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Measuring the Performance Impact of Column Encryption
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Here is one of the first questions I get asked when discussing data encryption: What is the performance overhead The only truthful answer to that question is It depends; anywhere from 0 percent to a lot. It depends on how you access the data, how frequently you access the data, and what you do to the data.
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Suppose, for example, you have a table in your application that serves as an online store: Create table customer ( cust_id number primary key, .. other data credit_card# varchar2(50) encrypt ); What performance impact could you expect after encrypting the CREDIT_CARD# column as compared to before encrypting it Well, if you accessed the CREDIT_CARD# only when the customer checked out of your store, the overhead of encrypting the data would be very small, perhaps not even truly measurable. Let s say that you access the CREDIT_CARD# column only in the following circumstances: You retrieve it when the customer checks out. You access the credit card once for one row only, which you retrieved via the primary key index on CUST_ID. This is very infrequent on a per customer basis. A typical customer might buy something from you once a week or so. You modify it when the customer updates their credit card information approximately once every year or two when their card expires. In other words, almost never.
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CHAPTER 16 DATA ENCRYPTION
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You modify it when you get a new customer and insert a customer record for them. Hopefully you add lots of new customers over time, but even if you do, this, too, is an infrequent occasion relatively speaking.
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And that s about it. The bulk of the processing on your site does not touch this column at all. When the customer is browsing your online catalogue, you are not retrieving their credit card information. When the customer is adding items to your shopping cart, you are not accessing the credit card data. When the customer is interacting with your online shopping help desk, you are not touching the credit card data. If and only if they checkout will you access it, and then only once. The overhead of encryption will only be felt at that exact point in time, which hardly ever happens (again, relatively speaking a very small percentage of the work processed by your application involves accessing the credit card number). On the other hand, what if the table you utilized was created as follows: Create table customer ( cust_id number primary key, number_of_page_views number encrypt, .. other data credit_card# varchar2(50) encrypt ); Assume in your application the column NUMBER_OF_PAGE_VIEWS represents a hit counter that you update each and every time a customer clicks on a page on your site. The cost of encrypting the NUMBER_OF_PAGE_VIEWS column would be very high because you would be accessing that column frequently with every page generated for a given user and you would be accessing it in a read/write fashion. This would require you to decrypt that column add one to its value and write that value back to the table, causing the newly-computed value to be encrypted. The overhead would be measurable. Fortunately though, the requirement to encrypt that specific column is probably very low.
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Understanding What You Measure
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So, how can we measure the cost associated with column level encryption You ll not only want to measure the additional CPU associated with the encryption operation, but also the increased REDO generation as well since we know that an encrypted column will be larger and hence will generate more REDO in general. Additionally (and this is not something I can show you how to measure), you will need to have a really good understanding of how the data is used in your application. While the following will show you how to measure a percentage difference between non-encrypted and encrypted data, a simple percentage number would be meaningless. Suppose you measured that the overhead of encrypting the CREDIT_CARD# in the above example was 10 percent. What does that mean Does it mean you will need 10 percent more CPU resources after encrypting than before No, it doesn t, for the reason that very few transactions in your application will incur this extra 10 percent. So you need a metric that measures the overhead of encryption coupled with an understanding of how the encrypted data is used. In short, anyone that says Column encryption adds X percent overhead is only telling a very small part of the story. They are, in general, overstating the impact, because, in general, not every transaction will encounter this overhead. Typically, most transactions will not encounter the encrypt/decrypt processing.
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