The Ultimate Manual To Data Encryption

Businesses today have a wealth of data, ranging from personally identifiable information to financial information to customer demographics. Naturally, everyone—the business owner as well as the customer—wants to keep them private and away from cybercriminals.

With cybercrimes increasing at a never-seen-before pace, it’s comforting to know that there are various preventative methods to protect network security and data integrity. Data encryption is one of these highly effective methods.

Encrypting data protects it from being seen, hacked, and stolen. All your data is encoded in a manner that renders it unintelligible to unauthorized eyes, keeping it safe and secure.

But there’s still so much more to encryption. Knowing what data encryption is, how it works, and what you should do to get started can help you tremendously to minimize risks and protect your valuable resources.

What is Data Encryption Anyway?

What does this look like to you?: Xibu jt ebub fodszqujpo

Probably a massive typo, right? It is the phrase “What is data encryption?” encrypted with a Caesar cipher, also known as shift cipher.

Now, go through both phrases again.

You’ll find that every letter is replaced by the letter that follows it next in the alphabet. So while it may look like gibberish at first glance, it’s just an encrypted phrase. Understandably, one cannot decrypt the phrase if they don’t know the encryption system.

Data encryption works along the same lines. But instead of a simple Caesar cipher, it uses far more complex encryption systems.

It involves converting data from a readable format (plaintext) into an unreadable and coded format (ciphertext). Think of the whole process as those decoder rings we played with when we were younger.

The data encryption system transforms regular data stored as plain text into ciphertext, which is a seemingly nonsensical string of letters, symbols, and numbers. Unscrambling the data—or decrypting it—can only be done by a unique decryption key. We’ll discuss this in more detail below.

Why Is Data Encryption Important?

Encrypting your data allows you to protect your personal information from anyone who’d like to get their hands on it, especially those you don’t want to get their hands on it.

You can use the system to safeguard your messages and data against some of the most dangerous online threats, including hacking, fraud, and identity theft. Several businesses also use encryption algorithms in network security to protect themselves against malware and spyware.

Additionally, data encryption can safeguard organizations against certain strains of ransomware, where the hacker hijacks systems and databases and threatens to publish it on the web unless a ransom is paid.

Even if a hacker somehow manages to get access to encrypted data, they won’t be able to read it, which also means that they won’t be able to gain access to business secrets, causing the whole thing to fail.

How Data Encryption Works

Putting it simply, data encryption is a way of sending a message in code.

The encryptor replaces letters, symbols, and numbers with other characters to create a cipher, which is a set of characters that stand in for the original data. Whoever encrypts the data also possesses the key to decode it.

This key is a number that describes the mathematical process that was used to encode the cipher. Only the authorized person has the key that lets them decode the encrypted message to readable form.

The message will appear as a random series of characters, letters, and numbers for anyone else.

You can do the encryption manually, which may prove to be quite laborious. Or you can use a software solution that does all the hard work for you with the help of an algorithm and also creates an encryption key.

In this case, a computer or a user won’t be able to read the real data without the key. So if someone tries to access the data without the key, it’ll be completely useless as unscrambling or decrypting the data can only be done by the generated encryption key.

The Three Different Data Encryption Techniques

Internet security professionals break down encryption into three different techniques, namely symmetric, asymmetric, and hashing.

Let’s take a look at what these encryption methods involve.

Symmetric Encryption Method
The symmetric encryption method, also known as private-key cryptography, involves the sender and the receiver having access to the same key. This means the receiver would need the key before they can decrypt the message.

This method works best for closed systems as they have lower risks of third-party intrusions. That said, both parties, the sender and the receiver, should take the initiative to store the key securely and make it available to only those specific software that needs to use it.

Asymmetric Encryption Method
Also known as public-key cryptography, asymmetric encryption method involves using two keys for the encryption process: a public key and a private key, both of which are linked mathematically.

The public key, as the name suggests, is available to everyone. But the private key remains with the intended recipients only, a.k.a. people who have the authority to decode the messages.

The user uses one key for encryption and the other key for decryption. Both keys are large numbers that pair with each other. However, they aren’t identical, which is why this method is called “asymmetric.“ Also, it doesn’t matter which one you choose first.

