Enterprise data encryption - the ultimate guide in 2023

18 Nov, 2022 11 min read
Nigel Thorpe
Nigel Thorpe
Technical Director

There’s no denying that the market for data encryption solutions is multifaceted and broad. But, it must be in order to keep up with modern security gaps and evolving threats.

In this article, we’ll tell you about what enterprise data encryption is, why you should care about it, some of the different types of data encryption, and how SecureAge takes a unique approach to effectively protect enterprise data without compromising existing workflows or requiring a tech overhaul.

What is data encryption?

Data encryption is the conversion of human and machine-readable data with a cypher into unreadable data. The practice of data encryption can be traced as far back as 600 BCE when the Spartans used a stick covered in Greek letters and wrapped with leather with holes poked into it to send secret messages during times of battle. The device was called a scytale and allowed the sender and recipient to use a common cypher via the identically spaced holes in the leather to decode the encoded message. 

While data encryption technology has come a long way since then it effectively still uses the same techniques. What differs is the various use cases that data encryption is used for in today’s environment such as protecting your data, and securing your online communications.

How does data encryption work?

Data encryption works by translating content from one language into another using a dictionary, called a cypher. The language provided by the cypher is not readable by humans instead it is purposefully designed to be obscure and unintelligible for humans in order to safeguard the underlying message. 

Typically, when done by a computer program, the cypher is both a dictionary and an algorithm: it provides not only the unintelligible language but also the instructions for how to translate to and from that language. The number of cyphers used dictates the form of data encryption and there are two types commonly used today.

What are the types of data encryption?

The two types of data encryption commonly used today are symmetric and asymmetric. In short, symmetric data encryption uses the same cypher on both sides of the transmission for encryption and decryption. Asymmetric data encryption, on the other hand, uses different cyphers on both sides of the transmission to encrypt and decrypt each other’s messages.

Symmetric data encryption

The scytale method referred to earlier by the Spartans, is a simple example of Symmetric Data Encryption. The sender and recipient of data have an identical pre-defined key (the scytale) which has an encryption and decryption cypher (the letters plus spaced leather holes).

The sender encrypts the message with the key, sends it to the recipient, and then the recipient decrypts the message with an identical key. That way, encrypted conversations can be had quickly and effectively.

The simplicity of the communication highlights some of the benefits of Symmetric Data Encryption and why it’s so heavily relied upon today. Where organizations have common keys, they can effectively send large amounts of data quickly using those predefined cyphers. Organizations can leverage software and infrastructure to perform encryptions and decryptions en masse with relatively low overhead.

However, that simplicity is also the potential downfall of Symmetric Data Encryption if it is an enterprise’s sole data encryption modality. The thing is, Symmetric Data Encryption works regardless of who has the keys on either end which means it works just as well if a threat actor has the key as it does if a legitimate company has the key. This is commonly how Man in the Middle attacks are conducted, where a threat actor sits in the middle of an encrypted conversation and intercepts it using the common key.

Asymmetric data encryption

Those issues can be mitigated with Asymmetric Data Encryption. Asymmetric Data Encryption is commonly seen with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). PKI is used in many certified security solutions available today, including TLS/SSL encryption which is the basis for HTTPS communication. 

In short, Asymmetric Data Encryption relies on two keys, instead of one. The data recipient has a related pair of keys - a public key and a private key. The sender uses the recipient's public key to encrypt the data and the recipient uses their private key to decrypt the data. 

Asymmetric Data Encryption is derived from a split security model. With Asymmetric Data Encryption, possessing the public key doesn’t mean that all communications can be decrypted. It simply means that data can be encrypted by the holder of the private key.

PKI and data encryption

PKI goes a step even further and makes one of those keys public. An entity – an individual, a service or an organizational unit - will hold the private key and the public can freely access each public key.

So, when you shop online, for example, you encrypt and send your credit card data using a public key. That means, only the company receiving that credit card data can decrypt that credit card data. The company then sends you a confirmation.

PKI basically adds a layer of “trust” to security. A “Certificate Authority” (CA) functions in a similar way to your government issuing you with a passport. You can travel anywhere in the world, and your destination country will trust your identity based on your passport.

A Certificate Authority does the same job for asymmetric key pairs – or at least, for the public key. You will have your public key “certified” by the Certificate Authority. Now, if I already “trust” your CA, I will automatically trust your certified public key, which means that I can be sure of the identity of the person for whom I am encrypting data.

How is data encryption different from other cybersecurity solutions?

Defence-in-Depth is a cybersecurity practice where multiple tools overlap in a specific domain to provide ironclad security in that domain. Like a medieval suit of armour, each piece in isolation covers a specific piece and can be overcome, but in aggregate they protect the whole comprehensively.

An enterprise data encryption solution is one of many tools in a cybersecurity toolbox. Alone, it’s leveraged to protect data in use, in storage and in transit. It does this by preventing the unwanted viewing of data. While data can still be moved and otherwise manipulated, other surrounding processes leveraging that encrypted data can still be compromised. 

