Globally, cybercrimes account for trillions of dollars in damages, threatening businesses of all sizes and across all industries. A single data breach can cost the affected business millions and lead to irreparable reputation damage. The potentially devastating consequences of a data breach have made data encryption a critical part of any modern cybersecurity strategy because simply attempting to prevent data breaches is no longer enough. Today, sensitive information must remain protected even in the event of a data breach.
What Is Data Encryption?
Data encryption is the process of converting readable data, commonly referred to as plaintext, into an encrypted form, known as ciphertext, that cannot be decrypted without the correct encryption key.
The earliest known encryption method comes from the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Early forms of data encryption relied predominantly on polyalphabetic ciphers and various codebook systems. Modern encryption is achieved using encryption algorithms, which use a key to encrypt and decrypt information.
The internet has created a new need for data encryption. Without it, malicious parties could easily access sensitive data sent between a browser and a server, and use it for nefarious means. When applied correctly, data encryption makes this impossible and ensures that only authorized individuals with the correct key can access sensitive data.
One of the most widely used encryption algorithms today is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which was established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001. AES has been adopted by many governments around the world, including the US government.
Types of Data Encryption
There are two major types of data encryption: symmetric key encryption and asymmetric key encryption.
- Symmetric key encryption uses the same key for encrypting and decrypting data. This type of data encryption is very fast, but it requires the sender and the recipient to exchange the key to decrypt encrypted data, which increases the risk of compromise if the key is intercepted by a malicious third party. As such, symmetric key encryption is most suited for individual users and closed systems.
- Asymmetric key encryption uses two different keys that are mathematically linked together, with one of the two keys being private and the other one being public. As their names suggest, the public key can be shared with anyone, while the private key must be kept secret. This type of data encryption is sometimes referred to as public-key cryptography. Asymmetric key encryption has become essential for securing electronic communications.
Reasons Data Encryption Should Be Part of a Modern Cybersecurity Strategy
All businesses must ensure the safe transmission, reception, and storage of data to protect themselves against data breaches. However, there are several other reasons why data encryption should be part of any modern cybersecurity strategy, and not all of them have to do with security threats.
1. Achieving Regulatory Compliance
In many industries, data encryption is a regulatory requirement and not just an optional security measure. Such industries include, for example, healthcare and financial services, where providers must follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements for protection of sensitive patient information and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for handling credit card information respectively.
2. Avoiding Fines
Data encryption is increasingly becoming mandatory for businesses and organizations around the world as a direct consequence of data protection and privacy regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For example, the Danish Data Protection Agency (DDPA) now requires the entire private sector to use encryption for email when transmitting confidential or sensitive personal data. Any failure to comply with the law can lead to serious fines.
3. Staying Safer When Working Remotely
According to the latest statistics, 66% of businesses allow remote work, and 16% are fully remote. While that’s hardly surprising considering the number of advantages telecommuting has for both businesses and their employees, it’s paramount to stop information from falling into the wrong hands when accessing sensitive data from remote locations, which is where data encryption comes in.
4. Safeguarding Privacy
It’s estimated that 60% of businesses have experienced a serious security breach in the last two years alone. Although there are many things businesses can do to reduce the chance of a data breach, it’s still best to prepare for the worst-case scenario and use data encryption as a safeguard. If used correctly, modern encryption algorithms are virtually impossible to decrypt with brute force within any reasonable timeframe.
5. Dealing with Cybercrime Concerns
No business is immune to criminal activity, regardless of its size. In fact, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting smaller businesses because they are less likely to use data encryption to prevent hacking and keep valuable data safe and secure. But thanks to modern data encryption solutions, even small and medium-sized businesses can take advantage of the same data encryption technologies as large enterprises and deal with such cybercrime concerns as DOS attacks, malware injection, database invasions, and unauthorized internet access.
Data encryption is no longer optional in today’s world of cybersecurity. It has become an essential part of a modern cybersecurity strategy, helping businesses of all sizes keep sensitive information safe and secure.
Written by: Payam Pourkhomami, President & CEO, OSIbeyond