Under hashing, a unique signature of fixed length for a data set or message gets generated. Every message has its unique hash, which makes every minor change to the information trackable.

Internet security experts don’t consider hashing as an actual encryption method. But as the line is blurry, the classification still stands. Plus, it’s still a great way to determine no one has tampered with the information.

Keep in mind that data encrypted with hashing cannot be decoded or reversed back to its original form. Precisely why it’s for verifying data only.

Example 1: Digital Certificates

Digital certificates are an excellent way of confirming the identity of information services.

It’s an electronic document issued by a certificate authority (CA) that contains a public key for a digital signature and specifies the identity associated with the key, such as the organization‘s name. If you encrypt a message with that publicly, only the organization listed in the certificate will be able to decrypt that message with its corresponding private key.

Digital certificates can also be used to verify the identity of websites by sending them a secret code encrypted with a public key to test whether they can decrypt the message and send the secret code back to you.

Example 2: Communication

Like a connection between a website and a browser, communication links are commonly encrypted using a standard known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

Messages between a website and a browser can travel across vast physical distances and pass through many machines on the way. SSL encryption helps prevent anyone between the sender and the receiver from accessing the data in transit.

Example 3: Non-Repudiation

Encryption-based technologies are commonly used to document proof that a transaction occurred and was authorized between a specific individual or company. This is known as non-repudiation.

For example, if a customer presents a smart card and a password when they purchase something, they cannot claim that it wasn’t them who made the purchase.

How to Get Started With Data Encryption

Businesses—big or small—have to be more mindful of their security. It’s high time now considering the ever-increasing cases of data breaches and data leaks. Data encryption can be an excellent first step toward your cybersecurity journey.

Here are the steps you need to take to create and implement your company‘s encryption strategy:

Step 1: Clearly Define Your Organization’s Security Requirements

Before you start encrypting your data, you must have a clear idea of your security needs. We recommend carrying out a threat assessment to decide what data needs to be encrypted and what doesn’t.

Understanding how secure your system needs to be is also crucial. This will help you choose an encryption tool, especially because the strength and processing requirements of different encryption schemes vary.

Step 2: Selecting the Right Encryption Tools

This step is pretty straightforward, where you select an encryption tool that meets all the security requirements you established in Step 1. You’ll still have to implement multiple data encryption schemes to secure your network fully and effectively, though.

For instance, you can have an SSL protocol to encrypt data passed to and from your website, along with the advanced encryption standard (AES) for protecting data addresses and data backups. The aim here is to create a secure network that comprises complementing encryption tools to protect your data from unauthorized access.

Selecting the right encryption tools for every stage of data storage and data transfer will help boost your company’s data security, safeguarding it as much as possible. You can also use specific encryption applications like encrypted email services to ensure greater overall security.

Step 3: Implementing Your Encryption Strategy Smoothly

You have to plan the implementation stage of your encryption strategy carefully. For instance, you may have to take specific steps to incorporate your new encryption strategy into legacy systems. Or, if you have customer-facing applications, you’ll need a plan to integrate your new encryption system into the application’s back end.

This is where good planning comes into the picture.

You can execute all these seemingly complex changes without too much disruption if you have a solid plan in place. You can also work with a third-party IT service provider to make the transition smoother. Avoid overburdening your own IT staff while you put your encryption strategy into practice, as you don’t want them slacking on the other aspects of your organization’s security.

Step 4: Keep Raising Awareness and Training Employees

Data encryption is just one of the many effective strategies you can take to increase your system and database security. What data encryption isn’t is a cure-all for all your security concerns, though.

Firstly, you have to train your team to implement good encryption and key management practices. If your employees store encryption keys on vulnerable servers, it’s possible (and likely) that attackers will still be able to access your company’s encrypted data. In fact, this kind of human error has been indirectly responsible for nearly 84% of cybersecurity breaches.

Moreover, encryption should be implemented alongside other security strategies if you want to open my security. You can consider using a secure hardware robust firewall, along with a data encryption strategy, so your business has various layers of protection to keep hackers at bay.

You should do everything you can to set up a robust system to protect your systems and databases from malicious agents.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira