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Data encryption: A step-by-step guide

Today’s small businesses have to be more mindful than ever of cybersecurity risks. As of 2018, 43 percent of all cyber attacks were directed at small businesses, many of which aren’t fully protected. If you want to improve your SMB’s cybersecurity, it’s essential to develop a data encryption strategy that will keep customer information and other confidential data safe. Here are the steps you will need to take to craft and implement your company’s encryption strategy.

Define your security needs

Before jumping into the process of data encryption, it’s useful to have some idea of what your security needs are. Carrying out a threat assessment is a good starting point, as it will allow you to decide what data needs to be encrypted. From there, it’s also important to consider how secure your system needs to be, as the strength and processing requirements of different encryption schemes can vary.

Choose the right encryption tools

Once you know what your security needs are, you can begin selecting the solutions that will best meet them. Keep in mind that this will likely entail implementing multiple data encryption schemes in order to fully secure your network. For example, you may choose to use a secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol to encrypt data passed to and from your website in conjunction with the advanced encryption standard (AES) for protecting data at rest and data backups. Selecting the right encryption tools for every stage of data storage and transfer will help to ensure that your company’s data remains as secure as possible. Specific encrypted applications, such as encrypted email services, may also be useful in ensuring overall security.

Prepare to implement your encryption strategy smoothly

Like any major change in your business, it’s important to carefully plan the implementation of your encryption strategy. If you have customer-facing applications, you may need to integrate your new encryption into the application’s back end. Likewise, special steps may be needed to incorporate your new encryption strategy into legacy systems. By making solid plans ahead of time, you can execute these changes without too much disruption. Working with a third-party IT service provider may also help smooth out the change. You won’t overburden your own IT staff with too many tasks associated with putting your encryption strategy into practice.

Maintain a culture of security after implementation

As useful as it is, data encryption isn’t a cure-all for your security concerns. To achieve good results, you’ll need to make sure your team is trained to implement good encryption and key management practices. If employees store their encryption keys on vulnerable servers, it’s entirely possible that malicious attackers could access your company’s encrypted data. This kind of human error is indirectly responsible for an estimated 84 percent of cybersecurity breaches. Encryption should also be implemented alongside other security strategies in order to optimize security. By using secure hardware and a robust firewall in conjunction with data encryption, your business can keep its data safe with multiple layers of protection.

Data encryption is a key element in maintaining overall security within your business. By adequately defining your security needs, choosing the best encryption tools to meet those needs, planning a proper implementation of your strategy and maintaining a security-minded company culture, you can greatly enhance your SMB’s defenses against cyber threats.