What is encryption and how does it improve cyber security

Due to the number of advanced attacks that have taken place in the last few years, cyber security is a hot topic. Numerous local and international enterprises have been targeted and severely affected by cyber attacks, including data breaches, customer leaks, distributed denial of service (DDoS) and impersonation attacks.

To protect against a variety of cyber threats, numerous defence strategies and services are available. Encryption, though, is one of the latest buzzwords. Most individuals have a basic understanding of what encryption is and why it’s a useful type of security, but how can large enterprises and small businesses benefit from advanced encryption?

What does encryption really mean?

Data is scrambled during the encryption process so that only the sender and receiver can read it. It was extensively used to transmit messages and orders to front-line soldiers during World War 2. These coded messages wouldn’t be recognisable to the enemy if they were intercepted. The process remains the same in digital terms.

Data encryption encodes plain text into cyphertext that is only accessible and understandable by users with the right cryptographic key. It converts readable data into a scrambled jumble of numbers and letters that can only be decoded by authorised users. End-to-end encryption is used by WhatsApp and many other messaging services to improve user privacy.

This is a basic form of encryption that scrambles data at one end and decodes it at the other. Any software or person intercepting the data won’t be able to make sense of it because only the intended recipient can decrypt the data.

When it comes to business, encryption has the same benefits. It’s essential for privacy protection and prevents malware, hackers and scammers from getting their hands on sensitive data. It ensures that companies safeguard both their sensitive data and the personal information of their customers.

Two types of encryption

There are two basic forms of encryption, each with distinct benefits and purposes:

  1. Symmetric encryption – Here, the same key (decipher code) is used for encryption and decryption. This key is securely transferred between the sender and the receiver. It’s fast and efficient, but also an older form of security that could still be hacked.

  2. Asymmetric encryption – Here, a different key is used for encryption and decryption. A private key is kept by the sender and a public key is shared with the authorised receiver or made available to the general public. Data encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted with the corresponding private key, which prevents unlawful access to the information by unauthorised users. Since there are two keys needed, this method is more secure.

Encryption in transit vs encryption at rest

Data at rest and data in transit (or in motion) are the two types of data that can both be encrypted. More often, a business will use data in transit on a daily basis. Whether on-premise or on the cloud, it is stored on a database and accessed through programmes and applications. Because it is sent and received, it is said to be “in transit.” A firewall or software is used to store and protect data at rest.

Think of it like putting data in transit into an armoured car as it travels, whereas data at rest is stored in a steel vault. The encryption adds an additional layer of security to business data. For encryption in transit, the data is scrambled before transmission, the devices are authenticated and the data is decrypted on arrival. The data is scrambled and left in this state until it is needed for encryption at rest.

Companies need to ensure they use encryption for both types of data. Encryption at rest is needed if customer information, bank accounts, and personally identifiable data are stored on servers. Encryption in transit should be used if employees constantly access and update business records and supplier data.

Best practices for added protection

Unencrypted data is vulnerable to exposure whether it is in transit or at rest. IT teams should implement a number of best practices for data protection, in addition to encryption, including:

  • Setting up advanced network security controls, including firewalls, zero-trust access control, anti-malware and multifactor authentication.
  • Taking a proactive approach to data security by identifying at-risk information and implementing the required encryption or protection solutions.
  • Choosing data protection solutions from reputable suppliers, such as SEACOM Business, that can offer secure policies that enable user blocking and automatic encryption.
  • Creating internal policies for systematically classifying all business data, no matter where it’s stored or transferred to.
  • Implementing automatic backup and recovery of lost or stolen data.


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Written by Taryn Hill

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