• About Us

  • Blog
  • Contact
Blog Security What Is FIPS 140-2 Compliance and Why It’s Important?


May 3 2023


Table of Contents

What Is FIPS 140-2?

FIPS 140-2 is a US government standard that specifies the requirements for cryptographic modules used to protect sensitive information. It is widely recognized as a benchmark for security in industries such as healthcare, finance, and government. The standard outlines the design, implementation, and testing requirements for cryptographic modules to ensure their security and effectiveness in protecting sensitive data.

The Meaning of FIPS 140-2

FIPS 140-2 or Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 is a US government computer security standard used to approve cryptographic modules. Initial publication took place on May 25, 2001 and was updated on December 3, 2002.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology released the successor to FIPS 140-1 publication series to coordinate requirements and standards for cryptographic modules that include both hardware and software components. Protecting a cryptographic module in a security system is necessary to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the information protected by the module. This standard defines the security requirements to be met by a cryptographic module.

The standard provides for an increase in the quality level of security designed to cover a wide range of potential applications, operating systems and physical environments. The security requirements cover areas related to the secure design and implementation of a cryptographic module. These areas include the specification of the cryptographic module; ports and interfaces of the cryptographic module; end state model; physical security; operating environment; cryptographic key management; electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility, self-diagnosis; design; and mitigation of other attacks.

Federal agencies and departments may verify that the module being used is covered by an existing FIPS 140-2 certificate that specifies the exact module name, hardware, software, firmware, and/or applet version numbers. Cryptographic modules are produced by the private sector or opensource communities for use by the US government and other regulated industries (such as financial and healthcare institutions) that collect, store, transmit, share, and distribute sensitive but unclassified information. A commercial cryptographic module is also commonly referred to as a HSM.

What Does It Mean to Be Compliant With FIPS 140-2?

An overall rating is issued for the cryptographic module, which indicates:

  • minimum independent ratings obtained in areas with levels
  • fulfillment of all requirements in other areas


The vendor verification certificate lists the individual grades as well as the overall grade. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology maintains test lists for all of its cryptographic standards testing programs (past and present). Items in the FIPS 140-2 validation list refer to verified algorithmic implementations that appear in algorithm validation lists.

Lab testing is based on a document related to FIPS called a derived test requirements document. The document outlines the responsibilities of the testing laboratory and the analysis and testing that is performed. It also describes the information and materials that the vendor must provide to the lab to evaluate the module’s compliance with FIPS 140-2 requirements.

The level of FIPS compliance is determined by the following properties:

  1. Cryptographic module specification. Verification of the implementation of approved cryptographic algorithms and security functions.

  2. Ports and interfaces of the cryptographic module. The FIPS 140-2 standard allows physical separation of plaintext input or output ports and logical separation within existing physical ports via a trusted path.

  3. Physical security. FIPS 140-2 defines physical security mechanisms for modules. These include tamper sensors, automatic deletion of sensitive data when a tamper is attempted, physical locks, and other devices. In addition to these elements, new requirements for single-chip and multi-chip embedded modules have been added to allow the use of physical cabinets to protect the module.

  4. Electromagnetic Interference and Electromagnetic Compatibility. This section defines the FCC requirements that apply to cryptographic modules. These requirements are specific to the module’s ability to operate in such a way that it does not interfere with the electromagnetic activities of other devices.

How Do FIPS 140-2 Levels Work?

Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 defines four levels of security. It does not specify in detail what level of security is required for any particular application.

FIPS 140-2

FIPS 140-2 Security Level 1

Security level 1 provides the lowest level of security. For the cryptographic module, the basic security requirements are defined. For example, at least one approved algorithm or approved security function must be used. A security level 1 cryptographic module does not require special physical protection mechanisms beyond the basic requirements for production level components. An example of a cryptographic module of the first level of security is the encryption board of a personal computer.

FIPS 140-2 Security Level 2

Security Level 2 enhances the physical security mechanisms of a Security Level 1 cryptographic module by requiring features that show evidence of tampering, including protections that must be breached to gain physical access to the cryptographic private keys and critical security parameters CSPs in the module, or to be resistant to picking locks on lids or doors to protect against unauthorized physical access.

