Data Encryption: Learn the Basics to Protect Your Business Files

What exactly is data encryption?

Data encryption is a complex facet of data security that consists of high-level mathematics and cryptography. Encryption protects data such as business files by making the information unreadable to unauthorized users. An algorithm processes the regular data (plaintext) into an encrypted format (ciphertext) that requires a key to access. If a hacker intercepts encrypted data, it’s useless without the decryption key.

Fully understanding data encryption would require a stack of reference texts and countless hours of study. Luckily, a deep understanding isn’t necessary to make informed decisions about protecting your business data.

If we told you right now that Onehub uses 256-bit encryption to protect your data both in transit and at rest, would you know if that’s good? If your answer is no, that’s okay. We’re going to cover common questions and terms that will give you sufficient working knowledge of data encryption for your business. 

Do I really need to encrypt business files? 

Yes, urgently. 

In a report to Congress, the Congressional Research Service stated, “[Strong encryption] is important because the world has become more connected, and attackers have become more persistent and pervasive. It is difficult to overemphasize the extent to which Internet-connected systems are under attack.” 

The average cost of a data breach for a U.S. company is nearly $4 million. On top of that, customers are wary about continuing to do business with a company that exposed their personal information. 

Avoid this nightmare scenario with sensible cybersecurity protocols. Encrypting your company’s data should be standard practice because it renders any stolen data useless. 

Why can’t I just password protect files?

Some people rely on password-protected files or password-protected folders to keep their information safe, but this is a woefully inadequate security measure. 

Passwords are easy to crack. In 2020, nearly all of the most commonly used passwords could be cracked in under one second. (Not surprising considering the most common password was “123456”.) Hackers can even avoid this half-second inconvenience if they’ve acquired your passwords from a data breach. They simply log in, collect all the juicy information they can find, and then sell it for easy money.

To give you a real-world comparison, password-protecting a file is like the lock on your child’s diary, and data encryption is Fort Knox. If you encrypt your data, no one is getting access unless you want them to.   

How does encryption work?

A cryptosystem, a complex series of algorithms, controls data encryption. The system uses encryption and decryption algorithms to switch up the characters contained within the data. The encryption algorithm is responsible for substituting plaintext characters to turn the data into unreadable ciphertext. The decryption algorithm reverses this process, changing the protected information back into readable plaintext.

To give you a visual of how the process works, imagine you need to send a box full of diamonds to a very lucky friend. Obviously, the diamonds are valuable, and many people would love to get their hands on them. You decide to secure the box with a padlock. Before sending the locked box to your friend, you send them the padlock key. Once you use the padlock to secure the box, the only person who can open it is your friend who has the key. 

That is encryption and decryption in a nutshell, though it does leave out one crucial aspect. A padlocked box can be broken into by brute force, whereas encrypted data is impenetrable without the key.

What’s the difference between 128-, 192- and 256-bit encryption?

The number in front of “bit” represents the numeric length of the key used to encrypt data. The difference between them is simply the number of bits in the encryption key. The more bits, the more time it will take a hacker to crack the ciphertext.

128-bit and 192-bit encryption are both considered relatively safe to use right now, but they are becoming increasingly less secure as technology advances. 256-bit encryption is one of the most secure data encryption methods available today. Banks use this encryption method to protect sensitive financial information, and the U.S. government trusts 256-bit encryption to protect top secret information

Can encrypted data be cracked?

In theory, yes. It’s a math problem, and it can be solved, but the security of data encryption lies in its mathematical complexity. While it’s technically possible to crack encrypted data by brute force, the amount of time it would take is astonishing. 

For a hacker to crack 256-bit encryption without the key, it would take approximately 27 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years (aka vigintillion years). For context, our universe is less than 15 billion years old.  It’s more likely that the universe would end before the encryption was ever broken (Scrambox).

What does it mean to encrypt data in transit and at rest?

When you share a file via the internet, that data is in transit. The thousands of business files saved to your local or cloud server are at rest. Files are vulnerable in both states, though at-rest data is overlooked in many security plans.

According to a study by McAfee, 81.8% of cloud storage providers encrypt in-transit data; however, only 9.4% encrypt data at rest. Hackers know this, so instead of trying to crack encrypted in-transit data, they look for unprotected data at rest.

Equifax’s 2017 data breach is a prime example of why encrypting both is essential. The personal information of over 143 million customers was breached because the company did not encrypt its stored data. 

Ex-CEO Richard Smith confirmed that the stolen data was stored in plaintext. He went on to say, “There are varying levels of security techniques that the team deploys in different environments around the business” (Wired). 

Is it just us, or is that statement meaningless? 

Generalized statements like Smith’s should be a red flag to anyone evaluating data security or cloud storage providers. If they can’t plainly state their security strategies, strike them off your list and continue your search. Companies with solid security and encryption protocols will be happy to share the methods they use to keep your business data safe. 

Safeguard your business data today

Protecting your business files should be a top priority in 2021. The internet can be a scary place for data, and there’s too much at risk to leave valuable company information unprotected. Encrypted files give you the peace-of-mind you want for your most sensitive data.

Onehub takes data security seriously. Our 256-bit encryption protects data both in transit and at rest, so our clients’ business information is as secure as top secret government files. Sign up today for our free 14-day trial, and rest easy knowing we’ve got you covered.