Being told of the importance of encrypting data is something we hear all the time. However, few people know what that means. It is good to be informed about best practices and what data security services are best.

What is data encryption?

Data encryption is scrambling data from its original format into a new design that appears illegible to anyone accessing it. To translate information back to be read, an encryption key or code will restore it to a readable version.

A simple way to explain data encryption would be like this: Take every letter in a word and then change that letter to the following letter in the alphabet. For example, the term "cat" becomes "dbu." In this manner, if we were to decrypt this message, the key would instruct us to take every letter and change it to the letter previous in the alphabet, changing it back to "cat." However, this would not be a very effective encryption device. It would be effortless to crack by reverse engineering your key.

However, in most cases, data encryption is far more complicated than this example given. In an actual data encryption code, a complex set of rules inserts random other data, scrambles letters, and even converts sections to different sections and even more complex methods. You wind up with a much more difficult encryption level without access to the encryption key to reverse the encryption process.

Often encrypted data is referred to as cybertext. Meanwhile, unencrypted information is referred to as plaintext. The ultimate goal of encrypted data is to ensure that your digital data is secure and private. In today's world, protecting data has become one of the top concerns for businesses. With the massive amounts of data and employees regularly accessing this data on their equipment, data security services are more critical than ever before.

In the past few years since cloud computing has become commonplace, and especially since COVID-19 forced many employees to begin working remotely more often, data is processed outside of company property. The amount of data needed to move from one location to another securely has helped businesses meet their various needs. However, this data mobility has created many new challenges for IT departments seeking to prevent thieves from accessing information while being transferred.

What is an encryption key?

An encryption key is a device used to translate data from a scrambled and unreadable form to its original, readable format.

There are several different types of encryption keys and different ways of using them. An asymmetric key uses a different key for encryption and decryption processes. Meanwhile, asymmetric keys use the same key for encrypting and decrypting the data.

What kinds of data can be encrypted?

While there are many different forms of data, you can encrypt all data. When you store data on a fixed location such as a USB, this is called "at rest." However, when you transfer data over a network, this is called "in motion." All operating systems can encrypt data. You can store data through a virtual desktop or on a solid server. Also, you can store data in blocks or file systems.

While all data can be encrypted, data stored in/proc on a Linux server, for example, should not be encrypted. However, there are other ways to secure these forms of data, such as file-level access control.

Popular data encryption algorithms

An algorithm is a specific process you use to encrypt and decrypt data. Countless different encryption algorithms have been used over the past couple of decades. The leading algorithms used today are AES, RSA, Triple DES, and Twofish.

While all of the powerful encryption algorithms can encrypt data in a manner that meets today's standards, some are better than others. In addition, modern encryption algorithms operate differently on different infrastructures. Specific algorithms perform better when you have plenty of memory but lack CPU power. In contrast, others perform better in a more robust CPU environment. Therefore, it is best to experiment with several different algorithms to meet your data security services needs.

Data encryption tools

Encryption algorithms can be implemented with different tools. You can choose from several implementations depending on the operating system you choose to use. Some encryption tools are faster than others, to contrast, others excel only at small amounts of data, while still others are only effective with large amounts of data.

Best practices for data encryption

Keep encryption keys secure: It can be easy to make mistakes with your data key. Be sure to never leave your encryption key in an unencrypted file on your PC. Other solutions include:

  • Separating keys from data
  • Rotating keys on a schedule
  • Splitting duties and limiting user access
Types of data to secure
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII): PII is any data that can identify you. Examples include social security numbers and birth dates. Data thieves can use your personal information to steal your identity for obtaining credit in your name.

    Recently, an attack on HBO managed to obtain and release shows early, such as Game of Thrones. What was less reported is that these hackers also stole actors' personal information. Similarly, in 2014, Sony had a data breach revealing many actors' salaries.

    Fighting these attacks is not easy. PII resides everywhere on your devices and the Internet. Utility and credit companies store this data as well. Hackers often run into encryption barriers when using backdoors, so they prefer to obtain employee credentials and passwords.

  • Confidential Business & Intellectual Property: Every day, employees access customer data. As part of a new product and marketing campaign, there is a possibility that a disgruntled employee or another party would have an opportunity to expose the upcoming client list to a competitor. Criminals are attracted to company data because there can be much value in this data.
What data is a priority for encryption?

Customer information: The healthcare and banking industries are subject to regulations to protect consumer information. To companies in these industries, these rules apply to you. Even those companies not in banking and healthcare, there is still a need to protect customer data. Companies like Target and Sony have learned the hard way that not keeping customer data protected can be devastating.

Product release documents: Many employees have copies of sensitive product information or other company secrets on their laptops. Data thieves often target business travelers and their laptops to obtain the information stored on their devices.

Research and development data: Companies often distribute this sort of data relatively freely throughout the company. While not all companies invest heavily in R and D, those that do should take precautions to keep it encrypted.

Financial reports: Company financial data is often a best-kept secret. You should store financial data in a secure location, encrypted, and employees should have limited access.

While data breaches are becoming more common as society increasingly relies on data to manage companies, cybercriminals are aware that your data can be sold on the dark web or other unfavorable purposes.

On the other hand, data security services offer encryption technology that is easy to obtain. Here are three more reasons to depend on encryption technology:

Encryption can be accessed across several devices: A primary advantage of modern encryption technology is that most services can be applied across many modern devices. Both Android and iPhones have simple processes to encrypt data on your device.

Additionally, there are several free and paid options for encryption on a computer as well. There are data security services that offer either file-specific encryption or whole device encryption. Further, there are several choices available for encrypting the content on a USB or SD card as well. With the variety of options available for encryption, it is worthwhile to research several options before deciding. Several VPN services offer 256-bit encryption as well. However, the best type of encryption is a robust solution that does not affect connection speeds, transparency, or access.

Another type of encryption that is quickly becoming more popular is multi-device encryption with the rise of SMS marketing.

Avoiding regulatory fines and pressure: Governments explicitly regulate many industries. In addition, company policies support these regulations. With these thoughts in mind, encryption is no longer an optional service to consider. There can be significant punishments for not correctly managing data.

Protecting remote workers: Now that COVID has changed the nature of the workplace, many companies and employees are choosing to work remotely. A lot of these jobs plan to continue to be remote in the future. With the use of remote workers, encrypted devices are necessary to protect employees working at home from cyber threats. Encryption makes it easier for employees to be productive from anywhere in the world.

The majority of business leaders believe data breach potential is much higher with remote work staff, according to a 2018 report by Shred-it. Further, the report stated that 86% of C-Suite executives and 60% of small-business owners share this belief. Whether staff is entirely remote or only occasionally, encryption protects your data.

What's next?

If you have been considering encrypting your company’s data or do not encrypt but have become convinced it is to your benefit, you may want to act now before it is too late. SSI is here to help.