What is Data Encryption? A Complete User Guide

Protecting user data and compliance with information regulation has been challenging for many organizations. However, data encryption has enabled businesses to overcome the challenge of securing information. According to Statista’s survey, 60% of enterprises have employed encryptions on their backup and data archives.

Organizations store, exchange, process and analyze different types of data. User information is essential data that needs proper security measures. Compliance with data regulations like GDPR requires advanced data protection and enhanced security policies. However, formulating these policies and employing encryptions need an in-depth analysis of your systems.

So, here we are with a comprehensive guide on data encryption and how you can use it to provide a secure experience for your customers. However, first, let’s begin with some statistics!

Insights on Data Encryption

  • It takes about 197 days to detect a data breach and 69 days to contain information leakage(IBM)
  • 82% of data breaches and cyber-attacks are caused due to human element, errors, and misuse of data access(Verizon)
  • Global cybercrime will cost more than $10 trillion by 2025, growing at a rate of 15% year over year.(CybersSecurityVentures)
  • Most cyber attackers can penetrate 93% of the system’s network and access the local resources. (BetaNews)
  • 92% of customers believe that proactive measures can prevent data theft and leaks
  • In 2021, businesses with a sound encryption strategy were highest in the past 16 years(Poneman Institute)
  • 40% of users in a survey indicated that 21 to 40% of their sensitive data stored in the cloud is encrypted. (Statista)

Data encryption is a process of securing information through cryptographic encryptions. It scrambles the data into an unreadable format for hackers. Let us understand how it works!

How Does Data Encryption Work?

Encryption is a process where your plain text message or email is converted into unreadable and scrambled information. The intended recipient of the message can access the contents in plain text after a process of decryption. The message’s recipient needs to have a security key to decrypt the message.

In other words, your data is converted into an unreadable format that is only accessible through a decryption key.

Types of data encryption

Types of encryptions depend on the security keys. There are two different types of security keys – private and public key. Based on which key is used for encryptions and decryptions, there are many different types,

  • Symmetric key encryption is where both encryption and decryption security key are the same. In other words, senders will encrypt data with the same key that recipients will use to decrypt the information.
  • Asymmetric key encryption is a type of encryption with two separate security keys. In this type, encryptions and decryption processes have different keys. Therefore, if you encrypt the data with a private key, you need a public key to decrypt it.
  • 3DES or Triple Data Encryptions Standard is the modern version of DES encryptions that is not used extensively in modern applications. Banking and financial institutions still use 3DES for encrypting 56-bit keys to secure internal data exchange.
  • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a popular type of encryption used by businesses, governments, and security companies. It uses symmetric encryption at the core, using the same key for encryption and decryption. AES has different block sizes, which means it can encrypt 128,192, and 256-bit keys.
  • Rivest-Shamir-Adleman(RSA) is another widely used encryption type. It uses asymmetric encryptions with a set of public and private keys. The data sent by a sender online is assigned a unique public key for encryptions. When received by the recipient, a private key is needed to decrypt it.

Benefits of Data Encryptions

Data encryptions ensure information security and user’s identity and avoid financial fraud. Here are other key benefits,

  • Helps in securing information across devices
  • Enables better compliance with data regulations
  • Helps secure data for employees working remotely
  • Improves data integrity and prevents data thefts
  • Allows secure storage, processing, and analysis of user data
  • Increases trust among your customers due to improved security.

Now that we have discussed data encryptions, benefits, and types, let us discuss some of the best practices to secure information.

Data Encryption Best Practices

The best practices for data encryption are a set of methods and approaches that will help you improve the security of sensitive information. In other words, you can use these methods to secure user information and ensure compliance with data regulations.

Formulate a data encryption strategy according to compliance standards.

PII or Personally Identifiable Information is used to identify an individual on digital platforms. According to the General Services Administration (GSA) guidelines, there are some essential aspects to keep in mind for PII,

  • The purpose is the definition of how you will handle PII and corrective actions needed if there is a data breach
  • The background is the requirement defined by GSA to develop and execute security policy along with the rules of behavior
  • Applicability is the policy of how you will apply PII following the specific GSA guidelines and standards.

