What is data encryption? And why it’s vital for businesses?

Data encryption is no longer the stuff of myth and legend belonging to the spy genre. It’s not just thrillingly brought to life on the small screen, big screen, or in the pages of novels. It is accurate, and it is here. Furthermore, it is in play every day to keep commercial data, including IP assets and sensitive files, safe. It helps UK businesses reach compliance with the security principle of GDPR. From our high street banking services to online shopping at home – encryption works globally 24/7, 365. It keeps data safe from misuse. The peace of mind it offers is priceless to all of us. So, just how important is it for small businesses? Let the experts at Synergy-UK explain.

What is data encryption?

The ICO defines encryption as: “a mathematical function that encodes data in such a way that only authorized users can access it.” It is fair to say that if you are authorized to access it, you must take care of it. By taking care of it, you take data protection seriously. Data encryption is vital to your IT Security Strategy and Risk Planning. Data is often said to be at its most vulnerable when it is in transit and when it is stored. Data stored is also known as data at rest. Files are ‘out of sight’ (when not being actively processed), so trust data encoding to guard it.

Encrypting data in transit

When data is in transit, you need data encryption to ensure:

  1. It cannot be read and understood if it is obtained
  2. It cannot be re-routed where it may be held for ransom.
  3. It cannot be corrupted to deceive

Encrypting data once stored (at rest)

Similarly, when data is stored (at rest), you need data encryption to ensure:

  1. The physical location, as well as the virtual location, are secure.
  2. The file management system is monitored and audited for access anomalies.
  3. The data stored is kept encrypted. The key is stored securely and separately. The key has restricted authorized access protocols.
  4. Robust protocols are in place, whether the store is active or inactive, at any time.
  5. Alarms are triggered in a cascade system of communication in a data breach event.

The maths at work

Data encryption means using a key to unlock the ciphertext. The ciphertext cannot be read or understood in any commercial way (as it’s scrambled). Once it is unlocked, it reverts to the original plaintext. The plaintext is of value to authorized – and potentially – unauthorized users alike. It’s a digital wall. Applying an algorithm to create the encryption ciphertext minimizes hacking risk.

Types of Data Encryption

  • The ICO confirms that there are two types of data encryption in widespread use today. Symmetric and asymmetric encryption.
  • The difference lies in whether the same key is used for encryption and decryption protocols.
  • The sender and recipient of your files use the same key. The same key is used during encryption and decryption with the symmetric method.
  • For the asymmetric method, a public key (shared with authorized users only). A private key (solely for the owner’s use) is employed.
  • With the asymmetric method – the public key is for encryption purposes. The private key is for decryption purposes.

Encryption usage on a daily basis

When you use an ATM or make a call on a GSM mobile, data encryption keeps your files safe. When we send work emails remotely, we rely on encryption. It guards both your privacy and your safety when it comes to your files. Without encryption in our digital age, modern life could not function successfully. This is our simple yet sobering reality. We must stay alert. We must not take the fiscal freedoms and autonomy we enjoy as we go about our daily lives for granted. encrypting mobile data

Is encryption something for businesses to worry about?

You are just getting started in the marketplace. In the early days, you grow your business with the generation and nurture of two simple things: trust and loyalty. Your clients wish to spend with you once they are satisfied that your products and services meet or exceed their needs. Customers are more likely to offer repeat business if they feel the experience is always a professional one. Data encryption is one way to generate and nurture trust, loyalty, and professionalism. Do not hesitate when purchasing cryptography products and services. In comparison, you wouldn’t delay in the same way when buying Professional Indemnity insurance or Accountancy services.

The level of risk for small businesses

The digital world grows more nuanced regarding the technologies available to us. So, too, does the level of risk small businesses are vulnerable to. This list grows in size and complexity all the time. Data encryption is now essential to business resilience. It is a clear business asset in response to the threat of attack. Examples include Artificial Intelligence-driven cyber-attacks or supply-chain attacks. Conducting due diligence on all business partners is now more critical than ever. This includes reviewing their cybersecurity policy, too. We all need to shore up any potential weaknesses. Do this to stay one step ahead. Know the business you are in completely – know your customers, your suppliers, and your competitors. To be a small business is to be in business – regardless of your current size. What you do as soon is of value to you and will be to others. The more successful you become, the more attractive your information becomes to hackers. You may need to spend more on cryptography, so know what it is you are purchasing. cyberattack risk for small business It is now essential to business resilience. It is a clear business asset in response to the threat of attack. Examples include Artificial Intelligence-driven cyber-attacks or supply-chain attacks. Conducting due diligence on all business partners is now more important than ever. This includes reviewing their own cybersecurity policy, too. We all need to shore up any potential weaknesses. Do this to stay one step ahead from day one. Know the business you are in – know your customers, your suppliers and your competitors. To be a small business is to be in business – regardless of your current size. What you do, as soon as you trade, is of value to you, and it will be to others. The more successful you become, the more attractive your data becomes to hackers. The more data encryption you may need so know what it is you are purchasing, inside and out.

Famous data breaches

UpGuard blogger Kyle Chin outlines a set of small and big businesses suffering recent and catastrophic breaches. They arose because of hacking activity. His list includes high street names we all love and trust to our cherished national institutions. From his blog, it is apparent hackers know no bounds. Plus, the impact is always devastating for all.

The takeaways – high-value data types

  1. Personal information (including Sensitive Personal Information) –such as birthdates and full customer names. It can be the physical addresses of individuals and their email addresses. It can mean National Insurance (NI) numbers, mobile numbers, medical records.
  2. Financial information– examples are personal customer banking details, sort codes, and account numbers. It can mean credit card numbers and credit check data.

The takeaways – general

  1. It is clear that time is the overriding factor in managing damage limitation. Both reputational and financial. This time lag could be due to anxiety and fear. It could be due to a lack of training and confidence in the protocols and policies. Or it could be a lack of knowledge over the exact threat faced and just who to call
  2. Act fast, act decisively. Most of all, act transparently and co-operatively. Work with all the regulators and other relevant authorities, so you put all affected parties first. Lead your response from the front. Mitigate the impact as soon as you know you are under attack.
  3. Review all data encryption protocols every financial quarter (Q1-Q4). Check for any laxity in procedures. Pinpoint potential obsolescence in the hardware and software you use. Run cyber-attack drills regularly.
  4. Your IT and your staff both need to stay vigilant. Please support them with vigorous, regular training. Make sure they have access to robust company policies. When staff access their email, the threat of receiving malware email attachments or phishing scams is ever-present. Hackers count on that inadvertent click to happen unawares in an inbox. The start of the day can be a vulnerable time for such strikes. Flag and quarantine this malicious content promptly. If they slip through, your staff needs to know what to do. They must be able to protect themselves and protect you, their employer.

Highest standards of encryption

Conclusion

The Cybersecurity Breaches Survey 2023 says formal incident response plans are not widespread. Only 21% of businesses and 16% of charities have them ready. Ensure everyone in your team knows what to do. Ensure they have the confidence to act fast – day or night. The National Cybersecurity Centre’s Cybersecurity Breaches Survey 2022 says 39% of all UK businesses reported a cyber-attack between March 2020 – February 2021. The threat to your data is accurate. The power of data encryption only comes to light when data breaches occur. Using the highest standards of encryption appropriate for you and your business means you prove digital resilience. You can demonstrate you are aware of the threats posed. You are undertaking all reasonable steps to conduct your business well. It shows the level of preparation you have done to meet and repel such threats. You show business confidence in yourself and what you do. The message you send is that you fully intend to establish your niche. You intend to consolidate it and grow it – year-on-year. You are here for the long haul. Furthermore, you intend to do this successfully and securely. Encryption allows you to own your business model if you will. Trust and loyalty to secure business credibility.

FAQ

data frequently asked questions

1. Does file encryption really work?

The UK Data Service confirms that: “…some types of encryption provide greater protection than others, the type and level of encryption used should correspond to the sensitivity of the data being protected. As a general rule, more bits equals stronger encryption, therefore, 256-bit encryption is stronger than 128-bit encryption; the latter should, ideally, be the minimum level of encryption used.”

2. Is encryption software a 100% failsafe?

  • No software offers 100% security. Hacking is and remains highly lucrative. It is also increasingly refined. Your best defence is in all the steps you take.
  • Revisit your relationship with the files belonging to you. Check how you care for your business data.
  • View how you look after your customers and your supplier’s data. This 360-degree scrutiny can make all the difference.
  • Think at the granular level. This is time-consuming but so much more effective. You need to protect your files from the individual file to the full disk. Protect every byte at every stage.
  • Incorporate Sender Identity verification. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). Data encryption is not a wholesale activity. It is literally one deployed byte by byte for best results. Built-in encryption and third-party encryption programs are available.
  • Ask the expert team at Synergy-UK for the best encryption software advice.

3. How easy is encryption to on-board for small businesses?

The barriers to ease are cost and volume, which affect the time it can take. It takes time to apply encryption protection to every data touchpoint. It would help if your desktops, laptops and USB’s were secure as a start. It would be best if you had the highest standard of data encryption concerning the sensitivity level of the data you process. Think about how you actively process, transfer, and store your data. Pick the algorithm and the software that suits you and how you do business. Consult the encryption experts at Synergy-UK to show you how.

4. What are the consequences of not applying encryption?

Worst-case scenarios vary in complexity. This depends on the nature of the threat. It is wise to avoid a data breach at all costs. When data becomes lost or stolen, potential fallout can be severe. It can lead to the issuing of financial penalties from the regulators. It could result in litigation potential. This could be from lawsuits filed against your business by affected third parties. You could risk business closure. It can lead to unending downtime. You could lose share price value and a substantial amount of brand equity. You could lose the intangible treasures every small business cherishes. They are trust and loyalty. Your market share could go elsewhere – overnight and permanently.

5. How to I find out more about encryption?

  • Investigate The UK Government-backed scheme – Cyber Essentials. It could help you improve your cybersecurity. Understand the level of risk your business faces. It is conducted by self-assessment. Consider obtaining this approval. Small businesses bidding for some central government contracts must hold this standard.
  • Brief yourself on the latest trends in encryption. Conduct desk research on the broader subject of data security. Attend small business events on the subject. Write blogs on the topic to share thought leadership. Thales research could be an excellent place to start, as could Bitsight or PwC.
  • For your small business, you may be ready to enquire about encryption. You will need software licencing and support. You would need to on-board it into your day-to-day data operations fast.
  • Consider investing in encryption. Look into the hire of a dedicated data encryption specialist. You could choose an in-house employee. You could prefer the professional services of an external consultant.

How Synergy-UK can help keep your data safe

The data encryption experts at Synergy-UK are here to help. Established in 1996, we have been trading for over 25 years. We offer IT support and services in Sheffield and throughout South Yorkshire. Know that we don’t tie our customers to contracts. Our customers have stayed with us due to our excellent quality of work. Contact us today to discuss all your encryption needs. We offer encryption support to software.

Sam Ashford
Sam Ashford - Author

Hey, I'm Sam Ashford! I have 20 years of experience in the IT industry. I have worked as a security analyst, trainer, and writer at Synergy-UK for over ten years.

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