Encryption technology is one of the most popular tools for data security. Essentially, it makes information unreadable for those who do not have the decryption key, rendering them useless even if they are accessed or stolen by hackers and cybercriminals.
However, taking full advantage of encryption is not an install-and-forget affair. There are nuances organizations need to understand or get acquainted with. Some organizations fail to apply the technology effectively, leading to inefficiencies or even failures in facilitating data security.
To make sure encryption works as intended, consider the following pointers. Unlock the full power of encryption in strengthening your organization’s security posture with the help of these recommendations.
Implement a zero-trust framework
As the phrase implies, the system should trust no one. As such, it should verify everyone who requests data access. It should not exempt any data request, even those that are deemed trustworthy. Some organizations may suspend encryption for data exchanges with internal machines or company-owned servers, thinking that unnecessary encryption reduces efficiency and productivity. Many also do not encrypt data in the BYOD computers of high-level officials. That should not be the case.
A zero-trust system maintains a policy of rotating encryption keys and certificates. Encryption is a robust cybersecurity tool, but it can easily be defeated if bad actors manage to get a hold of the encryption keys through carelessness or lack a sensible policy on key safekeeping.
Organizations can use automated security penetration testing to ensure the effectiveness of their security controls, including the reliability of their encryption systems. However, if an organization deliberately relaxes encryption in some areas to avoid “inconveniences,” security testing may not serve its purpose.
Configuring security testing to pass to the lack of encryption or the intentional partial suspension of security controls in some areas is risky. Organizations will not go wrong with having a zero-trust implementation.
Avoid performance issues
As renowned security tech expert Luther Martin suggests, it is unlikely for encryption to cause performance issues as long as it “is done” right. Encryption can be the reason for slowdowns in some areas, but these drawbacks can be easily minimized or even eliminated with the right methods and technologies.
“So does encryption hurt performance? Maybe. It depends on exactly what you are doing and how you are doing it. In many cases, you will find that the actual encryption is not a significant factor,” says Martin. “Other things such as the overhead from secure network connections are typically much more expensive, and these are additional costs that many types of enterprise software will incur,” the security specialist adds.
So, to make sure encryption does not result in performance problems, it is essential to make sure your hardware is capable enough. If not, this may require hardware upgrades. Performance issues generally only affect older devices. Less efficient old computers need to retire to keep up with the times, boost productivity, and lose the excuse not to encrypt.
Best practices such as the use of one-way hash functions for critical data like PINs, passwords, secret keys, and security questions should also be enforced. Doing this makes it highly unlikely for any hacker to access susceptible information.
Additionally, the software you used should also be updated. The encryption algorithms should always be up to date. These algorithms play significant roles in the efficiency of the encryption and decryption processes.
Properly secure the keys.
Without the decryption keys, encrypted files are as good as lost. Avoid accidentally losing your files through the technology that is supposed to safeguard them. It is necessary to have secure copies of the decryption keys for files stored locally. On the other hand, it is essential to have a secure setup for the encrypt-decrypt process when implementing encryption on data transmissions.
Many data encryption systems don’t bother with real key management. Most only store keys locally, whereas users never interact with the keys directly. Those that use popular command-line tools for encryption, for example, are unlikely to do anything beyond the selection of the encryption algorithm and key length.
To avoid encountering problems involving the keys, organizations should get a full-featured encryption solution that includes robust key management from the start instead of making do with basic solutions initially then upgrading or switching to other platforms later.
Additionally, organizations need to avoid storing decryption keys and encrypted data in a single location when it comes to securing keys. Doing so makes data more prone to unauthorized access or damaging breaches.
Consider compliance as a starting point.
Many security tech experts rightfully advise that compliance should not be the compelling reason for having security controls. Organizations should be putting up cyber defenses to make sure they can block attacks or at least be prepared to mitigate and remediate problems as soon as possible.
However, it is not a bad idea to use compliance checklists towards adopting encryption best practices. Regulatory measures such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union provide guidelines on how companies or those in the private sector can protect private user data.
For instance, article 32 of the GDPR lists encryption and the pseudonymization of personal data as appropriate technical solutions for data security and privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) similarly compels establishments to install safeguards such as encryption to prevent unauthorized access to patient data.
Again, legal requirements can serve as an impetus for embracing encryption, but compliance should never be the endgame. Often, being compliant does not equate to security. Laws do not prescribe specific encryption technologies or solutions that are proven to be effective. It is important to refer to best practices and collaborative cybersecurity intelligence such as the MITRE ATT&CK framework.
Insights from MITRE ATT&CK, together with continuous security validation, help drive the point that not all encryption methods are good enough. Simply complying with regulations to use encryption does not mean that private data is sufficiently protected. It helps to refer to more meticulous security assessments to optimize security controls, particularly when it comes to encryption.
Make encryption a shared responsibility.
“Encryption is the first step in your cybersecurity strategy,” says Deepak Gupta of the Forbes Technology Council. There is no doubt about it. No security posture is complete with encryption in the picture.
However, just like other aspects of cybersecurity, it cannot be approach encryption unilaterally. For example, an organization working with a cloud provider cannot entrust encryption to the latter regardless of how long they have been in the industry and how much they brag about their expertise in data security. The cloud provider’s encryption policies should be in line with what an organization deems adequate.
Additionally, control over the encryption keys should be shared between the organization and the cloud provider. Allowing only one party to handle everything for the sake of convenience or ease of operation is antithetical to good security practices.
Moreover, everyone within the organization, especially those who have the permission to enact security reconfigurations, should understand the importance of not turning encryption off at their convenience or bypassing relevant protocols to make processes move faster. Encryption is a fundamental part of cybersecurity. Hence it should not be arbitrary. It cannot be disregarded because someone making a data access request is considered trustworthy.
Encryption is not a self-implementing and auto-updating security system. It has to be implemented correctly and monitored to achieve optimum outcomes. A trustless model of implementation, meticulous securing of the keys, and emphasizing shared responsibility can make it one of the most potent tools to counter data security and privacy attacks.