Modern businesses are storing and managing a majority of their personal and confidential information online in a cloud with an uninterrupted connection to the web. This makes it nearly impossible to conduct business in a way that keeps your company’s data from falling into the wrong hands. It is for precisely this reason that businesses are incorporating encryption into their cloud data security plans to keep their data private and safe, no matter its location.
Companies that have yet to realize the benefits of cloud computing in business are beginning to learn that in order to make cloud storage safe, their network must be heavily encrypted. This doesn’t mean that your business needs government or military-grade encryption though; you just need to employ basic encryption solutions that can better protect your network data. Here are a few cybersecurity tips that showcase the importance of encryption and how your business can use cloud computing to your advantage without incurring too many risks from malicious threat actors.
Why is Encryption Important?
According to the IBM 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study, it costs $3.86 million to cover an average data breach. This cost is slated to increase by 6.4% this year with the likelihood of a recurring breach over the next two years, increasing by 27.9%. This statistic alone is enough for businesses to consider ways to optimize their data security measures that ensure the optimal protection of their company’s data.
One of the most effective methods for protecting your network data is via encryption. Just like you lock the doors to the important spaces in your business to deter an intrusion, you need to do the same with your network data via encryption. Except instead of locking a physical door, encryption places rules-based algorithms as heavy-duty data guards that flank your data to protect it from hackers.
Once hackers learn that you are keeping your businesses’ data unencrypted, you become an easy target for them to sneak in and steal it from right under your nose. The damage that having your company’s sensitive data hacked can have serious effects on your payroll, even trickling down to your damaging your client’s cash flow if you’re not careful.
What is the Purpose of Encryption?
In short, file and disk encryption is meant to protect any stored data on your computer or network. If your business collects personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, birthdates, or financial information from clients or customers, that information must be secured in order for you to maintain compliance with various organizations and committees. If your organization is storing PII and it gets stolen or the information is leaked, you can be held liable for the massive fines.
It is for these reasons that it’s a good practice to encrypt your sensitive data, if not your entire hard drive. If you decide to use encryption algorithms to secure your network data, just make sure you don’t think of it as a ‘set it and forget it’ type of solution. Remember that disk encryption doesn’t protect a computer entirely because it is still stored in a physical location (i.e. a server).
It is for this reason that many businesses look to use cloud-based platforms to keep their data safe. This, too, is not a 100% safe solution that you should consider to be turnkey from start to finish (even private clouds are no strangers to being compromised). This is because hackers can still access your data over an insecure network connection or via a malicious link from an email phishing campaign.
How Does Encryption Work?
The act of encrypting your company’s sensitive data when it is stored in the cloud can greatly reduce the risk of data theft. Encryption functions through algorithms that convert data into unique, complex codes that are nearly impossible for even supercomputers to crack.
To put it simply, encryption allows your data to only be accessed and decrypted by someone with the correct key. With that being said, let’s review the most common encryption keys that businesses use to secure their data in a cloud infrastructure.
Symmetric Key Encryption
Symmetric key encryption uses the same algorithm-based key that is stored on multiple devices that allows businesses to transmit and receive encrypted information instantly. This does require that the key be shared ahead of time between the sender and the receiver for the connection to be functional and secure. One drawback of symmetric key encryption is that if a hacker is able to gain access to a company’s network and shared key, they can decrypt any encrypted data and even construct encrypted data packets that would be impossible to detect as being malicious.
Using symmetric encryption algorithms gives business leaders the ability to convert data into a form that cannot be understood by anyone who does not possess the secret key to decrypt it. The secret key that both parties use could be a specific password or just a random string of letters or numbers that have been generated by a secure random number generator (RNG).
Public Key Encryption
Public key encryption allows each person in a conversation to create a public key and a private key. The two keys are connected and comprised of extremely large numbers with complex mathematical properties. This makes it so that data that one person encrypted using their public key can only be decoded by another when using their matching private key.
To put public key encryption into perspective, imagine your business wanted to send a client extremely sensitive data over your public cloud without having it fall under the gaze of unauthorized individuals. To give your client access to the sensitive data, you would send them a copy of your public key for them to decrypt the data.
Of course, there are some security loopholes here since if your company’s communication channels were to have been compromised, whoever got their hands on a public key could actually view that sensitive data. This is why it is incredibly important to ensure that all public key copies are stored offline in a secure location if they are intended to be used again by the client. If they no longer need the key, then it should be deleted to keep the data from being leaked by a hacker.
