Welcome!

You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

Data Encryption in ColdFusion: An Overview of the Built-in Features

CF didn't used to offer much in the way of built-in data encryption; that all changed in CFMX 7

It is likely that at some point in your development career you had to deal with sensitive data. It might have been credit card numbers in an e-commerce site, or an employee identification number on an intranet. Perhaps you were setting up a security scheme and wanted to protect the passwords of the user.

Maybe you wanted to encrypt some user data before sending it off to a business partner via a Web service, or setting a cookie on the user's machine? For whatever the reason you probably took a look at ColdFusion's built-in functions for encrypting data.

Unfortunately, in versions of ColdFusion prior to the seventh release, ColdFusion didn't offer much in the way of built-in data encryption. You had to go looking outside of the built-in functionality, and often purchase a custom tag to do anything advanced with encryption. Thankfully, ColdFusion MX7 expanded the built-in encryption set and gives us a much broader range of features without going outside the language. This article will tell you about those features and offer some suggestions on where to go when you need more.

Password Encryption
Have you ever come across a Website that forces you to register to see their content? If so, have you ever tried to register only to be told that you already have an account? In the dark reaches of your mind, you have a vague memory of trying to access some content on their site many years ago. They won't let you re-register because you already have an account, so you click that "I forgot my password" box. Many sites will not reveal your password to you. A common approach is for you to provide an e-mail address, and then the site will reset your e-mail address and e-mail you the new one. Another approach might be for you to answer a series of password questions, after which you will be able to reset your password.

Why do you have to reset the password, instead of the site revealing the previous password to you? It's because they don't know the password. As part of the security process, they encrypt all passwords in their database, using a one-way algorithm. A one-way algorithm is a method of encryption where the encrypted string cannot be decrypted. There is no way to get the original data from the decrypted string. In ColdFusion you can set up this type of encryption using the hash function.

The hash function has three arguments:

  • String: The string argument specifies the data you want to encrypt.
  • Algorithm: The algorithm argument specifies the algorithm you want to use to generate your encrypted string. The algorithm selected will affect the length of the encrypted string. CFMX_COMPAT or MD5 will generate a 32-character string, compatible with previous version of CFMX. SHA will generate a 28-character string, SHA-256 a 44-character string, SHA-384 a 64-character string, and SHA-512 a 88 character string.
  • Encoding: Encoding is an option attribute that is used to specify the encoding to use when converting the string to byte data. If you leave out this attribute, the defaultCharset value, set in neo-runtime.xml, is used.
So, how can you apply this to your own development? Suppose you had a registration form on your Website. The users fill out a bunch of information, including username and password. The form probably looks something this:

<form action="save.cfm" method="post">
   username: <input type="text" name="username">
   password: <input type="password" name=" password">
   .. other user stuff here
</form>

The user steps through the registration process and at some point they submit the form. Your verification code decides that there is no problem with the user's submission, and you'll run an insert query like this:

<cfquery name="savestring" datasource="Mydb">
   insert into Users(username, password, otheruserstuff)
   values ('#form.username#', '#hash(form.password)#', 'otheruserstuff')
</cfquery>

Although you collected a plain text password, you don't actually store it in that format. The information is hashed when it goes into the database. How do you actually compare that information when the user tries to log back in? Easy, you hash the password they entered and compare the hashed results with the hashed value in the database.

Suppose this is your login form:

<form action="login.cfm" method="post">
   username: <input type="text" name="username">
   password: <input type="password" name=" password">
</form>

(Hey, that code snippet looks familiar.) The user clicks submit and, on the login page, you can verify the login like this:

<cfquery name="Login" datasource="Mydb">
   select * Users
   where username = '#form.username#' and password = '#hash(form.password)#'
</cfquery>

There you have it. More information about the hash function can be found in the livedocs http://livedocs.macromedia.com/coldfusion/7/htmldocs/00000503.htm#1105551.

Data Decryption
One drawback of the hash function is that you are never able to take the encrypted value and get the original string. Sometimes, you'll need to see the data behind your encrypted strings. ColdFusion has two functions to help us with this, aptly named encrypt and decrypt. Both functions have a similar set of arguments:

