In our day-to-day lives, we use encryption on a daily basis, starting from sending emails to withdrawing cash from ATMs, and from storing files online to sharing them via messaging applications like WhatsApp. We use critical and sensitive information, like social security numbers and login credentials, which if stolen or exploited might wreak havoc in our personal and professional lives. Encryption is a crucial security lock that prevents malicious attackers from stealing our personal data during our online activities, like logging into our bank accounts.
Be it your financial or personal information, or organizational networks and resources, having an imposter faking your identity and accessing all your information is nothing less than a nightmare. Last year, LinkedIn suffered a significant data breach where the information of 700 million users was stolen and posted for sale. Remote access Trojan (RAT) attacks are common where attackers infect the victim’s device without his knowledge and they exist in stealth mode within games and email attachments, thus making them difficult to detect.
Cyber attackers are becoming advanced and sophisticated with every passing day and they come up with new techniques for ransomware and malware attacks, which are rampant.
What is Encryption?
Encryption is the process of transforming plain text messages, like emails, into cryptic formats, known as ciphertexts. This ensures the confidentiality and integrity of data sent via networks, like the Internet, or stored on any device. When the intended recipient receives the message, it is converted into original format, which is the process of decryption. To decipher the encrypted message, the sender and the receiver will have to use a secret encryption key, which is a collection of numerical algorithms.
The encryption standards, which businesses use to keep their data encryption strategies up to date are Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES), Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), and Secure Socket Layer (SSL). TLS/SSL certificates are a type of X.509 certificates used to verify the legitimacy of a server-side endpoint in browser-server communication.
Encryption for Securing Digital Identities
In the contemporary connected world, the majority of communications take place through encrypted channels controlled by digital or machine identities to store and transmit data. A constant check of machine trustworthiness, including virtual machines, containers, microservices, and cloud workloads, is essential to ensure that the machine identities are not compromised.
Encryption is fundamental for:
Data Security: Encryption shields data confidentiality, allowing only authorized personnel to access sensitive information. Data is mostly at risk when it is in transit between one server and another. So, there is a compelling need to safeguard data in transit through encryption. Encryption at rest is crucial for data governance and compliance. Strong ciphertexts and encryption algorithms ensure that data is available and accessible to proposed recipients. One of the most effective ways to implement encryption is through digital identities, which include keys and digital certificates. They not only help authenticate machines but also encrypt machine-to-machine communication for secure data transmission.
Compliance: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies to implement data protection measures, including encryption for data protection against data losses or breaches. All organizations must comply with GDPR; else they end up paying hefty fines due to non-compliance.
Compliance is at the heart of GDPR, and healthcare organizations seem to be the most affected. Personal health data, which includes information about an individual’s health and treatment should be handled within strict compliance rules. In the healthcare sector, organizations must comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards, which uses encryption for producing, saving, transferring, or receiving information in an electronic form, commonly referred to as ePHI or Electronic Protected Health Information.
Business organizations, like in banking and financial sectors, adhering to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is mandatory. In PCI-DSS compliance, symmetric encryption is a vital component and is directly related to the data protection of at-rest cardholders.
Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) is a set of security implementation standards, developed by the United States Federal Government for certifying cryptographic software. FIPS 140-2 is the standard that is currently in use. The government organizations, vendors, and contractors must be FIPS compliant for protecting and handling classified information. Advanced Encryption Standard, a symmetric encryption mechanism, is FIPS compliant and approved by National Security Agency (NSA).
Protecting keys with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI): Encryption guarantees that the data is read and received by legitimate recipients and prevents cybercriminals from accessing the data transmitted via a network, a computer, smartphone, or any connected device. But this does not eradicate the chances of man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, snooping, or eavesdropping attacks. Here comes the role of PKI in ensuring the security of the encryption keys.
PKI uses public-key cryptography as the foundation for providing encryption, with the underlying principles, procedures, and policies being part of the overlying ‘infrastructure’ that is aligned with SSL/TLS protocols. PKI encrypts and decrypts private and public keys respectively using digital certificates, thus establishing a trusted connection between a server and a client.
In simpler terms, PKI verifies and assigns identities to the keys so that the recipients of the message can verify the authenticity of the owner. This verification assures the users that their encrypted message will be received and read by the verified entity (person or device) and not by any malicious third party.
The ever-increasing number of digital identities in this era of digital transformation has often hindered the efficient management and monitoring of digital certificates and keys, which can lead to potential security threats where hackers can forge keys to intercept the encrypted communication and launch snooping and eavesdropping attacks.
Talk to an expert to know how you can manage digital certificates and keys across hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments.