We’ve been writing a lot on tokenization as we build the content for our next white paper, and in Adrian’s response to the PCI Council’s guidance on tokenization. I want to address something that’s really been ticking me off…

In our latest post in the series we described the details of token generation. One of the options, which we had to include since it’s built into many of the products, is encryption of the original value – then using the encrypted value as the token.

Here’s the thing: If you encrypt the value, it’s encryption, not tokenization! Encryption obfuscates, but a token removes, the original data.

Conceptually the major advantages of tokenization are:

  1. The token cannot be reversed back to the original value.
  2. The token maintains the same structure and data type as the original value.

While format preserving encryption can retain the structure and data type, it’s still reversible back to the original if you have the key and algorithm. Yes, you can add per-organization salt, but this is still encryption. I can see some cases where using a hash might make sense, but only if it’s a format preserving hash.

I worry that marketing is deliberately muddling the terms.

Opinions? Otherwise, I declare here and now that if you are using an encrypted value and calling it a ‘token’, that is not tokenization.