FIPS 140-2 Security Level 3

In addition to the physical security mechanisms required by security level 2, security level 3 attempts to prevent an attacker from gaining access to the plaintext CSPs stored in the cryptographic module. The physical tamper protection mechanisms required at security level 3 are designed to have a high probability of detecting and responding to attempts to physically access, use, or modify a cryptographic module. Physical security mechanisms may include the use of secure enclosures and tamper detection/response circuitry that resets all text CSPs when removable covers of the cryptographic module are opened.

FIPS 140-2 Security Level 4

Security Level 4 is the highest level of security. At this level of security, cases of complete protection against cryptographic impact on all pathological manifestations of physical impact have been identified. Penetration into the body of a cryptographic module from any direction has a very high probability of detection, which leads to the immediate removal of all text CSPs.

Security level 4 cryptographic modules are useful for working in physically insecure environments. Security level 4 also protects the cryptographic module against security compromise by ensuring proper voltage and temperature response to environmental conditions or fluctuations outside of the module’s operating ranges.

An attacker can use intentional deviations outside of normal operating ranges to interfere with the protection of a cryptographic module. The cryptographic module must either include special environmental protection features designed to detect fluctuations and remove CSPs, or undergo rigorous environmental failure testing to provide reasonable assurance that the module will not be affected by fluctuations outside of its normal operating range in a manner that that it could compromise the security of the module.

FIPS 140-2 Security Levels

How Do You Become Compliant with FIPS 140-2?

To become compliant with FIPS pub 140-2, organizations must use cryptographic modules that have been validated by an accredited third-party laboratory. The cryptographic module validation program involves testing against the security requirements set out in the FIPS 140-2 standard.

To begin the process, organizations should first identify the cryptographic module that they wish to use and ensure that it is on the list of validated cryptographic modules published by NIST. Next, they should contact an accredited third-party laboratory to request a validation test.

The laboratory will provide guidance on the validation process and the requirements for submitting the cryptographic module for testing. The supplier of the cryptographic module will need to provide detailed documentation about the design and implementation of the module, as well as access to the module itself for testing.

The validation process itself can take several months to complete, depending on the complexity of the cryptographic module and the number of tests required. The tests cover 11 areas related to the design and implementation of the cryptographic module, including key management, authentication, and environmental controls.

Once the validation process is complete, the laboratory will issue a certificate of validation that confirms that the cryptographic module meets the requirements of the FIPS 140-2 standard. The organization can then use the validated cryptographic module in its applications with confidence that it meets the highest standards of security.

What Algorithms Are Compliant with FIPS 140-2?

Here is a list of the approved security functions applicable to FIPS 140-2. The categories include transitions, symmetric key encryption and decryption, digital signatures, message authentication and hashing.




Symmetric Key Encryption and Decryption

  1. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
  2. Triple-DES Encryption Algorithm (TDEA)


Digital Signatures

  1. Digital Signature Standard (DSS)


Secure Hash Standard (SHS)

  1. Secure Hash Standard (SHS) (SHA-1, SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512, SHA-512/224

and SHA-512/256)


SHA-3 Standard

  1. SHA-3 Hash Algorithms (SHA3-224, SHA3-256, SHA3-384, SHA3-512)
  2. SHA-3 Extendable-Output Functions (XOF) (SHAKE128, SHAKE256)
  3. SHA-3 Derived Functions: cSHAKE, KMAC, TupleHash, and ParallelHash


Message Authentication

  1. Triple-DES
  2. AES
  3. HMAC

What's the Difference Between FIPS 140-2 and FIPS 197?

FIPS 140-2 and FIPS 197 are important security standards, but they differ in their scope and application. FIPS 197 is an encryption algorithm specification, while FIPS 140-2 is a standard for cryptographic modules.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), specified in FIPS 197, is a widely used encryption algorithm that provides strong data protection in transit or at rest. The specification defines the encryption and decryption processes using a specific set of keys and mathematical functions.

In contrast, FIPS 140-2 contains a set of requirements for cryptographic modules, which are hardware or software products that provide security services such as encryption, decryption, and key management. The standard specifies requirements for the development, implementation, and testing of cryptographic modules to ensure that they comply with certain security standards.

The two standards complement each other because FIPS 197 provides a recommended encryption algorithm that can be used in FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic modules. This means that a cryptographic module that uses the AES encryption algorithm specified in FIPS 197 can be validated against the requirements of FIPS 140-2.

While FIPS 197 defines the encryption algorithm, FIPS 140-2 provides a set of requirements for cryptographic modules. Both standards are important for securing sensitive data, and they work together to provide a comprehensive framework for data protection.

