In May of 2018, there were 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day around the world. Mentioning the time in which this measurement was taken is significant because the amount of data we produce is expanding month by month, day by day. It’s safe to assume that this number will only continue to grow as more people get access to smartphones and high-speed internet.
Most of this data is innocuous and unprotected by any encryption program. Not all data is sensitive, so it may not need to be. A single pixel in a digital image contains 4 bytes of information, and we upload an average of 1.8 billion digital images to the internet every day.
But much of this data needs to be protected. Businesses that accept, transmit, and store sensitive customer information, such as payment card data, addresses, phone numbers, and passwords, must go to great lengths to prevent that data from being exposed.
A single data breach can be catastrophic, and not just in terms of public relations. The global average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million.
Most companies recognize the importance of cybersecurity, but a surprising number of them don’t have the resources in place to put forth a comprehensive strategy. According to one study, 76% of organizations said they would likely increase the resources available for cybersecurity, but only after experiencing a security breach that causes significant damage.
Encryption is only a portion of a robust cybersecurity strategy, which should also include systems for anti-virus protection, firewall protection, analytics, and others. If you don’t have the in-house resources to encrypt your data, you should consider obtaining encryption from a third-party provider.
Why is Encryption Important?
At the most basic level, encryption is a process that involves changing information in such a way as to make it unreadable except by those who possess special knowledge or a “key.” The key allows them to change the encrypted information back to its original form, thereby making it readable.
Encryption has a long history. It has been an essential tool for espionage, warfare, and security for centuries. Both the American and German forces used encryption (in the form of cryptography) to deliver intelligence during World War II. The Ancient Greeks even used a decryption tool, known as a scytale, to deliver and receive secret messages.
Today, encryption is mostly applied to the storage, transmission, and dissemination of data. Before data is transmitted from one place to another, whether it’s across a network, via an email, or through a website, it is scrambled using a secret code so that it cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key to that code.
Stored data can also be encrypted. This ensures only legitimate users can access and read the data.
The Inherence of Data Encryption
Encryption is inherent in many of the different digital tools we already use. For example, if you have a Gmail account, every email you send is automatically encrypted when you send it, then decrypted when it reaches its recipient. Encryption is also built into modern operating systems, like Windows and macOS.
One of the most recognizable forms of encryption exists in your internet browser. Legitimate websites that begin with the prefix “https://” use what’s called “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL). This means any data that is sent to and from the website will be encrypted—an essential layer of security when conducting transactions online.
But businesses must also encrypt any personally identifiable information (PII) like names, social security numbers, birthdates, and passwords stored on their computers or network storage systems.
If such information leaks or is stolen, this opens the business up to lawsuits, financial fallout, a loss in customer confidence, PR issues, and potential fines.
It’s nearly impossible to do business today without storing or transmitting sensitive data online. Encryption is essential for protecting that data and keeping it private. In many industries, a robust data encryption protocol is also necessary to meet regulatory compliance.
There are three types of encryption which may be pertinent to your business:
- Individual file encryption
- Volume encryption
- Full-disk encryption
Individual file encryption encrypts a single file or folder. Volume encryption creates an encrypted container which encrypts all files and folders saved or created within. Meanwhile, full-disk encryption ensures anything created by a user on your system is encrypted.
Some companies opt for open-source encryption programs, many of which are free. While these tools can be useful, some aren’t updated regularly. In using a open-source system, you also sacrifice the opportunity to access cybersecurity expertise and scale easily.
Combining Encryption with User-Authentication
While encryption transforms your meaningful data into something unreadable and can only be undone using a decryption key, authentication adds another layer of security to your encrypted data by verifying the legitimacy of users.
User-authentication should be a standard protocol any time one of your users accesses your network. It is especially important when your employees work offsite or when they bring devices out of the office.
Authentication is a process of proving who you say you are to a digital gatekeeper. This is usually done by providing a secret or providing the gatekeeper with information that can only come from you. The most recognized form of authentication is password authentication, but the discipline has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
There are three factors you can use to authenticate a user:
- Knowledge factors: things the user must know (like a password).
- Possession factors: things the user must possess (like a physical token).
- Inherence factors: things that are inherent to the user (like their fingerprint).
It is important to note that authentication alone represents a weak data security strategy.
The gatekeeper has the ultimate power to grant access to the resource it protects. It may not always grant access under the proper circumstances. Furthermore, hackers can sometimes access resources by going around the gatekeeper. If the resources aren’t encrypted, they can then steal it.
A gatekeeper may have multiple gates, each with their own security properties. Most services provide a method of changing a password if your password is lost or forgotten, and this tool can be abused by bad actors. You also need to consider the fact that a user’s secret, like a password, can be vulnerable while in-transit, if the user’s password is weak, or if the user uses the same password for all their accounts.
But combining user-authentication with encryption can still yield benefits, such as:
- Remote team access to data
- Easy access management and control
- An extra layer of security
- It’s intuitive and easy to use
User-authentication may not be relevant to your cybersecurity needs, but if your employees work offsite or access encrypted data using personal devices, it is an important step to take in conjunction with encryption..
Protect Your Data and Meet Compliance Requirements
Don’t wait to protect your data. The threat of a breach is constant and bad actors have more tools than ever at this disposal to break into your systems. Damages from cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021.
Seek help from an experienced encryption provider to ensure all your information is protected.