsibility to architect your cluster for high availability. AWS strongly recommends that you use CloudHSM Clusters with two or more HSMs in separate Availability Zones. You can learn more about recommended best practices in our online documentation.

Q: I am having a problem with AWS CloudHSM. What do I do?

You can find solutions to common problems in our troubleshooting guide. If you are still experiencing issues, contact AWS Support.

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