Is FIPS 140-2 NSA-Approved?

The NSA (National Security Agency) uses its own methods for classifying cryptographic modules. The NSA has categorized encryption items into four product types, and algorithms into two suites. Depending on the stored information, the product can be assigned to one type or another. For example, if the device contains unclassified but confidential information, the product can be classified as type 3. In accordance with the type, one or another encryption standard, also approved by the NSA, such as AES, will be approved.

The NSA also defines Type 1 and Type 2 products that are used to protect classified and unclassified government information, respectively.

FIPS NIST publications are approved by the US Department of Commerce. Therefore, NSA approval for FIPS 140-2 is irrelevant as it is not mandated by law. However, the NSA uses FIPS-approved algorithms and FIPS-140-2 validated cryptographic modules in its operations.

Why Is FIPS 140-2 Important?

The FIPS certification standard is important because it contains a set of requirements that ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of sensitive information that is transmitted or stored electronically.

One of the main reasons why FIPS 140-2 is important is that it is required by law in many countries for government agencies and other organizations that handle sensitive information. This includes organizations that deal with financial data, medical information, and other types of sensitive information.

FIPS 140-2 also helps ensure that cryptographic modules meet certain security requirements of complete envelope of protection, which can help prevent data leakage and cyberattacks. With FIPS 140-2 certified products, organizations can be confident that their sensitive information is secure.

In addition, FIPS 140-2 is important because it provides a standardized set of security requirements that can be used across industries and applications. This helps ensure that there is a common baseline of security for all types of data encryption systems.

Overall, FIPS 140-2 is important because it provides a standardized set of requirements that ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of sensitive information that is transmitted or stored electronically. With FIPS 140-2 certified products, organizations can be sure that their confidential information is secure, which is essential in today’s world where cyber threats are becoming more common.

What Does Validation Involve?

FIPS_140-2 Validation

FIPS 140-2 validation includes a rigorous testing process to ensure that cryptographic modules meet certain security requirements. The process is carried out by independent third-party test labs accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The verification process includes four levels of testing, each of which includes a series of tests designed to evaluate the security and functionality of the cryptographic module. The tests cover a number of areas, including key management, encryption algorithms, random number generation, and communications security establishment.

During testing, the cryptographic module is subjected to various types of attacks, such as side-channel attacks and brute-force attacks, to determine its resistance to these types of attacks. The module must also meet certain physical security requirements, such as tamper-resistant seals and environmental protection.

Once a cryptographic module has successfully passed all required tests, it is assigned FIPS 140-2 validation status, which means it meets the highest security standards and can be used in applications where security is critical.

Security Requirements in FIPS 140-2

According to the standard, the following high-level security functional objectives are set for the cryptographic module:

  • applying and securely implementing approved security features to protect sensitive information
  • ensuring the protection of the module from unauthorized use and abnormal operation methods
  • prevention of unauthorized disclosure of module content: cryptographic keys and other security-critical data can only be passed outside the module in encrypted form
  • prevention of unauthorized and undetectable modification of the module and cryptographic algorithms, including unauthorized modification, substitution, insertion and deletion of cryptographic keys and other security-critical data
  • providing display (indication) of the operating mode (state) of the module
  • providing assurance that the module functions properly when operating in the approved mode
  • detection of errors in the functioning of the module and prevention of compromise of restricted access information and module data critical for security due to such errors


FIPS 140-2 is an important security standard that provides a set of requirements for cryptographic modules to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of sensitive information that is transmitted or stored electronically. Helenix has been providing HSMs and other certified cryptographic equipment for business security and regulatory compliance for over 10 years. You can learn more about our competencies in the Custom Development section.


Yes, FIPS 140-2 is still a valid and widely used standard for cryptographic and hardware security modules HSMs in the United States and many other countries.

FIPS 140-2 is not mandatory for all organizations, but it is often required by government agencies, financial institutions, and other organizations that handle sensitive data.

Any organization that uses cryptographic modules to protect sensitive data may need to be FIPS 140-2 compliant, including government agencies, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and businesses that handle confidential information.

To obtain FIPS 140-2 certification, you need to have your cryptographic module tested by an accredited third-party testing laboratory. The testing process involves a rigorous evaluation of the module’s design, implementation, and security features, and the module must meet specific requirements in order to be certified.