  • String: The string argument is required. It is either the string that you want to encrypt (for the encrypt function) or the encrypted string you want to decrypt (for the decrypt function)
  • Key: The key argument is used to specify the key for encryption and decryption. You use this value to go from the original value to an encrypted string, and to go from the encrypted string back to the original value. If you are using CFMX_COMPAT (which is included for backward compatibility), any string can be used in the encrypt function. Otherwise, you should use the GenerateSecretKey function to create a key for the particular algorithm. For decryption, you should use the same key value that you used to encrypt the value in the first place. GenerateSecretKey accepts one argument, which is the name of the algorithm.
  • Algorithm: The algorithm argument accepts the name of the encryption library that you want to use. CFMX_COMPAT is the default value, making this argument optional. Other values are AES, Blowfish, DES, or DESEDE.
  • Encoding: The encoding argument is used to specify the binary encoding that is used to represent the data as a string. UU is the default value, with the alternate's being Base64 or Hex.
  • IVorSalt: If you are using a block encryption algorithm, you need to specify the initialization vector (IV) for compatibility with other systems. You put that value here. For password-based encryption, specify the salt value here. A salt value is random data that is part of the session key and helps deter brute force decryption attempts.
  • Iterations: The iterations argument specifies the number of iterations that are taken to transform the password into a binary key. This argument is not used for block encryption algorithms.
For this example, I'll assume you need to integrate two systems and must send data from one to the other, via an HTTP post. (Believe it or not, my experience is that this method is still in wider use than SOAP Web services.) First, you need to create the page to send the data:

<cfset data = encrypt('Jeff','12345')>
<cfhttp url="http://localhost//recieve.cfm" method="post" result="MyResults" >
<cfhttpparam name="data" value="#data#" type="formfield">
</cfhttp>
<cfdump var="#variables#">

More Stories By Jeffry Houser

Jeffry is a technical entrepreneur with over 10 years of making the web work for you. Lately Jeffry has been cooped up in his cave building the first in a line of easy to use interface components for Flex Developers at www.flextras.com . He has a Computer Science degree from the days before business met the Internet and owns DotComIt, an Adobe Solutions Partner specializing in Rich Internet Applications. Jeffry is an Adobe Community Expert and produces The Flex Show, a podcast that includes expert interviews and screencast tutorials. Jeffry is also co-manager of the Hartford CT Adobe User Group, author of three ColdFusion books and over 30 articles, and has spoken at various events all over the US. In his spare time he is a musician, old school adventure game aficionado, and recording engineer. He also owns a Wii. You can read his blog at www.jeffryhouser.com, check out his podcast at www.theflexshow.com or check out his company at www.dot-com-it.com.

Comments (5) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Jeff Houser 11/08/07 06:18:11 PM EST

Joshua,

A lot of things have changed thanks to PCI Compliance. I am not up on them, but here is a place to start:

https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/

I strongly recommend anything you do comply with such guidelines.

Joshua Rountree 11/08/07 11:22:32 AM EST

Hey, if you had to store credit card data in a database would you also store the key that was generated in a separate field?
How would you handle this for decrption purposes?

Please advise, thanks!

Jeff Houser 02/13/06 12:44:21 PM EST

Based on recent tests, It appears that the latest version of PGP (9.05) will not break the CF WSConfig tool. When I wrote this article I was using 9.02, which caused a lot of problems.

Jeff Houser 02/13/06 12:42:32 PM EST

Hi queZZtion,

Who knows what the next version will contain. Yes, I hope that CF adds native support for public / private key encryption. I don't know if it is being considered (or not).

news desk 01/25/06 09:54:35 PM EST

It is likely that at some point in your development career you had to deal with sensitive data. It might have been credit card numbers in an e-commerce site, or an employee identification number on an intranet. Perhaps you were setting up a security scheme and wanted to protect the passwords of the user.

@ThingsExpo Stories
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
BnkToTheFuture.com is the largest online investment platform for investing in FinTech, Bitcoin and Blockchain companies. We believe the future of finance looks very different from the past and we aim to invest and provide trading opportunities for qualifying investors that want to build a portfolio in the sector in compliance with international financial regulations.
Imagine if you will, a retail floor so densely packed with sensors that they can pick up the movements of insects scurrying across a store aisle. Or a component of a piece of factory equipment so well-instrumented that its digital twin provides resolution down to the micrometer.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
We are given a desktop platform with Java 8 or Java 9 installed and seek to find a way to deploy high-performance Java applications that use Java 3D and/or Jogl without having to run an installer. We are subject to the constraint that the applications be signed and deployed so that they can be run in a trusted environment (i.e., outside of the sandbox). Further, we seek to do this in a way that does not depend on bundling a JRE with our applications, as this makes downloads and installations rat...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lead...
Digital Transformation (DX) is not a "one-size-fits all" strategy. Each organization needs to develop its own unique, long-term DX plan. It must do so by realizing that we now live in a data-driven age, and that technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, the IoT, Cognitive Computing, and Blockchain are only tools. In her general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Rebecca Wanta explained how the strategy must focus on DX and include a commitment from top management to create great IT jobs, monitor ...
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...