Encryption is a critical tool that business owners like you use to protect data, establish customer trust, and maintain regulatory compliance. Whether you realize it or not, encryption is used in nearly every digital business interaction. In fact, when you clicked a link to read this article, your web browser used a type of encryption to secure your connection to our website.
If you're struggling to understand how your business can benefit from data encryption, you're not alone. According to our 2022 Data Security survey, more than one in three IT security managers say unencrypted data is one of the top security vulnerabilities their company faces. (See survey methodology at the bottom of this article.)
In this article, we discuss seven powerful encryption methods to secure your small business’s data, followed by a step-by-step process to help you create an effective encryption strategy. But before we proceed, let's start with the basics.
Data encryption is a security mechanism that converts your company’s plaintext data into encoded information called ciphertext. The cryptic text or numbers can be decoded only with a unique key that’s provided at the time of encryption.
Data encryption can be used for both data in transit and at rest. You can combine this data security mechanism with authentication services to ensure only authorized users can access your business data.
Data encryption is typically of two types:
Symmetric encryption: Uses a single symmetric key to both encrypt and decrypt data. The key is shared with all authorized users to allow data access.
Asymmetric encryption: Uses two separate keys to encrypt and decrypt data. One key is made public (shared with everyone), and the other is kept private (known only to the key’s generator). The public key is used to encrypt data, and the private key is used to decrypt it.
Different encryption methods are based on the type of keys used, encryption key length, and size of the data blocks encrypted. Here are some of the top encryption methods that you can use to safeguard sensitive data for your small business.
Advanced Encryption Standard is a symmetric encryption algorithm that encrypts data blocks of 128 bits at a time. It uses keys of 128, 192, and 256 bits to encrypt these data blocks. The 256-bit key encrypts data in 14 rounds, the 192-bit key in 12 rounds, and the 128-bit key in 10 rounds. Each round consists of several steps of substitution, transposition, mixing of plaintext, and more.
You can use AES for Wi-Fi security, mobile app encryption, file encryption, and secure sockets layer/transport layer security (SSL/TLS). In fact, your web browser is currently using AES to encrypt your connection to this website.
Rivest-Shamir-Adleman is an asymmetric encryption algorithm based on the factorization of the product of two large prime numbers. Only someone with the knowledge of these numbers can decode the message successfully.
RSA is often used to secure data transmission between two communication points. However, its efficiency decreases when encrypting large data volumes. Nonetheless, this encryption method is very reliable in transmitting confidential data due to its distinct mathematical properties and complexity.
Triple DES is a symmetric encryption technique and a more advanced form of the Data Encryption Standard (DES) method that encrypts data blocks using a 56-bit key. Triple DES applies the DES cipher algorithm three times to each data block. You can use Triple DES to encrypt ATM PINs and UNIX passwords. Popular applications such as Microsoft Office and Mozilla Firefox also use Triple DES.
Originally designed to replace the DES, Blowfish is a symmetric algorithm process that divides messages into 64-bit segments and encrypts them individually. Blowfish is known for being fast, flexible, and unbreakable. It's in the public domain, so it's free to use, which makes it even more appealing. You can use Blowfish to safeguard transactions in your eCommerce platforms. It can also be effective in securing your business’s email encryption tools, password management systems, and backup software.
Twofish is a symmetric, license-free encryption method that ciphers data blocks of 128 bits. It’s a more versatile successor to the Blowfish and Threefish encryption methods. Twofish always encrypts data in 16 rounds regardless of the encryption key size. Though it’s slower than AES encryption, you can use Twofish to secure your file and folder encryption solutions.
Format-Preserving Encryption is a symmetric algorithm that retains the format as well as length of your data while encoding it. For example, if a customer's phone number is 813-204-9012, FPE will change it to a different one, say 386-192-4019. This way, the format and length remain the same, but the characters are changed to safeguard the original data.
You can use FPE to secure cloud management software and tools. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud, some of the most trusted cloud platforms, use this method for cloud encryption.
Elliptic Curve Cryptography is a newer type of public-key cryptography that’s stronger than RSA encryption. It uses shorter keys, which makes it faster. It’s asymmetric, meaning you can use it in SSL/TLS protocols to strengthen your web communications security. You can also use ECC for one-way encryption of emails as well as digital signatures in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
Building and implementing an encryption strategy is a collaborative effort between your IT, operations, and management teams. Here are four steps to build an effective encryption strategy for data protection:
Classify data. The first step is to figure out which data to encrypt. Understand and classify the different types of data you send and store (e.g., credit card numbers, customer information, company proprietary data) based on how sensitive they are, how often they are used, and how they are regulated.
Identify the right data encryption solution. Use encryption software tools to encrypt your databases or individual files that contain sensitive information. You can also rely on standard security apps and tools such as email security, payment gateways, and cloud security, as they also contain the database encryption features required to secure sensitive data.
Implement strong encryption key management practices. Keep track of your encryption keys so even if someone else gets hold of them, they won't be able to get into your data. You can do this by using a key management solution to store and manage your encryption keys.
Understand the limitations of encryption. Encryption only helps protect sensitive data from hackers. It’s also equally important to have strong cybersecurity measures such as firewalls and endpoint protection in place.
The data encryption methods we shared in this article are some of the most popular among users. Strengthen data protection for your small business by using one or a mix of these methods because hackers won’t stop looking for new prey.
For more information on cybersecurity and how to protect your company’s data, check out these additional resources:
GetApp conducted the Data Security Survey in August 2022 among 1006 respondents who reported full-time employment. Out of them, 289 respondents identified as their company’s IT security manager.
1. Public-key Cryptography, Gartner Glossary
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