What Businesses Should Know About Encryption

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Securing devices is a top priority for not only IT professionals but business owners in general.

Hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their tactics and have come up with ways to bypass even the most stringent safety protocols.

With that in mind, encryption can be something that’s valuable to your business, even if you are the victim of a breach.

The following are some things to know about encryption from a business standpoint.

What is Encryption?

Encryption is something every business should be using as part of their protection of sensitive data. You can think of it as scrambling text, making it unreadable to users who aren’t authorized to have access.

It’s possible to encrypt individual folders and files, discs, USB flash drives, and cloud-stored files.

With file and disk encryption, you can protect the data and information stored on your network or a device.

If you collect any personally identifiable information, which pretty much every business does, you should be using encryption.

Encryption is perhaps even more critical now than ever because employees are working remotely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That means they might be using unsecured wireless networks, and their devices are also at a greater risk of being lost or stolen, so encryption provides another layer of protection.

Encryption isn’t complete protection for a device. For example, a hacker can still send a phishing email that infects a device with malware to steal information, but rather, it’s one part of a robust strategy.

A form of digital cryptography, encryption uses algorithms to scramble messages. Then, in order to decode the scrambled message, you would need a key or the sender’s cipher.

There’s symmetric encryption, and there’s asymmetric encryption.

Symmetric encryption involves the use of a private key to secure data. Asymmetric encryption uses a combination of keys, including both private and public.

Other types of encryption include:

  • DES: Data Encryption Standard or DES uses a key length of 56 bits. It was at one point the standard used by the U.S. government, but it’s not anymore. It’s been removed in favor of the Advanced Encryption Standard.
  • AES: Advanced Encryption Standard is now the government standard, and it’s a subtype of a symmetric-key algorithm.
  • RSA: Rivest-Shamir-Adleman or RSA is a cryptosystem that’s used to secure the transmission of data. The encryption key is public, and the decryption key is private.

Another distinction to make when you’re exploring encryption is the difference between 128-bit and 256-bit. 128-bit encryption is less secure than 256-bit.

As a result, 256-bit does require more processing power for encryption and decryption.

Your data can be encrypted when it’s being stored or in transit.

Individual and folder encryption will, as the name implies, encrypt only specific items. There’s also something called volume encryption, which creates something like a virtual container, with everything in that container being encrypted.

Full-disk or whole-disk encryption is the most robust option.

Everything is encrypted, without requiring that your employees do anything in particular to save them that way.

With full-disk encryption, your computer has to read an encryption key from a USB device, or you have to provide a passcode.

What Is a Key?

We’ve touched on the concept of a key multiple times already, so what is it?

A cryptographic key is a string of characters used as part of an encryption algorithm, making data appear random.

Only someone with the correct key can decrypt data or unlock it.

Why Is Encryption Needed?

There are some core reasons encryption is needed.

The first is security. Encryption does help in the prevention of data breaches for data in transit and data being stored. If your employee loses a device or their device is stolen, and the information is encrypted, the data remains secure.

Privacy is another reason. You only want the intended recipient to be able to read communications or data when it’s sent.

The use of encryption can help prevent what is called an on-path attack. If you’re transmitting data online, then using encryption can help make sure it’s not tampered with.

Authentication is a benefit of encryption, meaning that with public key encryption, you can establish a website owner owns the key listed in the TLS certificate.

In simpler terms, it lets users know that they’re connecting to a genuine website.

Some businesses have to use encryption for regulatory reasons too.

Email Encryption

Email encryption is something that pretty much every business likely has a need for in particular.

Email accounts are the primary source of data breaches and phishing scams, and these attacks can cost millions of dollars each.

When you use encryption solutions for email, then you’re protecting all of your sensitive information.

Anyone who intercepts an email message that’s been encrypted won’t be able to read the information.

We’re at a point where pretty much a business in any industry can benefit from email encryption at a minimum, but particularly in the following industries.

  • Medical: Any business related to the medical industry in any way needs to be using encryption. It’s your responsibility to ensure that you’re using solutions to ensure that no customer or patient data gets into the wrong hands.
  • Legal: If you’re a lawyer or work in the legal industry, encryption is important to your business as well. When you work in law in any way, you’re regularly working with sensitive client data like medical records, hospital records, and personally identifiable information. Email is becoming the pre-eminent way legal professionals interact with their clients as well.
  • Finance: Many financial businesses are guided by regulations and compliance requirements.
  • Education: This is one where you might not think about cybersecurity as much, but if you have a business involving education, you need to protect people’s private information.

Essentially, any business that shares important information, which is pretty much all businesses, should at least be using email encryption, if not encryption in other areas as well.

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