With cyber-attacks on both personal and public computer systems increasing in frequency, protecting your data has never been more important. Attack types have diversified, and ransomware attacks, in which sensitive data is held hostage or even exposed to public viewing, have become an area of particular concern for modern web users.

As the unfortunate experiences of many have made clear, simple password protection, anti-viral software and firewalls are not always sufficient to repel an attack. This is especially true for businesses and other organizations, which have to utilize high volumes of sensitive data on a daily basis. For information of critical sensitivity, many businesses decide to use encryption for protection.

Encryption; we’ve all heard the term, but most of us have only a vague idea of what it really is.

What is Encryption?

In general terms, it’s the process of encoding information so that only authorized parties can access it. The concept is almost as old as communication itself, and coded messages have been used to protect classified information for thousands of years. In the world of computing, encryption consists of converting electronic data into a seemingly incomprehensible form called ciphertext. The algorithm that creates the ciphertext also creates a unique encryption key which can return the information to its original form.

Why is it Used?

Many organizations will collect terabytes (or more) of data throughout their lifespans. Much of this information will be sensitive and may be stored without access or monitoring for long periods of time, making it susceptible to unauthorized access. Here, encryption is advisable.

In fact, the encryption of data has become exponentially more important in recent years, due to the connected nature of our world today. Every day, massive volumes of data are transmitted via the Internet and other networks (e.g. WLANs or Wireless Local Area Networks). Naturally, this transmission further opens data up to theft, destruction and other unwanted access. Deploying encryption can help to eliminate this vulnerability.

However, confidentiality of data is not its only advantage. Due to the design of the algorithms, encryption also provides authentication of the data’s origin and confirmation that the data has not been modified. On the legal side of things, the digital signature of encrypted data also serves of proof of sender and recipient.

What is The Cost of Encryption?

Most organizations (and certainly the ones that have had their data compromised) will agree: you cannot put a financial price on the protection of your data and that of your customers. The inability to protect data can irreversibly destroy a company’s reputation – no one wants to work with an organization that may allow sensitive information to fall into the wrong hands – and may even land you in legal hot water.

However, one must also consider the other main cost of encryption – time. While there are many factors which affect this (type of data, the volume of information, computer processor speed, etc.), generally the higher the quality, the longer it will take.

It must also be remembered that this is a two-step process. First, there is the initial encryption before the transmission or storage of the data. Then, when a second party has received or retrieved the data, one must allow time for the decryption process. This amount of time varies widely – from a few seconds for a small document to hours or even days for massive troves of data.

One must also consider the computer cycles that will be used on each end. ‘Cycles per byte’ is a measurement of the number of clock cycles a microprocessor performs for each byte of data processed. Due to the complexity of encryption, this number can be quite high – meaning that other tasks you may want to complete on your system are slowed down – or must be postponed until the encryption process has ended.

Experienced data security experts, however, can easily discern an encryption option that will suit your organization’s needs, delivering you a cost-effective solution that at the same time adequately protects your data from threats. If certain basic rules are adhered to, to ensure ultimate protection (e.g. replacing easily compromised copper wire with fiber optic, and using trusted encryption standards like AES), encryption can provide real peace of mind for individuals and organizations alike with respect to their data.

If you’d like to learn more or find out which encryption option would best suit your business, contact us today!