How Does Data Encryption Work, and What Should You Apply It To?

Data encryption is one of the most important elements in any cybersecurity strategy, since it keeps data safe even if it lands in the wrong hands. You can encrypt data as it’s stored on your hard drive, online storage or any other system, or when it’s being transmitted across the web.

The main purpose of encryption is to keep digital data safe, and modern data encryption algorithms are practically impossible to hack using current technology. As such, encryption plays a critical role in the integrity and authentication of confidential data, such as payment details or any personally identifiable information. You’ll encounter encryption whenever shopping online or accessing any website or web application that requires you to enter a password, as indicated by the padlock icon next to the address bar in your browser.

How Does It Work?

Mankind has been encrypting messages for thousands of years, with the most basic methods involving a simple cipher. Of course, these methods are very basic and insecure, and any modern computer can crack them in a matter of minutes. As computers get faster, and thus more capable of cracking dated encryption methods, it becomes necessary to use more complex algorithms that cannot, to all intents and purposes, be cracked.

Modern encryption technology relies on ever larger key sizes to conceal encrypted data. The larger the key size, the longer it would take for a brute-force attack to successfully decrypt the scrambled plaintext. Most modern encryption algorithms use a 128-bit key, which would require a brute-force attack to try 339 decillion (that’s 33 zeros) possible combinations. In other words, it’s practically impossible to crack using today’s computers since it would take trillions of years. Some algorithms use 192- or 256-bit keys, which will likely become the new industry standard as technology moves ahead.

Which Data Should Be Encrypted?

An essential step to take in formulating any cybersecurity strategy is to define which data is sensitive and determine precisely where it is being stored and transmitted and who has access to it. Absolutely all potentially sensitive data should be encrypted, regardless of where you keep it.

It’s also important to encrypt internet traffic, particularly if you have a mobile workforce whereby employees regularly access corporate apps and data over connections you have no control over, such as public WiFi hotspots. To make your data unusable to eavesdroppers, you should always use a virtual private network (VPN), which will encrypt your traffic by rerouting it through a trusted third party.

Other data you should encrypt includes those kept on cloud storage platforms or stored and transmitted over email. Most service providers provide automatic encryption for data storage and transit. Nonetheless, if you’re using a public cloud service like Dropbox or OneDrive, you’ll probably want to add an additional layer of encryption that you have complete control over.

Dyrand Systems provides complete IT services to businesses seeking an affordable and secure way to build a cloud-based computing infrastructure where your data is always safe from prying eyes. Call us today to find out what we can do for you.