What is FIPS 140-2 and How to be FIPS Compliant?

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What is FIPS and How to Become FIPS Compliant

Every organization is responsible for securing highly sensitive information under all circumstances. Developers created standards, regulations, and best practices to enhance data security and expedite this process. One of these standards is the Federal Information Protection Standard or FIPS. The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) developed these standards to secure and protect government information and ensure that for all the organizations who are working for the government agencies (such as defense contractors or healthcare providers), FIPS is essential. Before accessing data, these organizations must comply with specific security standards.

Although FIPS has produced several kinds of standards, this article addresses FIPS 140-2 and its importance.

What is FIPS 140-2?

FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) 140-2 is the verification standard for determining the efficiency of cryptographic hardware. If a product possesses a FIPS 140-2 certificate, you can be confident that the United States and Canadian governments have thoroughly examined and officially approved it. While FIPS 140-2 originates from the U.S./Canadian Federal standard, it serves as a widely adopted and respected security benchmark and best practice in both government and private sectors across the globe.

Organizations use the FIPS 140-2 standard to ensure that the hardware they choose complies with particular security standards. It handles the cryptographic modules companies employ to encrypt data at rest and data in motion.  

The four advanced security levels are defined by the FIPS certification standard as follows:

FIPS 140-2 Level 1

Level-1 contains basic requirements and calls for a minimum of one tested encryption technique and production-grade equipment. Ensure that the encryption algorithm used is functional and permitted for use rather than using unauthorized algorithms.

FIPS 140-2 Level 2

It hikes the bar just a little high by requiring all of Level 1’s criteria, role-based authentication, and the deployment of tamper-evident physical devices. Furthermore, it must run on an EAL2-certified operating system per Common Criteria.

FIPS 140-2 Level 3

It is the level that most organizations adhere to since it is secure with no difficulty in usage. This level adds all previous level requirements (level-2), and further, it incorporates identity-based authenticity and tamper-resistant devices, as well as a discrimination of the logical and physical interfaces which permit “critical security parameters” to enter or exit the system. Encrypt private keys before transferring them into or out of the system.

FIPS 140-2 Level 4

The highest level of FIPS 140-2 uses the same criteria as level 3 and stipulates the compliance device to be tamper-active and for the contents to be erasable in the case of environmental attacks. The Operating Systems that the cryptographic module uses must be more secure than those used at previous levels, which is a further objective of FIPS 140-2 level 4. If many users share the system, then the operating system gets elevated to an even higher level.

Why is it important to comply with FIPS 140-2?

The government’s mandate that any organization collaborating with them be FIPS 140-2 compliant is one of the many causes of becoming FIPS compliant. This standard guarantees that third parties securely maintain, encrypt, and authenticate government data to the required level. If they want a significant number of organizations, notably the government, to utilize their device, companies who would like to develop cryptography modules, like nCipher or Thales, must become FIPS compliant. Being FIPS 140-2 complaint is a policy that several companies are implementing since it gives their organization and services a more trustworthy and secure.

The extensive testing that has been performed to confirm the validity of FIPS 140-2’s standards is an additional reason for being FIPS compliant. After several tests for integrity, secrecy, authenticity, and confidentiality, the standards for each FIPS 140-2 level were determined. The devices, products and services, and other items used by government agencies must always be at the highest possible level of security since they handle some of the most confidential data in the country. Using services or software without these established and tested processes in place could end up resulting in a significant security breach, which would be problematic for the entire country.

Who needs FIPS?

Entities handling sensitive and confidential data, including government organizations, educational institutions receiving government funding, and businesses subject to regulations like HIPAA, typically adopt FIPS. FIPS compliance can offer benefits to a broader range of organizations, including those managing personal data, financial information, banks, healthcare institutions, and financial services companies.

Federal agencies and their vendors engaged in procuring goods and services primarily adhere to FIPS regulations. Systems deployed within federal environments must comply with FIPS 140-2. This encompasses software, hardware, and associated components that Cloud Service Providers and encryption systems utilize. The significance of achieving FIPS 140-2 compliance for technology companies stems from the fact that only products, tools, devices, and services meeting FIPS standards are eligible for evaluation and potential adoption by the federal government.

FIPS compliance positions any organization as a trusted supplier of services, goods, and software, given the widespread recognition and acceptance of FIPS standards.


In conclusion, FIPS is essential to cybersecurity and data protection for private organizations or government institutions that handle sensitive information. A thorough understanding of NIST recommendations, installing and testing security measures, and external audits are necessary for achieving and maintaining FIPS compliance. Organizations participating in FIPS compliance strengthen their security posture and show dedication to protecting sensitive and confidential data.


What is FIPS hardware?

FIPS Publication 140-2, a federal standard from the US, describes the standards for cryptographic security for cryptographic modules, including hardware, software, and firmware components. It ensures that the greatest level of security is employed in designing and testing systems and gadgets dealing with sensitive information, such as financial data, medical records, and confidential government data.

What are FIPS 140-2 levels?

A US government standard, named FIPS 140-2, outlines the security criteria for cryptographic modules. It establishes four different levels of security, with each level needing more demanding cryptographic methods and physical security measures. The encoding methods used by hardware and software are rated according to their strength. They are as follows:

  • Level 1: The cryptography module must comply with minimum physical security standards.
  • Level 2: Requires the module to include tamper-evident coatings or seals that make attempts to access the module visible or traceable.
  • Level 3: Necessitates a tamper-resistant enclosure that can recognize physical tampering and responds accordingly.

What does FIPS mean in Code Signing security?

In the context of code signing security, FIPS refers to the working of cryptographic approaches and algorithms that follow FIPS standards. FIPS-compliant code signing certificates have been considered more secure and trustworthy since they use National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)-approved techniques. Code signing methods must comply with particular security and cryptography requirements to be FIPS compliant, which increases protection against unauthorized access and modification. Many organizations have recently issued new code signing certificates using Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2.

Which Code Signing is FIPS 140-2 compliance?

A few examples of CAs that provide Code Signing Certificates that are FIPS 140-2 compliant include:

How to use YubiKey FIPS 140-2 for Code Signing Certificate?

To use YubiKey FIPS versions for Code Signing Certificate, you need to follow these steps:

  1. You should obtain a YubiKey FIPS version and ensure that you properly initialize it.
  2. Generate a certificate signing request (CSR) using a tool such as OpenSSL.
  3. Submit the CSR to a certificate authority (CA) to obtain a Code Signing Certificate.
  4. Install the Code Signing Certificate on the YubiKey FIPS using a tool such as the YubiKey Manager.
  5. Use the YubiKey FIPS to sign the code by connecting it to your computer and selecting it as the signing device in your code signing tool.
  6. Enter the PIN for the YubiKey FIPS to complete the code-signing process.

By using YubiKey FIPS for code signing, you can ensure the security and integrity of your code by requiring physical access to the YubiKey and a valid PIN to sign the code.

Code Signing Resources to Understand

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a passionate Cyber-Security Enthusiast who keenly monitors the latest developments in the Web/Cyber Security industry. She puts her knowledge into practice and helps web users by arming them with the necessary security measures to stay safe in the digital world.