Coded information is the secret weapon that helped the Allies win World War II—and today, it’s the technology that protects businesses from hackers. We’re talking about encryption, a data encoding technique that can keep privileged business information out of the wrong hands. Here’s the rundown on business encryption and why you might want to ask your Austin IT services provider to implement it.
What is encryption, anyway?
Encryption may sound, well, cryptic, but it’s not as complicated as it seems. In fact, it’s simply a security technique used to protect data from unauthorized users that involves scrambling plaintext data so it’s unreadable to anyone without an access code, also known as a decryption key. An IT administrator will typically install encryption software on devices and drives to protect assets, although some applications like WhatsApp have built-in encryption tools that ensure data—in this case, messages—can only be accessed by the intended recipient.
Encryption software uses a complicated algorithm to convert normal text to random characters, or ciphertext. There are two different basic types of encryption:
- Symmetric encryption: This type of encryption uses a single key to initially encrypt data and then decrypt it again. The original key must be shared with end users, which makes it more vulnerable and less convenient to use compared to the second encryption type, particularly when information is being shared over the public cloud.
- Asymmetric, or public key, encryption: Also known as public key encryption, this is a more complex form of encryption usually used to encode data accessed online or through the cloud. With asymmetric encryption, the sender encrypts data using a public key, then distributes data to the end user or recipient. Recipients are provided with a separate private key that allows them to view the original data. Servers will typically distribute a digital certificate—a package of information that contains information about the sender as well as the public key—with which to access asymmetrically encrypted data.
How can encryption protect my organization?
Now that we’ve covered the technical ins and outs, we can get down to the really important stuff, namely why you might use encryption in the first place. The first and most obvious benefit is that it keeps unauthorized users from snooping on your company’s data, including your list of client names and addresses, the credit card numbers saved on your server or confidential email exchanges.
There’s more to encryption than fending off prying eyes, however. Information is powerful, and in the wrong hands, your data can do significant damage to your business that may cost you not only money but your reputation. After stealing valuable encrypted data, hackers often sell it on the dark web, exposing your assets and private records.
Alternatively, hackers may use ransomware to break into your networks and encrypt plaintext data, essentially holding it hostage unless you agree to pay a ransom. Ransomware attacks are a huge threat, particularly for small businesses and those in the healthcare sector. According to one survey, for instance, 79% of managed service providers (MSPs) said their clients experienced ransomware attacks between 2016 and 2018. Encryption tools can limit the damage from these kinds of attacks.
One last reason to invest in encryption programs is that they may be required by law for your industry. Organizations governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for instance, must follow certain guidelines for data encryption, as must those covered by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Ensuring that your data meets encryption requirements will keep your organization compliant with these regulations.
Encryption helps SMBs combat risk
A 2018 survey showed that almost 70% of small to medium-sized businesses had suffered a cyberattack in the past 12 months, and your business could be next. While strengthening your networks can help you avoid breaches, encryption will provide a second layer of security if an intrusion does occur.
Deciding what encryption tools you need and where to implement them might seem almost as daunting of a job as installing the software itself. An Austin IT services provider like MyITpros can help you choose the type of encryption you need to both protect your data and stay compliant with industry regulations. Contact us today for a free consultation, because encrypting your data shouldn’t be an enigma.