Encryption: A Secure Method for Data Protection
For the foreseeable future, cyber security will continue to be a focal point for businesses. and encryption will be a vital component of any organization’s comprehensive cyber security plan. It’s one of the most secure ways a company can keep sensitive data protected. Here’s a closer look at the important role of data encryption for cyber security.
Data Encryption Explained
Encryption is simply a method of converting plaintext data using specific code, making it unreadable by anyone without the means to decode it. The unreadable code is called “ciphertext,” which can be stored on computer networks or transferred back and forth across different networks.
How Does it Work?
Encryption uses algorithms. These are the rules or instructions that scramble or convert plaintext into ciphertext. If someone wants to access encrypted data, that person needs a key to unlock the data. In other words, for truly effective data security, decryption is critical. If someone tries to view encrypted data, the data will only be scrambled letters and numbers. Keys used for encryption and decryption are randomized strings of bits that differ in size, and private key lengths are usually 128 or 256 bits, while public keys are 2048 bits.
Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Encryption
Data encryption falls into one of two categories—symmetric or asymmetric. The determining factor for which category depends on how the data is accessed and by whom.
Symmetric encryption uses only one encryption key, and this encryption method is one of the oldest and most widely used techniques. With this approach, only one key is used to encrypt and decrypt data. When the sender transfers encrypted data to a receiver, the encryption key must be shared to decrypt the data.
This method is typically used for transferring data within a closed network and for critical data files that may just be stored on networks. There are two types of symmetric encryption algorithms:
- Block algorithms. A set number of bits is encrypted instead of each bit. As the encryption process runs, data is held in memory until enough information is stored. Once it’s collected the set number of bits, the system will encrypt the entire block of data.
- Stream algorithms. Data is not stored in memory. Instead, it is encrypted as it streams.
On the other hand, asymmetric encryption uses two separate keys—a public one and a private one. The public key is shared and used to encrypt data, but the private key is not shared and is known only by the receiver to decrypt data. For this reason, asymmetric encryption is often thought of as being more secure than symmetric encryption. Since the decryption key is a private key and is not shared with the exchange of data, the risk of unauthorized access is minimal. This method is preferred when there are multiple users or when files are transferred across open networks like the internet.
Types of Encryptions
As mentioned earlier, encryptions are done using algorithms, and there are several different types of algorithms designed to encrypt data. As algorithms become outdated because of security issues, new ones are created. A few of the best-known encryption algorithms include the following:
Data Encryption Standard (DES). This was a symmetric encryption algorithm and the standard established by the U.S. government in 1977. It is now basically obsolete because of new technology.
Triple Data Encryption Standard (3DES). This symmetric encryption method replaced DES, but still uses tenets of the DES algorithm. Data passes through the DES algorithm three times during this encryption process, making it more secure than DES. But even this algorithm is slowly being phased out.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES is used by many companies worldwide. It’s virtually impossible to break into and is used for all levels of security. This is the new U.S. government standard for symmetric encryption, and it uses block cipher methods. It’s available in 128-, 192-, and 256-bit size and uses an increasing number of rounds of encryption according to the size.
RSA. This asymmetric encryption algorithm was one of the first used for public keys. RSA‘s long key length allows for secure transmission over open networks.
Twofish. Twofish is an open-source and freely available symmetric encryption algorithm that uses 128-bit block size and variable-length encryption key. With a high block size, it’s one of the most secure encryption methods.
In our world today, data is everywhere. From our personal devices to the internet or a VPN, everything uses and stores data in some way. The amount of data created is mind-blowing. TechJury reports that by 2025, data creation will grow to more than 180 zettabytes—118.8 zettabytes more than in 2020. The state of this data falls into one of three categories: data at rest, data in motion, data in use. Data encryption is meant to protect data at rest or in transit.
Data in Transit
Data in motion or transit is data moving from one place to another. This can be through the internet, a private network, or a local device to the cloud. Information is considered most vulnerable when it is in transit. Therefore, it’s vital to encrypt the data before it’s transferred. Some companies take additional security measures using encrypted networks to fully protect sensitive information by hiding the path it travels through.
Examples of data in transit include data transferred over the Internet, VPN, local network, or anytime data moves from PC to server or another device – including printers.
Data at Rest
Data at rest is simply data that’s being stored on any storage device, such as a hard drive, a flash drive, or a PC, or it’s not actively being used. While static data is considered less vulnerable than data in transit, hackers realize that it usually contains more valuable information. So, data at rest is a target for hackers and appeals to cyber criminals.
Examples of data at rest include data stored on a laptop/PC hard drive, backup SANS and NAS’s, thumb drives, and cell phones.
While data encryption is necessary for all businesses today, it’s essential to note that not all companies have an encryption policy or plan in place. This may be from a lack of understanding or skill level within a small- or medium-size business. Managed service providers can help companies with setting up encryption.
Visual Edge specializes in managed IT services and security, cloud computing, and print/copy solutions for businesses across the US, including remote offices. The company has more than 20 years of technology service with a national network of expert engineers. Request your no-obligation assessment today and get a free dark web analysis.