2.9. Security Modules


For a normal installation this section can be safely ignored.

privacyIDEA provides a security module that takes care of

  • encrypting the token seeds,

  • encrypting passwords from the configuration like the LDAP password,

  • creating random numbers,

  • and hashing values.


The Security Module concept can also be used to add a Hardware Security Module to perform the above mentioned tasks.

2.9.1. Default Security Module

The default security module is implemented with the operating systems capabilities. The encryption key is located in a file enckey specified via PI_ENCFILE in the configuration file (The Config File).

This enckey contains three 32byte keys and is thus 96 bytes. This file has to be protected. So the access rights to this file are set accordingly.

In addition you can encrypt this encryption key with an additional password. In this case, you need to enter the password each time the privacyIDEA server is restarted and the password for decrypting the enckey is kept in memory.

The pi-manage Script contains the instruction how to encrypt the enckey

After starting the server, you can check, if the encryption key is accessible. To do so run:

privacyidea -U <yourserver> --admin=<youradmin> securitymodule

The output will contain "is_ready": True to signal that the encryption key is operational.

If it is not yet operational, you need to pass the password to the privacyIDEA server to decrypt the encryption key. To do so run:

privacyidea -U <yourserver> --admin=<youradmin> securitymodule  \


If the security module is not operational yet, you might get an error message “HSM not ready.”.

2.9.2. AES HSM Security Module

The AES Hardware Security Module can be used to encrypt data with an hardware security module (HSM) connected via the PKCS11 interface. This module allows to use AES keys stored in the HSM to encrypt and decrypt data.

This module uses three keys, similarly to the content of PI_ENCFILE, identified as token, config and value.

To activate this module add the following to the configuration file (The Config File):

PI_HSM_MODULE = "privacyidea.lib.security.aeshsm.AESHardwareSecurityModule"

Additional attributes are

PI_HSM_MODULE_MODULE which takes the pkcs11 library. This is the full specified path to the shared object file in the file system.

PI_HSM_MODULE_SLOT is the slot on the HSM where the keys are located (default: 1).

You can set the slot number to -1 if there is only one slot available and you do not know the slot number. Then privacyIDEA will determine the one and only slot number and use this one.

PI_HSM_MODULE_PASSWORD is the password to access the slot.

PI_HSM_MODULE_MAX_RETRIES is the number privacyIDEA tries to perform a cryptographic operation like decrypt, encrypt or random if the first attempt with the HSM fails. The default value is 5.


Some PKCS11 libraries for network attached HSMs also implement a retry. You should take this into account, since retries would multiply and it could take a while till a request would finally fail.

PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL is the label prefix for the keys on the HSM (default: privacyidea). In order to locate the keys, the module will search for key with a label equal to the concatenation of this prefix, _ and the key identifier (respectively token, config and value).

PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL_TOKEN is the label for token key (defaults to value based on PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL setting).

PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL_CONFIG is the label for config key (defaults to value based on PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL setting).

PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL_VALUE is the label for value key (defaults to value based on PI_HSM_MODULE_KEY_LABEL setting).

2.9.3. Encrypt Key Security Module

The Encrypt Key Security Module uses a hardware security module (HSM) to decrypt the encrypted encryption key. Within the HSM a private RSA key is used to decrypt an encrypted file like /etc/privacyidea/enckey.enc.

With the first request to each process of the privacyIDEA server, the HSM is used to decrypt the encryption key. After that the encryption key is kept in memory during run time.

To activate this module add the following to the configuration file (The Config File)

PI_HSM_MODULE = “privacyidea.lib.security.encryptkey.EncryptKeyHardwareSecurityModule”

Further attributes are PI_HSM_MODULE_MODULE which takes the pkcs11 library. This is the fully specified path to the shared object file in the file system.

PI_HSM_MODULE_SLOT is the slot on the HSM where the keys are located. This is an integer value. Alternatively you can specify PI_HSM_MODULE_SLOTNAME which would be the descriptive name of this slot.

To use the correct key in this slot you can either specify the key by providing PI_HSM_MODULE_KEYID with the integer id of the key or PI_HSM_MODULE_KEYLABEL with the descriptive label of the key.

The PI_HSM_MODULE_TIMEOUT can be used to define an integer value for a HSM lock timeout. The default is 15 seconds.

Using the key PI_HSM_MODULE_LOCK_DIR you can define a different locking directory. The default is /dev/shm/pilock/. Note, that the locking directory is created or removed by privacyIDEA when acquiring or releasing the lock on the HSM and you must not create this directory manually!


Some HSM fail to provide a correct keyid and it is necessary to use the key label.

The last two mandatory attributes are PI_HSM_MODULE_PASSWORD which holds the password of the slot and PI_HSM_MODULE_ENCFILE which specifies the encrypted encryption key.

You could e.g. use a Yubikey this way:

PI_HSM_MODULE = "privacyidea.lib.security.encryptkey.EncryptKeyHardwareSecurityModule"
PI_HSM_MODULE_MODULE = "/usr/lib/libykcs11.so"
PI_HSM_MODULE_KEYLABEL = 'Private key for PIV Authentication'
PI_HSM_MODULE_ENCFILE = "/etc/privacyidea/enckey.enc"

To encrypt an existing key file you can use the module like this:

python encryptkey.py --module /usr/lib/libykcs11.so --keyid 1 --slotname "Yubico YubiKey"  \
                     --infile enckey --outfile enckey.enc

If your key in the HSM is identified by a key label, then you can encrypt the existing key file like this:

python encryptkey.py --module /usr/lib/libykcs11.so --keylabel "my secret key" --slotname "Yubico YubiKey" \
                     --infile enckey --outfile enckey.enc Preloading of encryption keys

This security module allows you to preload the encryption keys. I.e. privacyIDEA can use the HSM to decrypt the keys before the first request is sent to privacyIDEA. To do so, you need to modify the wsgi script (See The WSGI Script) and add the parameter init_hsm:

application = create_app(config_name="production",
                         config_file="/etc/privacyidea/pi.cfg", init_hsm=True)

Moreover, you need to add the WSGIImportScript statement to your Apache2 configuration:

WSGIApplicationGroup %{GLOBAL}
WSGIImportScript /etc/privacyidea/privacyideaapp.wsgi process-group=privacyidea application-group=%{GLOBAL}


Please note, that this security module uses a lock file, to handle concurrent access to the HSM. In certain cases of errors the log file could remain and not cleaned up. Ensure, that the directory /dev/shm/pilock/ does not exist at Apache2 startup.