The Advantages of Data Encryption
In an age where data breaches and cyberthreats are ever on the rise, safeguarding sensitive information has never been more crucial. Data encryption is a fundamental way for companies to protect their sensitive and mission critical data — but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Encryption is often presented as a must-do, a tedious chore that fulfills a requirement. But with the right technology, encryption can offer additional benefits to your company.
Today, we’ve written a post to explore the advantages of data encryption. We hope that learning more about the benefits of encryption will help you switch your mindset from checking off a list to leveraging stronger data security for your company.
What is data encryption?
Data encryption is a form of cryptography that converts plain text or data into a scrambled format known as ciphertext, making it unreadable to unauthorized users. It relies on encryption algorithms and encryption keys that act as digital locks and keys to secure sensitive information. Although there are different types of data encryption, all work by ensuring that only individuals with the appropriate decryption key can convert the ciphertext back into its original, readable form.
Common types of data encryption
Not all data encryption works exactly the same way. Here are a few of the top encryption methods that are commonly used to protect data:
Symmetric encryption. In symmetric encryption, the same key is used for both encryption and decryption. This type of encryption includes AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and the earlier DES (Data Encryption Standard). Symmetric encryption does have some vulnerabilities, and it requires rigorous security around key management.
Asymmetric encryption. Asymmetric encryption uses a pair of keys, a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption. This method, which includes the RSA algorithm (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman), is considered the most secure encryption process and is often used for securing important communications.
End-to-end encryption. This type of encryption is commonly used in messaging apps and email services. It works by ensuring that data is encrypted on the sender’s side and can only be decrypted by the recipient.
The top advantages of using data encryption
Strong data security is itself enough of a benefit to make data encryption an obvious choice for many organizations. But there are several other key advantages of using data encryption that are under-recognized.
1. Maintain data privacy
One of the primary advantages of data encryption is its ability to maintain data privacy. By encrypting data, you protect it from unauthorized access, ensuring that only authorized individuals can view or manipulate sensitive information. This can in turn prevent data breaches — and the significant financial and legal consequences that come with them.
Having recently been named a 2023 Gartner® Cool Vendor in Privacy, ShardSecure certainly recognizes the importance of data privacy. For some companies, robust data privacy enables regulatory compliance (more about this below). For others, it safeguards trade secrets, proprietary information, and intellectual property, helping businesses maintain a competitive edge in the market. In all cases, though, good data privacy keeps the wrong information out of the wrong hands.
2. Maintain data integrity
While threats to data integrity might be less obvious than highly publicized data breaches, they can still cause significant damage. This is especially true for certain data-driven industries and organizations.
Take, for instance, AI/ML models, which are based on valuable datasets that are highly susceptible to tampering, manipulation, and data poisoning. These datasets, which may cost upwards of a million dollars to create, must remain unaltered to be effective. By making it more difficult for cybercriminals to tamper with data, encryption tools can help strengthen data integrity and ensure that critical datasets remain accurate and unaltered.
3. Avoid compliance issues and regulatory fines
Strict data protection regulations are becoming more common across industries and geographic jurisdictions. As part of a robust data protection strategy, encryption can help your organization comply with these regulations and avoid hefty fines for noncompliance.
Some data protection regulations, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), explicitly require that confidential data be encrypted. Others, like the GDPR, have broader mandates about the security measures and safeguards used for personal data — but encryption is still a traditional way to meet these mandates.
The consequences of having weak or nonexistent encryption strategies in place can be seen in a number of major fines for healthcare providers that failed to encrypt sensitive patient data. For instance, the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center was fined $4.3 million in 2018 after a thief stole an unencrypted laptop with 30,000 patient records. Meanwhile, University of Rochester Medical Center was fined $3 million in 2019 for losing a flash drive containing an unknown amount of unencrypted protected health information (PHI).
4. Protect your remote workforce
Although remote work levels have dropped since the height of the pandemic, they still remain high. And while it’s good news for productivity and sustainability, remote work has been found to increase the average cost of a data breach by nearly $1 million. This makes data protection more important than ever.
For IT and security teams, encryption offers several ways to tackle the security challenges of a remote workforce. Encryption protocols like Transport Layer Security (TLS) can help with secure messaging, protecting sensitive data in transit even as employees use public WiFi at airports and coffee shops. Meanwhile, other encryption technologies can protect personal smartphones, tablets, and laptops, which often use company data and are prone to being lost or stolen. Some solutions, like ShardSecure’s integration with Nextcloud, can even protect work in content collaboration platforms to facilitate remote work.
5. Increase customer trust
Having strong data encryption software demonstrates a commitment to data security, which can enhance customers’ confidence in an organization. After all, clients are more likely to trust a company with their sensitive information if they know that proper data protection measures are being taken. Take a look at our white paper to explore some of the top B2B customer data security requirements.
Two disadvantages of data encryption
Despite its many advantages, data encryption does have a few downsides. While it provides robust data security, encryption can often introduce complexity and lack data resilience, two major sticking points for today’s modern, agile business. Fortunately, there are new, innovative approaches to encryption that can avoid some of these disadvantages.
Traditional encryption solutions are complex and slow. One drawback of data encryption is that traditional encryption technologies can be complex to implement and may slow down data processing, limiting their functionality. Many tools require the installation of agents, which are resource-intensive to manage and which are sometimes incompatible with newer software-defined infrastructures. Agents also introduce significant performance drawbacks.
Traditional encryption technologies lack resilience. While encryption offers strong data security, it does not provide resilience on its own. Traditional encryption technologies might prevent data from being read or altered by an unauthorized user, but they won’t prevent downtime from cloud service provider outages and cyberattacks. They also won’t protect organizations from ransomware attacks or data loss, since hackers can still encrypt — or altogether delete — encrypted data.
Effective data security strategies
While encryption is a powerful security measure, it's not foolproof. Determined attackers may still find vulnerabilities or employ techniques like brute force attacks to decrypt data. As such, encryption should be part of a comprehensive security strategy rather than the sole method of protection. Implementing an effective data security strategy requires that companies:
Inventory sensitive data and audit systems. This may include financial records, personal identifiable information (PII), trade secrets, or proprietary data located in on-prem or cloud storage. Stay vigilant by monitoring this data and regularly auditing networks to prevent data breaches.
Regularly update and patch systems. Outdated systems may contain vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to bypass encryption, so make sure to keep security hardware and software up-to-date with the latest security patches.
Educate teams. Employee training is crucial. Staff should learn about the importance of data privacy and security, and they should understand how to handle data securely. Ongoing cybersecurity awareness training is an excellent way to help employees recognize and respond to potential threats.
Strengthen access controls. Robust access controls help safeguard sensitive data by limiting access to authorized individuals. Strict authentication methods like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and strong password policies are recommended.
Choose the right encryption technologies. To avoid the drawbacks of traditional encryption tools — without losing the strong data protection features — companies should consider next-gen approaches to data encryption.
The ShardSecure platform offers an innovative approach to file-level encryption. Our technology supports strong data security, privacy, and resilience for data at rest in on-prem, cloud, and hybrid- and multi-cloud architectures. Our platform also works without the need for agents, meaning that companies can enjoy strong data protection and high availability without compromising performance or adding complexity.
To learn more about ShardSecure’s data security solution, visit our resources page.
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