With the adoption of the internet came cloud storage and modern “big data” usage which has massively increased the need for data encryption in the current environment of sensitive data breaches. Data breaches are commonplace occur in various ways, whether that’s through data theft, open Amazon Web Server (AWS) buckets, or simply a lack of reliable data encryption software helping to protect stored, sent, and received data.  

By not taking advantage of data encryption and following IT security best practices, you leave critical information open to compromise through cyberattacks. If such an incident were to occur, you could find yourself in a mess of fines, lawsuits, and reputational damage. 

The best way to avoid such a headache isn’t to simply purchase the first piece of data encryption software you find on Google, but to learn more about what encryption is and how your business might use it – this is exactly what we cover in this article!

What exactly does encryption do?

Encryption refers to the process of scrambling information (often called ciphertext) so that it becomes incomprehensible to prying eyes and unauthorized users. With data encryption, you can encrypt data at many levels, including files, folders, external drives, volumes, and entire disks.

Encrypted data is accessible to authorized users using cryptographic keys.

Usually, these keys are managed and utilized automatically by encryption software, making the data encryption essentially invisible to the end-user (you, your management team, employees who need to access your company information, etc.).  

It should be noted that, although the ciphertext might appear random if you were to look at it inside of a text file, the encryption process happens logically. 

For encryption to truly be secure, complex algorithms and keys are used so that cybercriminals can’t simply brute force attack their way into guessing the right key and breaking your encryption.

Data can be encrypted “at rest”, “in-transit”, or both. This can occur while stored on a server or PC, being sent over your local network or the internet, or both.

The two primary types of encryption

There are two primary types of encryption: Symmetric and Asymmetric. 

Symmetric Encryption

The process of symmetric encryption involves securing data with a single private key. The most common form of symmetric encryption, which is also the U.S. government standard, is Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). 

With AES, encryption keys can be substituted with passwords you create to make encrypting and decrypting data easy for authorized users while maintaining the encryption strength should a malicious third party capture your encrypted data.

While many IT security experts consider AES encryption to be the best method for encrypting files and drives due to its strength and ease of use, if the passwords used for encryption are weak, it’s easy for hackers to crack and thus decipher your data.

Asymmetric Encryption 

Asymmetric encryption is utilized when sending secure messages (and other forms of data) between two parties. For this reason, asymmetric encryption is a popular go-to for messaging platforms, Bitcoin, and even websites (HTTPS).  

How does it work? 

It’s similar to using a public mailbox. Anyone can deposit a message into the mailbox if they know its location, but only the mailbox owner has the key to access it and the messages contained within. 

With asymmetric encryption, both parties must generate a pair of public and private keys on their devices which are linked to each other. The public keys are used to encrypt the data that’s being transferred, but only the corresponding private key can be used to decrypt the message. 

This means that once User 1 sends an encrypted message, no one—not even User 1—will be able to decrypt it; the only one who can do so is the person with the corresponding private key, User 2 recipient of the message. 

Using data encryption to protect your business’s private data

Many individual users need little more than standalone encryption solutions to sufficiently secure their system and device data. Still, SMBs and larger organizations have to think about encryption with their entire IT security strategy in mind. 

A good encryption solution should integrate with your systems seamlessly so that it doesn’t take up much mental space, if any; you shouldn’t have to “enter a password” every single time you want to access encrypted data. Such solutions might secure data, but they’re a pain to use. 

If tackling data encryption seems too daunting to get a handle on, don’t worry. It doesn’t need to be something your organization handles on its own—the same goes for all your IT security needs. 

If you’re unsure which encryption solution is the right fit for your organization, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and inquire about our Managed IT Security Services

We’ll take a comprehensive look at your current IT security and partner with you to pinpoint which solutions are best suited for your unique business situation.