What Is Data Encryption? Your Comprehensive Guide

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Modern businesses generate, exchange, and store massive amounts of sensitive data managed in the cloud or on connected servers, most of which they want to keep confidential and secure. Data encryption is a widely used and highly effective security method to keep all data safe.

What is Data Encryption?

Data encryption is the basic building . It involves scrambling text or data into an uninterpretable, unreadable, encoded format called ciphertext. Basically, this means taking readable information and transforming it so that it appears totally random. Users can only read or process encrypted data after it has been decrypted using a secret key. The more complex the cryptographic key, the more secure the encryption (more on this later).

How Data Encryption is Used

Businesses typically rely on enterprise-grade data encryption solutions to encrypt their data. Off-the-shelf software allows you to start securing your business data right away without worrying about the implementation details.

Data encryption solutions can be used to protect various types of data, including but not limited to:

  • Data at rest and in transit
  • Data stored on in-office systems or employee work devices
  • Data stored on on-premises data centers or third-party cloud environments
  • Data that relates to business assets, research, intellectual property, and customers

How Does Data Encryption Work?

As mentioned above, encryption algorithms use cryptographic keys to modify data and make it uninterpretable to others. Cryptographic keys dictate the logic of how the original data is encrypted and decrypted.

To help you better understand how data encryption works, let’s consider the Caesar cipher – one of the simplest encryption algorithms out there. Its most known use case is text encryption.

The Caesar cipher works by taking each letter in the original message (the plaintext) and replacing it with a letter that’s a certain distance away from it in the alphabet. That distance can be arbitrary; for example, if you chose to shift the letters by 2 positions to the right, the letter A would become the letter C, B would become D, and so on. In the Caesar cipher, the distance of the shift (e.g. 2) is the cryptographic key.

Here’s a really simple example of a Caesar shift by 2 to the right.

Plaintext: The message has been delivered.

Ciphertext: Vjg oguucig jcu dggp fgnkxgtgf.

To decrypt the message, you would need to shift the ciphertext by 2 positions to the left.

Mathematically, the Caesar cipher encrypts English plaintext using the following function:

While decryption is done like this:

The Caesar cipher isn’t even remotely secure by today’s standards, but it’s great for demonstrating how encryption works.

Business-grade encryption algorithms work similarly – they use mathematical functions to encrypt and decrypt data. But these functions are much more complex and use much longer encryption keys (that can be very difficult to guess), leverage pseudo-random numbers, and can rearrange different portions of data.

Benefits of Data Encryption

Security Across Devices

Businesses can apply data encryption across their entire infrastructure, starting from on-premises hardware – like servers – and ending with employees’ personal devices. This ensures total protection of corporate data while at rest,  no matter where it’s located.

Secure Data Transfer and Communications

Encryption can protect your data at rest and while in transit. So even if hackers do manage to intercept confidential data while it’s being sent from one device to another, encryption can make that data uninterpretable to them.

Protection of Lost or Stolen Devices

Employees can be quite careless with their work devices, even often bringing them along with them on vacation. Interns and C-level employees can be especially susceptible to this, with 65% and 56% of them respectively having lost their device on vacation, according to a survey by Snow Software. While human error might be difficult to prevent, encryption can protect data on devices that have gone missing.

Consumer Trust

Today, people are more worried about their online data and privacy than ever before. Among Americans, nearly 72% are “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about their online privacy.

Online users cannot control where their data is used and stored. They can’t even tell if their personal data is actually secure in the hands of tech companies. By encrypting the data of your customers even when not legally required to do so, you can increase their level of trust in your business.

3 Main Reasons Why We Need Data Encryption

Privacy

Data encryption lets us keep our private data confidential and safe from anyone who might want to exploit it for their own gain or make use of it for other nefarious purposes. The kinds of private data we can protect through encryption include passwords, health and financial information, or trade secrets and intellectual property.

Security

Cyber-attacks and data breaches have become commonplace and represent an ongoing risk for every business. Despite their best efforts to secure their data, many companies still fall victim to sophisticated attacks and end up losing sensitive information. If data is encrypted before it’s stolen, the risk of it being accessed and exploited is less likely.

Data Protection Regulations

Data encryption ensures that organizations stay compliant with the relevant regulatory standards and laws that apply to them. These differ from industry to industry. For example, in healthcare, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires all providers to encrypt sensitive patient data. Retail businesses have to abide by the Fair Credit Practices Act (FCPA) and other consumer protection rules. Higher education institutions are bound by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which is designed to ensure that student records remain confidential.