Encryption Algorithms to Secure Your Business Network
Encryption can protect your most sensitive data and secure your network connections. Over the course of the last decade, many encryption options have been made obsolete due to the continuous innovations of networks and hackers alike. Here are a couple of encryption methods that you should know about that may be the perfect fit for your cloud computing cybersecurity needs.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
One of the most secure symmetric encryption algorithms available is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). This method uses a block cipher that encrypts data one fixed-size block at a time. This helps to streamline the process of data encryption better than other methods that encrypt data bit by bit.
AES is comprised of AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256. Since the size of each block is measured in bits, that means that AES-128 will operate on 128 bits of plaintext to produce 128 bits of ciphertext. This means that the key bit you choose encrypts and decrypts blocks in 128 bits, 192 bits, and so on.
Since AES is symmetric key encryption, you must share the key with other individuals for them to access the encrypted data. The longer the key, the stronger the encryption (256 is the strongest). In terms of performance though, shorter keys make for exponentially faster encryption than longer keys. Overall, AES is much more suitable for encrypting the actual data than public-key encryptions because the keys require fewer resources and are also much faster than public-key ciphers.
If ease of decryption of your data isn’t the main priority of your business, you might be more inclined to implement Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) encryption. RSA is one of the most secure and powerful encryption techniques in the world, supporting encryption key lengths up to 4096 bits.
RSA functions off of having two separate encryption keys with the first encrypting the public information and the other key decrypting the private data. RSA encryption keys are so incredibly strong that they can be used to encrypt keys for other algorithms. One thing to note for RSA is that despite it being an incredibly ironclad encryption solution, it can still be compromised if the private key is exposed.
Cloud Encryption Benefits for Businesses
The key benefit of cloud encryption is that it keeps sensitive data in a read-only state that only authorized parties with access to the necessary keys can decrypt. When data is being stored in the cloud, encryption protects it in the event that a provider, account, or system is compromised.
Cloud encryption gives companies the ability to maintain a proactive defense against data breaches and cyberattacks and has become a necessity in today’s data-driven world. It also allows businesses to meet their industry and regulatory compliance requirements such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and EI3PA to name a few.
Cloud Encryption Best Practices
Around 45% of companies polled in a 2019 survey said they have an encryption strategy applied consistently across their enterprise. If your organization functions within a cloud infrastructure, then you need to first map out your security needs for your cloud deployment and any data that will be moved to the cloud. Ensure that you inventory all sensitive data sources so that you are aware of what needs to be encrypted with which level of bit-key securities.
If, for example, your company is building a website that is based in the cloud, then you will need to give engineers and manufacturers the ability to share source code and design documents amongst themselves. In order to secure the sensitive data that they would need to share, you would need to implement end-to-end encryption protection via one of the several methods that were outlined in this article. Even though some cloud providers have some level of encryption, having your own internal encryption in place will ensure that even if your account or the cloud storage provider is compromised, your data will be secure in the cloud.
Secure Cloud Encryption Key Management
Best practice dictates that businesses should be storing your encryption keys separately from the encrypted data to ensure proper cloud data security is achieved. Be sure to store all key backups in an offsite location that can still be easily accessed by authorized individuals for audit purposes. You can also set keys to expire automatically after a set amount of time or periodically refresh your keys if they’re close to their expiration date.
If you’re looking to add another layer of defense to your encryption keys, implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for both the master and recovery keys. Doing may add another step when you look to call for the data, but it can give your business the type of peace of mind data protection that stakeholders crave as they transition to the cloud.
Cloud Encryption System Maintenance is Key
Encryption is essential to cybersecurity today, with encryption of personally identifiable information (PII) being a top priority for organizations large and small, to protect customers and avoid fines and penalties after data breaches. But maintaining large-scale cloud encryption systems is a very challenging task. This is especially true when we want to achieve high-grade network security and auditability in an IT architecture that is either decentralized or geographically distributed.
This is why it is important to have a plan in place to implement and maintain symmetric or public-key encryption algorithms to ensure proper compliance. If your business is not on top of your cloud encryption and taking a proactive stance on actively decreasing your threat of a data breach, then it will be difficult to deter a hacker from gaining access to your sensitive data. Contact RSI Security today to get started.