Almost every service or device we use today runs on data. To keep personal information safe and secure in the digital world, that sensitive data needs protection. Encryption has become increasingly important to data security as we bank, shop, work and communicate online.
As our lives continue to shift online to fulfil our needs, IT infrastructure needs an extra layer of security to prevent costly data breaches. Modern organisations and businesses that store and manage tons of data must be vigilant of malicious attempts to steal sensitive information online.
The ones that have yet to heavily encrypt their network should at least be employing basic encryption solutions now to better secure their network data from unauthorised access. Here are some key cybersecurity insights and findings to understand the importance of encryption.
What is Data Encryption?
To put it simply, data encryption is intended to protect any stored data on your computer, network or cloud storage. In particular, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as names, birthdates, or financial information collected from clients, customers and employees must be secured in accordance with strict data compliance policies.
Depending on the application being used and other challenges, encryption may not seem feasible to some individuals, but there is no question that certain types of data need to be encrypted. If sensitive data gets stolen or the information is ever leaked, your organisation can be held liable for massive fines for breaking data confidentiality.
What is File Encryption?
To greatly reduce the risk of data theft, file encryption is the process in which advanced algorithms known as ciphers are used to convert plaintext data into complex, unreadable data or “ciphertext”. Only authorised users, systems and processes with the correct decryption key can unlock the ciphertext and turn it back into the readable plaintext that we normally consume.
A simple way to think of encryption is like the key to your home. Only you and other designated members of your household are able to unlock the door and gain entry because you all have the right key. However, those who don’t are simply prevented from entering without being given said key.
Essentially, it’s the process of encryption and decryption that is guaranteeing the safety and security of data you want to protect, much like a lock and key. With that being said, let’s review the 2 types of encryptions that businesses and organisations use to secure their data.
Symmetric Key Encryption
Symmetric key encryption uses the same secret keys that is stored on multiple devices to allow businesses and organisations to transmit and receive encrypted information instantly. This type of encryption is typically intended for employees for easy authentication.
This means the key must be shared earlier between the sender and the receiver for the connection to be functional and secure. The secret key that both parties use could be a specific password or just a random string of letters or numbers generated by a secure random number generator (RNG).
Asymmetric Encryption / Public Key Encryption
Asymmetric encryption – also called public key encryption – allows each person in a digital conversation to create a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption. The difference here is that the public key can be shared with everyone, while the private key must be protected.
This makes it so that the data that one person encrypted using their public key can only be decoded by another when using their matching private key. Increased data protection is the primary benefit of asymmetric encryption because users are never required to reveal or share their private keys.
The most important thing to remember when using both types of encryptions to secure your network data is to never have it as just a ‘set it and forget it’ type of solution. Be mindful that these encryptions are not completely shielded from outside interference.
Encryptions should be periodically checked for signs of breach or set to expire and replaced after a certain amount of time. Since nothing is always a 100% guarantee, hackers are constantly evolving their ways to penetrate networks and gain access to critical systems.
Why is Encryption Important Now and for the Future?
In response to the global coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted so many businesses, economies and lives, many organizations were forced to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. This has led to a massive shift to remote work models.
According to survey results in IBM Security’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report, 76% of respondents expect remote work to extend the time it takes to spot and contain a data breach, since many devices may now be connected to unprotected networks. Additionally, 70% of respondents expect remote work to increase the cost of a data breach.
As organizations take on new working conditions and adapt to rapid changes in business models to continue to serve customers, the need to assess and mitigate cybersecurity risks has never been higher.
- Present in 80% of breaches analysed, customer PII was the most frequently compromised type of data. It was also the most expensive type of record, costing an average $150 per lost or stolen record, compared to the per record cost of intellectual property ($147), anonymised customer records ($143) or employee PII ($141).
- The most frequent initial attack vectors included compromised credentials (19% of malicious breaches), cloud misconfiguration (19%) and vulnerabilities in third-party software (16%). Breaches caused by compromised credentials averaged $4.77 million, while vulnerabilities in third-party software averaged $4.53 million and cloud misconfiguration breaches averaged $4.41 million.
- The average malware breach cost $4.52 million and the average ransomware breach cost $4.44 million. The overall average cost of a malicious breach was $4.27 million.
Cloud Encryption Benefits Businesses & Organisations
In today’s data-driven world, encryption provides the ability to maintain a proactive defense against data breaches, identity theft and other major cyberattacks. Encryption is a key foundation of cybersecurity, with PII being a top priority for businesses and organizations large and small to safeguard.
However, in order to protect the organisation from incurring costly setbacks, securing large-scale cloud systems can be a very challenging task. This is especially true for many industries that want to achieve high-grade network security in an IT architecture that is either decentralized or geographically distributed as today’s environment demands.
This is why it is vital to have a comprehensive plan in place to implement and maintain symmetric or asymmetric encryption algorithms. Businesses and organisations that neglect to stay on top of their encryption standard will face a higher chance of a data breach, making it easy for hackers to gain access to your sensitive data.