Apart from these guidelines, you must also assess the existing systems and data access privileges.

Manage data access privileges

Data privileges are permissions for specific roles in the organization that allow them to access information. However, privileges can be misused if you don’t have a policy for data access. According to Forbes, 74% of data breaches are caused due to abuse of user credentials. So, it’s essential to have data access policies for your organization.

Formulate a policy where you have specific roles assigned to the employees, and data access is restricted to functional roles only. It will ensure that data is accessible only to employees who need detailed information.

User identity and authentication mechanism

User identification is key to securing sensitive data in your systems. There are several ways to ensure secure user authentications and data access,

  • Multi-factor authentication is a process where there are multiple layers of verification for user identity. It ensures that only the intended user accesses data.
  • Certificate-based authentication is an approach where digital certificates are verified to identify users or organizations who want to access data.
  • Biometric authentication requires physical fingerprints, facial, and retina scan to ensure that the user asking for data access is legitimate.
  • Tokenized authentication is where users receive a token while entering their credentials for data access. Further, they can use the same token to access information in a protected system without credentials.

This authentication approach is insufficient, as you will require an Identification and Access Management (IAM) tool to manage them. Fortunately, if you use a cloud service like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or others, they offer pre-built IAM features!

Encrypting Data at Rest and in Transition

Encrypting data at rest is like placing your information in a secure location. At the same time, encrypting the data in transit is like creating a shield to secure the information journey from one point to another.

The encryption process for information at rest helps in securing user credentials. For example, you need to store credit card information if you are a financial service provider or an ecommerce firm. Using encryption at rest, you can convert the information into unreadable data.

Further, you can use SSL/TLS certificates to encrypt the data in motion. SSL (Secure Sockets Layers) uses asymmetric and symmetric encryptions to protect data in motion. It secures the communication between a browser and a server.

Can encrypted data be hacked?

Yes! Your encrypted data is not bulletproof (100% secure), and hackers leverage security keys for the attack-HOW?

Hackers use social engineering practices and get access to the owner’s security key. Further, they access your data and add an encryption layer. So, your data is accessible only to hackers. Next, cyber attackers will ask for ransom money to release sensitive data.

So, how to prevent it?

The best way to prevent your encrypted data from hackers is to secure the security keys. One way to ensure your security key remains secure is to store it on a Hardware Security Module (HSM). It is a physical storage device with high standards of security.

Data Encryption Solutions

Data encryption solutions are software that enables organizations to secure sensitive information through cryptographic algorithms. Based on the type of algorithms, they offer different security features and encryptions. Some of the critical features of an encryption solution are,

  • Security key management
  • Encryption of data at rest and in transition
  • Selective encryptions where only sensitive information is encrypted
  • Executing and enforcing the encryption policies
  • Centralized encryption management

How to Implement Data Encryption?

The data encryption process needs a streamlined strategy that includes factors like the type of data, number of devices, location of information, and compliance requirements. Here is a systematic guide on how to implement encryptions.

  • Step #1– Collaborate with all the stakeholders, analyze the security requirements and formulate a strategy for data encryptions.
  • Step #2– Classify the data into sensitive, essential, and non-essential to prioritize the encryptions.
  • Step #3– Generate and manage security keys for the encryption process by using a tool or saving them on HSM
  • Step #4-Find a data encryption solution suitable for your system and, if possible, have a trial before you decide which one to choose.
  • Step #6– Document security policies and data access controls for enhanced security
  • Step #7– Assess your encryption needs and choose advanced SSL decryption technology to ensure desired data is accessible to an intended user.

Conclusion for Data Encryption

Increased exposure to internet services has led to massive data being exchanged. This means you need advanced security and ensure that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands. Data encryptions help protect users’ information and comply with effective data regulations. We have discussed several aspects of encrypting data, but if you still have doubts, feel free to comment below!


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