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Data encryption: a complete guide

data encryption

Protecting your data is now more important than ever. Keep reading to learn about the different ways your data can be encrypted and how to keep it safe.

In the age of information, transferring data through digital channels has now become part of the norm, as it helps making work easy and reducing the costs of travelling. However, this new method of information transfer has brought about a new problem, which is information leakage. Transferring data requires releasing it into the internet, where you stand the risk of having your data intercepted. The solution to this risk is Data Encryption. Undoubtedly, this is a very broad topic, however, in this article, you will learn about the basics of data encryption, the different data encryption methods required in different settings and the main types of encryption used today.

What is data encryption?

It is the process of scrambling useful data into another code or form, unreadable to the eye of a third party viewer, such that only those with the password or in possession of a secret key, otherwise known as the decryption key, can read it. Encrypted data can be either in transit, moving via email and through browsers or other digital channels, or at rest, stored in databases.

This process is dependent on another phase which is decryption. Decryption is the successful unscrambling of encrypted data by the receiver, using the secret decryption key. If this is not attainable, then the process of encryption is useless to the receiver, as they will not be able to read the data.

Currently, encryption is one of the most effective data security processes used by organizations.

After the encryption has happened, a new form of text different from the original data is produced and this text is commonly referred to as ciphertext. This procedure in itself does not prevent interception by unwanted parties but instead, it makes it impossible for the party to be able to read the real message, -also referred to as the plain text. Currently, encryption is one of the most effective data security processes used by organizations. There are different methods used to encrypt data – it can be with a symmetric method which follows a specific Data Encryption Standard (DES), an asymmetric method, or hashing and key exchange algorithms.

The symmetric data encryption method

Symmetric encryption is a type of cryptography in which one key is tasked with both scrambling and unscrambling the data. This single key is shared between members of a limited group to encrypt and decrypt the data that is exchanged among its members. The most popular algorithms used for symmetric Data Encryption involve the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which uses 56-bit keys, Triple DES (which employs the DES algorithm three times with various keys); and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), suitable for securely transferring and storing data. This method is used in combination with the asymmetric method to form a specific type of transparent data encryption.

The asymmetric data encryption method

Asymmetric encryption is a relatively new method, compared to symmetric encryption. This method uses two different keys to scramble a plain text – a public key and a secret key. Asymmetric encryption is used mostly in everyday communication media, especially over the Internet. Most times this process is done via a data encryption software to help bypass the technical impediments presented to the general public in order to make the application of the method as easy as possible. It is very important to understand that in symmetric encryption, anyone with the correct secret key can decode the message and this is the reason asymmetrical encryption uses two different keys in order to boost security.

Hashing data encryption method and key exchange algorithms

encryption of data for security purposes

Based on the data encryption definition, it is not only restricted to hiding data in a scrambled text. Hashing is a type of encryption that scrambles a text for the purpose of verifying the data contents, not hiding the data itself. This type of encryption is used to protect the transfer of large files and software offered for download by publishers and make sure it reaches the receiver unaltered. The key exchange algorithm is used to safely exchange secret keys with an unknown party in a specified formula. This method does not involve the sharing of information – its main purpose is to create a secret key that can be used later.

Data encryption algorithms

An algorithm is a precise rule (or set of rules) specifying how to solve a problem. In Data Encryption also there are set rules to be followed and these rules come in different forms depending on the encryption method chosen and the purpose of the process in itself.

These algorithms provide confidentiality and ensure key security initiatives.

These algorithms provide confidentiality and ensure key security initiatives including verification of a message’s origin, provision of proof that a message’s contents have not been altered on the way, and proof that the sender of the message did actually send it, it didn’t come from an unknown source. Data encryption algorithms automate the process of encryption and decryption during data transfer in a specific way.

There are a myriad of algorithms used for data encryption, however, some are more popular than others, namely:

  1. Data Encryption Standard (DES) which is an encryption algorithm most often used to encrypt pins in ATM machines and in UNIX password encryption
  2. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
  3. Blowfish
  4. Twofish
  5. IDEA
  6. MD5
  7. SHA-1
  8. HMAC

These algorithms function in different ways and have their own unique qualities and use cases where they can be applied. Some (for example, SHA-1 and MD5) are quite similar (SHA-1 offers enhanced security).

Data encryption standard (DES)

DES is a symmetric-key block cipher. It was initially published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and following this, DES became an application of a Feistel Cipher. The size of each block is 64-bit, but not all of its units are active (8 of the 64 bits of the key are not used by the algorithm). DES has now been evolved into Triple DES or 3DES which is a more secure method of encryption, as it encrypts the data three times in a row and uses a different key in at least one of the operations.

Transparent data encryption

Transparent Data Encryption (TDE) was developed with SQL Server 2008, and it is also available in Oracle database management systems. It is an encryption method that secures the core data in the database. The encryption method secures the data by scrambling the underlying files of the database, not the data in itself. This prevents the data from being hacked and duplicated on another server; to gain access to the files you need to possess the original encryption certificate and a specific key. The actual encryption of the database is done at a page level.