Types of Data Encryption

The two most common data encryption methods are public key (also known as asymmetric) encryption and private key (or symmetric) encryption.

Symmetric Encryption (Private Key Encryption)

In symmetric encryption, only one secret symmetric key is used to encrypt the plaintext and decrypt the cipher text. It provides a way to encrypt information quickly, but it’s best used only by individuals or in closed system environments. It’s worth noting that when using symmetric encryption methods with multiple users in open systems, the key is transmitted, which can open the door to interception and theft.

Asymmetric Encryption (Public Key Encryption)

Asymmetric encryption, also known as Public Key Cryptography, makes use of two separate cryptographic asymmetric keys to encrypt and decrypt data. These two keys are referred to as a “public key” and a “private key,” and they’re mathematically linked. This means they can only be used together.

Either one of the keys can be used to encrypt information, but the paired key is required to decrypt it. Asymmetric encryption is commonly used by multiple users and across open networks, such as the Internet as the public key may be freely shared without introducing the risk of data theft.

Most Common Data Encryption Standards

There are numerous data encryption algorithms to choose from, depending on the use case, but the ones most frequently used are:

Triple DES

Triple DES (3DES) runs the DES algorithm, an outdated standard, three times. As it does this, it increases the DES key size of 56-bits to 168-bits, so it’s more difficult to compromise. That said, it does consume significant system resources.

RSA

RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman), one of the first public-key algorithms, is named after three computer scientists who invented it to encrypt data in transit in the 70s. RSA uses one-way asymmetric encryption. It’s popular as it has a long key length and can be used by browsers to create secure connections over non-secure networks.

Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC)

ECC was developed as a follow-on improvement to RSA and is used by agencies such as the NSA. Its key lengths are shorter, and it provides better security. ECC is a powerful, fast form of asymmetric data encryption used as part of the SSL/TLS protocol.

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

AES was established as the US Government standard for data encryption built for easy implementation in both hardware and software. It’s a symmetric-key algorithm and uses block cipher methods.

In Transit Versus at Rest Encryption

It’s essential that sensitive data remains encrypted at all times, but how you do this will depend on its state. Data exists in two primary states: in transit or at rest.

Let’s explore these two types of data states in more detail and how to go about encrypting them:

Data Encryption in Transit

Data is considered to be in transit if it’s moving between devices such as within a private company network or over the Internet. While data is being transferred, it’s more susceptible to being interfered with. Encrypting data during transfer, referred to as end-to-end encryption, ensures that even if the data is intercepted, its privacy is protected.

Data Encryption at Rest

Data is considered to be in a state of rest when it’s residing on a server or storage device and isn’t being used or transmitted. Data at rest is generally less susceptible to compromise than it is when it’s in transit. That’s because it’s typically protected by security protocols and infrastructure. But there are exceptions. Data at rest often contains more valuable information, which makes it an attractive target for cybercriminals. By encrypting data at rest, you can minimize the risk of a data breach or compromise caused by inadvertent password sharing or the loss or theft of mobile devices.

Data Encryption Solutions

If you’re looking to strengthen your data protection measures, you’ll want to consider enterprise-grade data encryption software. At Quantropi, we believe the best data encryption solutions must have the following features and capabilities:

Effortless Integration

The right data encryption solution should integrate seamlessly into your existing infrastructure. If initial deployment is a chore, you probably won’t have a good time using and adapting the software to your needs over the long term.

Scalability

Not only should your data encryption solution be easy to deploy, but it should also be highly scalable. Scalability will simplify the extension of encryption to new devices and forms of data as your business expands. Good scalability can serve as the enabler of stable and secure business growth.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

Your data encryption software should be able to encrypt data across a wide range of platforms and operating systems. It should support platforms such as Linux, Microsoft Windows, Android, and iOS. Your encryption solution should also be compatible with the hardware and software tools you use in your workflows.

Protection at Rest and in Transit

Most solutions that are worth your attention can encrypt data both at rest and in transit, whether it’s in a data center or being transmitted over the internet. You shouldn’t settle for anything else if you want comprehensive protection.

Compliance

Last but not least, your data encryption software should facilitate compliance with relevant regulations. Among other things, you should be able to monitor and enforce compliance at the workplace. Additionally, your data encryption solution should provide you with proof of encryption, which will help you show compliance in the event of an audit.

