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.
How Does Data Encryption Work?
Data encryption is the basic building block of data security. 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).
3 Main Reasons Why We Need Data Encryption
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.
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 are 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 (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 (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 is not 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.
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.