A page, in this case, refers to the unit of data storage in the server (not a web page). A page in an SQL server is small (8KB in size). Since TDE protects/encrypts the structure of the database, it is considered an at-rest encryption method. The major focus of this method is transparency. This means that the scrambling method is transparent to authorized users of the database; they do not need to create any special computer instructions or change complex configurations to read the message. A good real-world example is that of a key fob.

Data encryption software

data encryption software

Data Encryption software is a security application that enables scrambling and unscrambling of data at rest or in transit. It enables the encryption of the content of a data object, file, network packet or application so that it is secure and not viewable by unauthorized users or hackers. Encryption software encrypts data or files by working with one or more encryption algorithms. There are a lot of great data encryption software available (some are free versions, some offer a trial period, while others must be paid for) and this includes Veracrypt, Axcrypt, and Bitlocker.

Data encryption is not perfect

Although we have learnt about how data security works, it is still very important to note that it is not perfect. We always need to be cautious with the way any of it is handled. The fact that there is a software that helps encrypt your data does not mean that you are completely not at risk. However, do not be discouraged because if you use an authentic encryption software and follow the instructions to the point, your data is safer – note how we said “safer” and not ‘totally safe’. The future of data encryption is bright and it will only get better.

Implementation of security in data encryption

After learning about the technicalities of data encryption, you might wonder how all this applies to our daily lives. There are four primary ways that encryption is implemented in securing shared data:

  1. Authentication: Not only does encryption help protect data, but it also helps to identify the authenticity of the user, especially in the event of public sharing. For example, when you visit a website, the SSL certificate is proof that you are connected to the right server, which helps against phishing. The identity in question is not the user, but rather the cryptographic key of that user.
  2. Non-repudiation: Encryption also helps with those using e-commerce or financial applications. Encryption helps to determine if a certain action was taken by a user on the data. For example, if a local bank customer requests a money transfer to another account, then later in the month claims to have never made the request, the bank can prove that the transaction was in fact authorized by the user.
  3. Confidentiality: With information leaks everywhere, keeping your private data secure is a very big concern. Encryption ensures that secrecy.
  4. Integrity: Encryption also helps to ensure that data is not altered or viewed during transit or storage.

Final thoughts

Data encryption, for those who are new to the term, is a daunting and complex process and can be very discouraging. However, data encryption for your organization is now very easy thanks to the availability of a range of high-quality software and encryption methods. All you need to do is outsource this aspect of your organization to your software of choice and that software will allow your employees to continue sharing while it tags, identifies and classifies potential risks that might cause data loss. Remember to choose a top data loss prevention software that offers data encryption with email and application control, so that you can rest assured that your data is safe.

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  1. Liana December 21, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    thanks for info

  2. Anonymous September 9, 2021 at 9:57 am

    If I use YouTube on a Browser, my activity on the web is hidden from my ISP because of HTTPS connection but if I use YouTube App on Mobile, my activity still hidden from my ISP? Because I don’t know if there is HTTPS connection in apps. Please Reply

    1. avatar
      Ethan Payne September 13, 2021 at 2:26 pm

      Hello. Yes, an HTTPS connection secures your connection from your ISP to a certain degree. They will know that you’re visiting YouTube, but they won’t know what particular videos you’re watching. As for mobile apps, there is no easy way to verify that they are using HTTPS. Therefore, I would recommend using a VPN to hide your activities from your ISP.

  3. prettyplease May 21, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Well, when you say “Remember to choose a top data loss prevention software” I was just wondering if you have ideas on some of the recommended softwares that we can use.

  4. Robertjohnson March 3, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Unfortunately there is no one way to bulletproof your sites. There are just multiple ways to reduce the risk of a site getting hacked but you can never be 100% something bad won’t happen. It’s best to always have backups of the data in case something does happen, use all the protection you can afford and also keep most important data (like passwords, personal details, etc) as secret and hidden as you can.

  5. Maxwell C February 7, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    We got hacked last week, all my website users infos where deleted and can’t find any of them. Too bad hackers are on the increase everyday finding ways to bypass all the security measures put in place
    I am not a good developer as we paid someone to build the site for us. Which of the data encryption methods do you recommend or do you prefer we contact security companies to help fix the situation?

  6. avatar
    Mikaela Bray Author January 9, 2019 at 8:18 am

    As you know from the comics, for every superhero, there’s a supervillain. For every strong measure we take, there are equally strong measures that hackers are taking. The only true thing is that they’re on the constant search for vulnerabilities in our systems, and the only way to really protect ourselves is to remain vigilant and stay up-to-date. Update software regularly, read about new threats. But — and this is getting a bit philosophical — as Edward Snowden even said: if an entity really wants to hack you, there’s nothing you can do about it. But for normal users, usually it’s about making sure your entire system and processes are secure.

  7. enthusiasticvpner January 5, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    As security companies strive to provide newer ways to protect data using encryption techniques, hackers and crackers develop new strategies and solutions to decrypt and penetrate security features. I’ve had two of my sites hacked recently, even with MD5 generated long and secure passwords. How can we protect ourselves against such threats and hack attempts?

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