5 Key Elements of Data Encryption Best Practices

Gone are the days of rooms full of filing cabinets — your enterprise’s data is now digital. As such, protecting sensitive data has never been more critical. Cybercriminals are also becoming more skilled at gaining access to sensitive data, requiring businesses to take a proactive role in protecting important information.

One of the best ways to protect your company’s data is to make sure it is encrypted. 

What Is Data Encryption?

Data encryption is the process of encoding digital data to make it unreadable unless you have the correct encryption key. Encryption is vital to digital security because even if a hacker somehow gets into the system and is able to access the data, they will not be able read it. Their efforts are futile because the data is useless without the encryption key.

There are a lot of elements to data encryption, and many different encryption protocols. However, every set of data encryption best practices should have these 5 key elements:

1. Sensitive Data is Identified

The first step is to figure out what needs to be encrypted. Depending on the size of your company, you may have data stored in many places across many networks. Take a look at all of the data you keep and consider what information would be harmful if found and read by someone who has breached your system. This includes personally identifiable information (PII) such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and birthdays. 

Another thing to consider is what data would be detrimental to the company if it got out. Trade secrets, business strategies, and new developments could damage the company’s future if they were exposed. Prioritize what would cause the most damage and make sure it is encrypted.

2. Encrypt Data at Rest

When considering what data to encrypt, first consider what data to encrypt while it is “at rest,” meaning while it is stored at your facility. The benefits to encrypting data at rest is that the data will be protected if the server is physically taken or if computer hardware needs to be sent in for repair or discontinued. Any data stored on the device will still be protected, whether or not its physical location changes. This might seem like an unlikely event, but it is nevertheless important to protect yourself from such a possibility.

Encrypting data at rest can also help your enterprise meet security and regulatory requirements like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Ensure that you are aware of the regulatory requirements of your field when encrypting data.

3. Encrypt Data In Transit

When data is in transit — whether through email or going to or from the cloud — it is more susceptible to attack. Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks are just one of these potential dangers, which have shown to be a problem for 95% of HTTPS servers.

When sensitive data is in transit to another location, it is important that it be encrypted. Some use client-to-server encryption (C2S), which encrypts the data as it travels from one client to a central server, and then encrypts it again as it is sent to the recipient. The problem with C2S encryption is that if the server is compromised, the data is also compromised, since it is decrypted at the server.

The more secure way to secure data in transit is end-to-end encryption (E2E), which encrypts the data the entire time it travels from one user to another. This way, even a MitM attack wouldn’t be effective, because the data is fully encrypted while in transit. 

4. Well-Managed Encryption Keys

As mentioned above, encrypted data cannot be read without the encryption key, or cryptographic key. Therefore, it would make sense that being careful with encryption keys would be an important best practice for data encryption.

Encryption keys should always be kept separate from the data that is encrypted. This way, in the unfortunate event that someone gets access to the encrypted data, they don’t also have access to the key. You should also keep backup keys, which should be stored in yet another location. IT should manage who can obtain these keys so that there isn’t unnecessary access to this vital information.

Encryption keys should also be changed regularly. This way, even if someone gains access to your keys, it won’t benefit them for long. Changing encryption keys frequently also prohibits any intruders from having access to all past data, since previous data will have been encrypted with a different key. 

5. Monitor Encryption Performance

Data encryption best practices dictate that you regularly monitor your encryption performance. Ensure that the encryption is working, but also make sure that it’s not slowing down the system too much. If it is, you might need to vary your encryption algorithm or encryption tool. You can also analyze who is gaining access to the information and if they should, in fact, have access. Knowing this can let you know if you need to tweak anything in your data encryption practices.

Protect Your Data with Wickr

Wickr employs state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption to protect any data that is sent within the app. This includes not only messages, but also voice and video calling, conferencing, file sharing, and more. By using Wickr to collaborate with your team and send sensitive information, your data remains safe — not even Wickr can access your data. Learn more about our features and how Wickr can help your team collaborate safely and securely, no matter where they are. Download Wickr today!