How to use SQL Server 2016 in FIPS 140-2-compliant mode

Applies to: SQL Server 2016 DeveloperSQL Server 2016 EnterpriseSQL Server 2016 Enterprise Core

Introduction


This article discusses FIPS 140-2 instructions and how to use SQL Server 2016 in FIPS 140-2-compliant mode.

Notes

  • The terms "FIPS 140-2 compliant," "FIPS 140-2 compliance," and "FIPS 140-2-compliant mode" are defined here for use and clarity. These terms are not recognized or defined government terms. The United States and Canadian governments recognize the validation of cryptographic modules against standards like FIPS 140-2 instead of using cryptographic modules in a specified or conformant manner.

    In this article, we use FIPS 140-2-compliant, FIPS 140-2 compliance, and FIPS 140-2-compliant mode to mean that SQL Server 2016 uses only FIPS 140-2-validated instances of algorithms and hashing functions in all instances in which encrypted or hashed data is imported to or exported from SQL Server 2016. Additionally, this means that SQL Server 2016 will manage keys in a secure manner, as is required of FIPS 140-2-validated cryptographic modules. The key-management process also includes both key generation and key storage.
  • We use "certified" here to mean that the instance of the algorithm is FIPS 140-2 validated or that the operating system contains FIPS140-2-validated instances of algorithms.

What is FIPS?


Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) is a standard developed by the following two government bodies:

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States
  • The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in Canada 

FIPS standards are either recommended or mandated for use in federal government-operated IT systems in the United States and Canada.

What is FIPS 140-2?


FIPS 140-2 is a statement that's titled "Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules." It specifies which encryption algorithms and which hashing algorithms can be used and how encryption keys are to be generated and managed. Some hardware, software, and processes that contain the algorithms can be considered FIPS 140-2 certified, and other hardware, software, and processes that call the correct algorithms can be considered FIPS 140-2 compliant.

What's the difference between being FIPS 140-2 compliant and being FIPS 140-2 certified?


SQL Server 2016 can be configured and run in a manner that is compliant with FIPS 140-2. To configure SQL Server 2016 in this manner, it must run on an operating system that is FIPS 140-2 certified or that provides cryptographic modules that are certified. The difference between compliance and certification is not subtle. Algorithms can be certified. It is insufficient to use an algorithm just because it is listed on the approved lists in FIPS 140-2. Instead, you must use an instance of such an algorithm that is certified. This means the instance is government-validated. Certification requires testing and verification by a U. S. or Canadian government-approved evaluation lab. Windows Server 2012 and later versions, and Windows 8 and later versions contain the certified instance of each allowed algorithm. Most importantly, a call to each of these algorithms provides only the certified instance.

Which applications can be FIPS 140-2 compliant?


All applications that perform encryption or hashing and that run on a certified version of Windows can be compliant by using only the certified instances of the approved algorithms and by complying with the key-generation and key-management requirements. This requires either using the Windows function for key generation and key management or complying with key-generation and key-management requirements within the application. Be aware that areas in a FIPS-compliant application may exist where noncompliant algorithms or processes are enabled. For example, some internal processes that stay in the system and some external data that's slated to be additionally encrypted by a certified algorithm instance are allowed.

Is SQL Server 2016 always FIPS 140-2 compliant?


No. SQL Server 2016 can be FIPS 140-2 compliant because it can be configured and run so that it uses only the FIPS 140-2-certified algorithm instances. Additionally, these instances are called by using CryptoAPI or CGN for encryption or by hashing in every instance where FIPS 140-2compliance is required.

How can SQL Server 2016 be configured to be FIPS 140-2 compliant?


Operating system requirements

You must install SQL Server 2016 on a host that's running one of the following operating systems:

  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2016
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 10

Windows system administration requirements

The FIPS mode must be set before SQL Server 2016 is started. SQL Server reads the setting at startup. To set the FIPS mode, follow these steps:

  1. Log on to Windows as a Windows system administrator.
  2. Click Start.
  3. Click Control Panel.
  4. Click Administrative Tools. (You may have to switch to large Icons for the next step.)
  5. Click Local Security Policy. The Local Security Settings window appears.
  6. In the navigation pane, click Local Policies, and then click Security Options.
  7. In the pane on the right, double-click System cryptography: Use FIPS compliant algorithms for encryption, hashing, and signing.
  8. In the dialog box that appears, click Enabled, and then click Apply.
  9. Click OK.
  10. Close the Local Security Settings window.

SQL Server administrator requirement

When the SQL Server service (when an endpoint is configured for either Service Broker or Database Mirroring) detects that the FIPS mode is enabled at startup, SQL Server logs the following message in the SQL Server error log:

Service Broker transport is running in FIPS compliance mode.

Additionally, you may find the following message logged in the Windows event log:

Database Mirroring transport is running in FIPS compliance mode.

You can verify that the server is running in FIPS mode by looking for these messages.

Notes

  • For dialog security (between services), the encryption process uses the FIPS-certified instance of AES if FIPS mode is enabled. If FIPS mode is disabled, the encryption process still uses AES.
  • When you configure a service broker endpoint in FIPS mode, the administrator must specify "AES" for the service broker. If the endpoint is configured to RC4, SQL Server generates an error. Therefore, the transport layer will not start.

How is SQL Server 2016 operated in FIPS 140-2-compliant mode?


  • With FIPS mode in Windows turned on, in all areas where the user has no choice about whether to encrypt or hash and how it will be done, SQL Server 2016 will run in compliance with FIPS 140-2. (SQL Server 2016 will use CryptoAPI in Windows and will use only the certified instances of the algorithms.)
  • With FIPS mode in Windows turned on, in all areas where the user has a choice of whether to use encryption, SQL Server 2016 will either enable only FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption or will not enable any encryption.
  • Important information for software developers: In all areas where the developer or user writes their own code for encryption or hashing, they must be instructed to use only CryptoAPI (and therefore only the certified instances) and to specify only the algorithms that are allowed by FIPS 140-2. For the official NIST list of FIPS 140-2 approved cryptographic algorithms, see Annexes A, C, and D in http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/STM/cmvp/standards.html.

What is the effect of running SQL Server 2016 in FIPS 140-2-compliant mode?


  • When you use stronger encryption, it may have a small effect on performance for those processes for which less robust encryption is allowed when the process is not operating as FIPS 140-2 compliant.
  • The selection of encryption for SSIS (UseEncryption=True) will generate an error that states that the available encryption is incompatible with FIPS compliance and is not allowed. In other words, no encryption of the message process is performed.
  • When you use encryption together with legacy DTS, encryption is not compliant with FIPS 140-2. Be aware that for DTS, FIPS mode in Windows is not checked. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the user to select no encryption to remain compliant.
  • Because most SQL Server 2016 encryption and hashing processes are already FIPS 140-2 compliant, executing at full compliance (that is, with FIPS mode in Windows turned on) will have little or no effect on the use or on the performance of the application.

Where can I learn more about FIPS 140-2?


For more information about FIPS 140-2 and how to download it, go to the NIST website.

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