You may already know that data encryption is the last line of defense that will require more resources to breach than a hacker may be willing to spend. You may also know that encryption can be applied both to stored data (such as files on your office computer) as well as data that is moving (such as email).
Here, we’ll take a quick look at how you can apply data encryption at the workplace, using tools that are available to you (both free & open-source, as well as enterprise solutions).
Two Methods to Achieve Data Encryption
Before going down to the practicalities of data encryption, let us take a look at how encryption takes place. There are two main ways in which security professionals encrypt data today.
Symmetric Cryptography: In this method (also called shared secret encryption) a secret key is used to scramble data into gibberish. You’ll probably recognize this process as the same one you may have used to create a code language as a teenager. This method of encryption is as old as the Egyptians. You need to share the secret key with the person who has the right to access your data.
The principle that powers algorithms in tools which offer symmetric encryption. The problem with is that while you’re sharing the key with the recipient, a third person could, in theory, intercept the key and decipher the data.
Public key encryption: Also called asymmetric cryptography, public key encryption offers a way to split the key from the symmetric encryption step into two smaller keys. You keep the private key and share the other (public) key. You encrypt a message with the recipient’s public key, and they can decipher it with their private key, and vice versa. So, a third party who knows the public key will still not be able to decrypt the data.
Most tools use a combination of these two types of encryption and different algorithms based on them. Some conventional encryption algorithms that can protect your encrypted data are AES, DES and its improved version TripleDES, and RC4, RC5 and RC6. Digital certificates, IPSec encryption protocols, SSL, L2TP, PPTP are some of the terms you will come across in the process of using encryption tools. You don’t usually need to go into greater detail for practical purposes.
A Choice to Make
You’ll have a choice facing you. Should you only encrypt the important files or your entire drive? It is less complicated to encrypt only the sensitive files on your workplace laptop. But if someone got their hands on it, they could still install malware and view files that are not encrypted. We recommend this for most private users.
If you encrypt your entire drive, however, it can be difficult for others to break in without your password. But if something corrupts the encrypted data, it will be harder to recover. Businesses may prefer this option, though backup is essential (the backups should be encrypted on the cloud as well).
Favourite Tools for Data Encryption
One of the free tools that are readily available in an open-source, free and cross-platform form is VeraCrypt. In general, the steps for encryption will involve creating a volume, creating an encrypted file container, creating a standard or hidden volume, select a new folder where you want to store the encrypted files, choose an encryption algorithm, the size of the volume and a password. Keep this password safe – on a server that is separate from the server containing the encrypted files, ideally. You will need it every time you mount the volume with encrypted data.
If you’re trying to encrypt your Windows hard drive, then VeraCrypt is also a useful tool. For OS X users, FileVault is a built-in encryption tool that is easy to use and set up.
For businesses that have the resources, there are business security services out there – both in the cloud and on-premises – that offer encryption services specially tailored to the needs of businesses.
Are you using data encryption to protect data in your workplace?