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Data Encryption: benefits, types, methods
Learn about the benefits, types, and methods of data encryption in this informative blog post. Discover how encryption safeguards your information and reduces the impact of cyber threats. Find out how encryption works and explore the different types and common methods used.
Data encryption is one of the most prevalent digital safety measures since it safeguards information and reduces the impact of cyber threats. Modern organizations incorporate encryption in various daily activities such as communication and payments.
That said, it is essential to understand how encryption works so you can leverage its capabilities and ensure optimal protection. This post explains data encryption and lists its benefits, types and the common encryption methods found in different tools.
What Is Data Encryption?
Data encryption transforms readable text found in messages, documents and files into scrambled or unintelligible content. This prevents unauthorized users from reading and understanding information usually deemed confidential or sensitive. The text becomes comprehensible once it has been decrypted and restored to its original state.
Large organizations, small businesses and even individual users apply encryption to at rest or in-transit data in multiple scenarios:
- Sending emails: In this case, encryption is used to ensure that no one but the intended recipient reads the message.
- Storing production and backup data: Cyberattacks can capture and expose data whether it is kept on-premises or in cloud storage. However, data encryption keeps data incomprehensible even if it is accessed by hackers. Using a reliable backup solution like NAKIVO is crucial for securing your backup data. It also allows you to store your backup data in a secure, offsite location, such as a remote server or cloud storage, providing an added layer of protection against cyber threats.
- Managing online payments: Payment and credit card information is considered highly sensitive, and businesses are required by law to protect this data via advanced encryption.
How Does Encryption Work?
Encryption tools use mathematical algorithms and randomly generated passcodes, known as encryption keys, to convert plaintext into a ciphertext made up of secret combinations of letters, numbers and characters.
Originally, the old 4-bit key generated only 16 combinations, which made it easy for hackers to guess the correct combination using brute force attacks. Modern 256-bit encryption keys provide stronger protection by producing thousands of different possibilities.
Encrypting data is only half of the process. The recipient or intended user should have a decryption key to convert the unintelligible text back to its original readable state.
The widespread reliance on data encryption is due to its numerous benefits including:
- Security: First and foremost, encryption safeguards data by hiding it even if it falls in the hands of hackers. It does not offer ransomware protection but prevents unauthorized users from viewing the information which keeps it secure in case of a breach.
- Privacy: Only the intended user or recipient who has the decryption key can read the text. This ensures that data remains private whenever you share it.
- Authentication: When users encrypt data using a public key, they prove that they also hold the associated private key which means that you can rest assured that they are the rightful owner of the data you received.
- Compliance: Regulatory and compliance standards like GDPR and HIPAA require businesses that collect and store personal information to keep their data encrypted.
Types of Data Encryption
There are two distinct types of data encryption that primarily differ in the number of encryption keys used to encrypt and decrypt information.
Symmetric encryption, also known as private-key cryptography, requires only one key to encrypt and decrypt data. In other words, both the sender and receiver should have the same key to successfully exchange classified information.
While this type is faster than asymmetric encryption, it is less secure. It is recommended that you use symmetric encryption in internal activities that do not involve a third party. Moreover, it is crucial that both parties safely share and store the encryption key.
This method is also called public-key encryption. Asymmetric encryption uses two keys that are paired with each other: the public key is required to encrypt data and the private key is needed to decrypt it.
Anyone can view the public key but the corresponding private key should remain with the intended users only so they can use it to decrypt the ciphertext.
Asymmetric encryption provides more security than symmetric encryption. However, it is a slower process that might impact business activities that should be done quickly like online transactions.
Note: Hashing is sometimes considered an encryption technique since it creates a unique signature of a specific length for a text. Nevertheless, data encrypted using hashing does not rely on encryption keys and cannot be decrypted. Its only purpose is to verify that the information hasn’t been modified and to ensure data integrity.
There are numerous forms of encryption algorithms available and they vary in key length, key type and size of encrypted data blocks. The most common ones are listed below.
- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)- AES is one of the most trusted encryption algorithms and is used by large corporations and governments to safeguard information. It can encrypt data at rest or in transit while keeping it secured from almost any type of attack except for some types of brute force. Advanced Encryption Standard is a symmetric encryption algorithm that encodes content in fixed blocks of data over several rounds. Each round includes mixing, transposition and substitution of plaintext. The AES keys used to decrypt texts are generally 128-bit long but you can also find 192- and 256-bit long keys.
- Triple DES (Data Encryption Standard) - Triple DES is also symmetric encryption and it is the advanced version of the original DES algorithm. When encrypting information, Triple DES uses a 56-bit key and applies the algorithm three times to each data block. This encryption method is generally used when encrypting ATM PINs.
- Blowfish - Blowfish is a symmetric algorithm known for its speed and reliability which is why it is found in e-commerce websites and online payments. This method divides the m message into 64-bit blocks and encrypts them individually. Blowfish is also publicly available and free to use.
- Twofish - This is the successor of Blowfish and it is also free to use. Twofish offers advanced capabilities by breaking data blocks into 128 bits. It is the fastest symmetric algorithm and can be used for software and hardware environments.
- Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) - RSA is a robust asymmetric encryption algorithm that is commonly used when transmitting information online. It encrypts data based on the factorization of the product of two large prime numbers. The recipients can only decipher the message if they know these numbers.
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