Those issues are resolved by leveraging other security tools and building defence-in-depth. For example, anti-malware solutions assist with the prevention of manipulation of encrypted containers. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions can identify where data is moving, and who’s moving it, and prevent that movement if needed. Security frameworks can help with the implementation of administrative processes that secure how data is used.

Only you can identify solutions that provide you with quality defence-in-depth with respect to your data but an enterprise data encryption solution is a critical component of that. Depending on where your business operates and whom it operates with, it is likely you will have legal and regulatory obligations to implement robust data encryption solutions.

Failing to address those obligations could mean fines and cessation of business operations in those jurisdictions. You can’t afford not to address those needs.

Some companies also try to provide contextual protections for specific kinds of data. While not impossible, it’s a very intensive undertaking. Most forms of “sensitive” data are unstructured – so while it’s straightforward to search for credit card and medical record numbers, it’s far more circuitous to find less obvious data elements. 

One of your defence-in-depth tools can be a bespoke data identification tool. These tools use intelligence and behavioural analysis to identify “sensitive” data. Still, they charge a premium to do so and what those tools lack are significant edge cases and internally “sensitive” data. Effectively they create a data dichotomy: you have data that you’re ok with being stolen and misappropriated and data that you’re not. This begs the question, is there really such a thing as “more important” or “more sensitive” data? Isn’t all data sensitive nowadays?

Most security frameworks suggest developing a minimum safety baseline for all data in your organization and applying that across the board. So, instead of trying to figure out where you’ll apply a data encryption solution—and acknowledging that there’s data, you don’t care about—you should be thinking about how to implement a data security solution to address your baseline security needs.

What to look for in an enterprise data encryption solution?

With the current state of modern on-premise infrastructure and cloud technology, the performance impacts caused by data encryption are practically negligible, even at scale. Therefore, your question should be “how do I protect data?”

To get you started, there are 7 key features you should consider in your data encryption solution:

  • Encryption complexity – this refers to the ability of the solution to apply long and complex cyphers to information. Typically, the longer and more complex the cypher, the more secure the data. 
  • Encryption standards – this refers to the complexity of the cypher vis a vis standards adherence. For example, does the encryption cypher support the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)?
  • Breadth of encryption – does the solution encrypt all data or some data? Does it do so agnostic of the kind of data being secured?
  • Encryption in use, in motion and at rest – where and when is the data secured? Can it be easily read at rest but not in motion? If your organization is undergoing a journey to zero trust architecture, then data readability equals trust and can undermine your entire mission. 
  • Encryption policy enforcement – does a solution have automated enforcement of encryption policies? Can this be circumvented by end users? Are there situations where you’d want this to be circumvented by end users?
  • Centralized management – on the flip side to the question of end-user encryption circumvention, it is essential to ask “are your end-users responsible for encryption enforcement?” And if so, does the solution provide centralized command-and-control management of encryption
  • Key management – last, but definitely not least, is key management. Automated key management is critical not only to protect your keys but to keep them in an identifiable, organizationally known, and secure storage location.

SecureAge Security Suite: data encryption solution to protect Data in all three states: in transit, in use, or at rest

SecureData PKI technology provides a highly secure and generally applicable baseline with low overhead and easy management. It gives the best-in-breed data encryption defence as it’s focused on the endpoint. That means any data your staff interacts with is safeguarded from the prying eye.

SecureData technology takes a zero-trust approach to data security and encryption. Data in your environment is encrypted by default and is then decrypted only when accessed. Unlike other solutions such as full disk encryption, your data is encrypted while in use, at rest and in transit, and only decrypted by the specific, authorised individual.

It also uses modern cyphers and strong keys so that encrypted data remains secure. Even supercomputers will be unable to crack encrypted data for millennia. That’s why we’re trusted by forward-thinking organizations worldwide.

With SecureAge Security Suite, you don’t have to be a cybersecurity expert either. Our data encryption software provides centralized management in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand format. With a simple and straightforward UI, you will be able to understand what you’re protecting, where, and how that’s being enforced. SecureAge protects every file, every place, and every time, while not impacting the daily life of end users.

The bottom line: data encryption matters

Data encryption is the cornerstone of any zero-trust security program. For much of human history, it’s been the first line of defence for keeping information safe and away from prying eyes. While it’s stayed conceptually identical, technology has increased enterprise data encryption complexity and made enterprise data encryption much easier to implement at scale. 

Protecting data is SecureAge’s forte. We not only offer best-in-breed data encryption but we make it easy to manage and scale. SecureAge’s zero-trust approach to data use sets us apart from competitors and makes us the premier end-to-end solution for enterprise data encryption. Visit our SecureAge Security Suite page to find out more and get in touch with our representative to see live in action how SecureAge Security Suite works.

Our website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience and can find what you need. Read our cookie policy