Quantropi – the Future of Quantum-grade Data Encryption

Steal now and crack later is real. Bad actors are harvesting encrypted data today to decrypt later with quantum computers. And in the not-too-distant future, these same quantum computers will break existing cryptographic defences. Enter Quantropi.

Quantropi offers the only end-to-end platform with all 3 prerequisites for cryptographic integrity: Trust, Uncertainty, and Entropy (we call it TrUE). The company’s patented “TrUE” technologies establish Trust between any two parties via quantum-secure asymmetric MASQ™ encryption; provide Uncertainty to attackers, rendering data uninterpretable forever, with QEEP™ symmetric encryption; and Entropy as a Service (EaaS) with SEQUR™— ultra-random key generation & distribution that enable secure data communications. All TrUE technologies are accessible via the company’s flagship QiSpace™ platform.

Contact us to learn more about Quantropi’s suite of capabilities – designed for today’s threats and tomorrow’s quantum attacks.

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Marco Pagani

Marco Pagani began his long and successful career as a senior executive in Ottawa’s high-tech sector in 1985, with Nortel Networks (then Bell-Northern Research). He rose across two decades to become president of several Nortel Business Units, managing more than 2,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenue. Having gone on to advise numerous organizations, as well as guide a range of companies through complex, critically necessary turnarounds, he is particularly respected for placing a strong emphasis on ethics and corporate governance in building the culture of the corporate and not-for-profit organizations he leads and supports.

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Patricio Mariaca

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Eric Chan

Eric Chan a.k.a. EEPMON is a Crypto / Digital Artist with 15 years in the industry – and Quantropi’s Creative Emissary. His hybrid fractal/digital creations have been seen in fashion, comics to museums and has exhibited worldwide. EEPMON’s collaborations include Canada Goose, MARVEL, Snoopy, Microsoft Xbox, Canada Science & Technology Museum and was a TEDx performing artist. In 2018 he represented Canada on its first Creative Industries Trade Mission led by Canada’s Minister of Heritage and serves on the Canadian Museums Association‘s Board of Directors. At the same time, he is currently completing his Master of Information Technology – Digital Media at Carleton University. 

Christopher McKenzie

With his extensive experience in software development and strong analytical skills, Chris can handle the entire end-to-end software development life cycle. Prior to Quantropi, he served as Director of Product Development at Sphyrna Security, Inc., where he managed the delivery of security compliance automation and data diode appliance products, and as Commercial Software Development Manager at Cord3, Inc., where he managed the development of an advanced data access policy management product. Chris graduated from Computer Science at Algonquin College and the Ottawa School of Arts in 1998. Read less

Dafu Lou

Dafu is Quantropi’s Director of engineering. Prior to Quantropi, he served as a technical leader at Irdeto, a world-leading provider of digital platform security software, where he was responsible for white-box cryptography, cloaked CA secure core, and iOS/android application protection services, among others. Prior to Irdeto, Dafu served as a senior software engineer at SecureNex Systems, where he led the implementation of an SSL-VPN solution and ECC-based secure data storage & PKI. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Ottawa in 2009. Dafu is also a part-time professor, teaching VLSI, Cryptography and other subjects at uOttawa.

Pauline Arnold

As James Nguyen’s EA, Pauline Arnold brings more than 40 years of experience in complementary customer service and administrative roles. Prior to Quantropi, she served 20 years as Branch Manager and an assistant in investments, and over 20 years at Metropolitan Life Canada in various aspects of the insurance sector – assisting clients, management and colleagues to complete tasks, solve problems, address questions and achieve goals. She also worked part-time for Royal Lepage Performance for 5+ years as a receptionist & admin, and for 5 years was chair of the TKFG’s charity golf tournament.

Bond Vo

Bond Vo is the Business Analyst of Quantropi. Along with Quantropi, Bond has been dynamic in accordance with a fast and evolving startup environment and is responsible in a wide range of areas including market research, funding, and more involved in the controller roles to oversee day to day accounting operation as well as build financing models and budget to achieve company’s ultimate goals/objectives. Bond has applied best practices consistently and successfully supports equity, debt, and non-dilutive funding for Quantropi since joint the team. He earned a Bachelor of Commerce concentrated in Finance from Carleton University. Outside of his professional career, Bond also participated in volunteer for the Vietnamese Immigration Student Association (VISA) to help and support students as well as newcomers in Canada.

Tina Wang

Tina develops websites and participates in a range of different projects, using new frameworks for front-end UI, along with Vuejs, Angula, Beego, Ruby on Rails, and Electron. She developed Quantropi’s desktop CipherSpace application by integrating Electron, Webassembly and Go, to ensure a good user experience, as well as perfect operating system compatibility. She is also part of the dynamic and efficient QKD-NODE project team. Tina is always looking for new ways to increase her knowledge, improve her technological proficiency and enhance her strong execution and implementation skills. Prior to Quantropi, Tina served as a full-stack web developer at Sunny Future, where she maintained a WordPress home site and managed the release of new content for the company.

Nick Kuang

As VP Corporate Services, Nick plans, directs and coordinates a wide range of activities aimed at achieving Quantropi’s vision of the Quantum Internet. He has a keen interest in transformative technologies and the possibilities they offer for bettering our everyday lives. A pharmacist by training, Nick nurtures teams with a focus on integrity and collaborative effort, coupled with strong attention to detail. With prior experience in a successful biotech start-up developing point-of-care test kits, he enjoys the fast pace and challenge of the start-up environment.

Alex He

Alex is a product-oriented project manager who bridges the gaps between the company’s engineering and commercial teams. He has over ten years of experience in the analysis, design and development of enterprise-class applications, with a particular focus on creating optimal user experiences (UX). Ever passionate about cybersecurity solutions that can deliver solid security without unreasonably sacrificing customer convenience, Alex is the lead inventor of a registered patent on user interface security. He is committed to helping ensure that the Agile software engineering team at Quantropi delivers consistently high-quality, high crypto-agility cybersecurity solutions for next-generation communications.

Michael Redding

Before joining Quantropi, Mike was Managing Director and co-founder of Accenture Ventures, where he grew a global portfolio of strategic partnerships and 38 equity investments in emerging technology startups.

During his nearly 30 years with Accenture, he incubated and launched technology innovations for enterprises across multiple geographies and industries. Ever-passionate about bold ideas with game-changing results, he speaks frequently on the impact of emerging technology on large organizations.

With a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton, and a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern, Mike is a former member of the Board of Directors for the Accenture Foundation and Board Observer for startups Maana and Splice Machine.

Raj Narula, P.Eng.

A seasoned technology executive, business builder and angel investor, Raj has held operational and advisory roles in Recognia (Trading Central), Belair Networks (Ericsson), March Networks (Infinova), Sandvine (Procera), Neurolanguage (ADEC), Bridgewater Systems (Amdocs), Vayyoo (Cafex), TenXc (CCI), 1Mobility (Qualys) and others. Having divided his time among North America, EMEA and Asia-Pac for over 20 years, Raj speaks several languages. He grew up in Asia, Europe, South America and Canada, and holds a B.Eng degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Ottawa. He is also a co-founder and Charter Member of the Ottawa chapter of TiE (the Indus Entrepreneur).

Ken Dobell

Ken leads marketing strategy at Quantropi. In high demand as a consultant with 25 years’ experience in performance media and an award- winning creative background, he has completed successful transformations, (re)branding and product development mandates with KPMG, Keurig, Fidelity, Eddyfi, Coveo, and more, and provides digital advice to the CMA. Previously, Ken pivoted an offline advertising brokerage to a leading-edge, data-driven performance agency as President of DAC Digital, held a progression of international leadership roles with Monster.com, pioneered a range of multi-channel initiatives as VP Marketing with a global franchisor, and introduced a mobile-first programmatic media offering to Canada within WPP.

Dr. Randy Kuang

Randy holds a doctorate in quantum physics. His research findings have been published in top international journals and named “Kuang’s semi-classical formalism” by NASA in 2012. With a career spanning IT, including with Nortel as senior network researcher & developer, he co-founded inBay Technologies in 2009, serving as CTO of the cybersecurity platform. As the first recipient of a patent for two-level authentication (2011), Randy is a prolific inventor, with 30+ U.S. patents in broad technology fields, such as WiMAX, optical networks, multi-factor identity authentication, transaction authorization, as well as concepts, technologies and industrial applications for quantum key distribution.

James Nguyen

Prior to leading Quantropi, James was Chief Investment Officer & VP Asia Operations for a group of private and public real estate, mining, energy storage, graphene technologies and manufacturing interests, where, in his responsibilities for strategy, banking and global expansions, he secured large-scale investments and partnerships for commercializing graphene applications across multiple industries. A graduate of Carleton in Economics, he previously achieved success managing a mid-market portfolio (professional services, public sector, Asian markets) at RBC for over a decade. James has been on the HKCBA board, held advisory positions with technology start-ups and gives back as volunteer, fundraiser and mentor.