With increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber threats and data breaches, cybersecurity is crucial to every organization's data protection efforts today. TechTarget says data encryption is "a foundational element of cybersecurity."
However, a 2023 study by Thales Group found that only 20 percent of respondents reported that 60 percent or more of their cloud data is encrypted. The same study found that, on average, only 45 percent of sensitive data is encrypted. Overall, the report spotlights that significant amounts of sensitive data are unencrypted.
That is changing, and the numbers bear this out. Market Research Future projects that the data encryption market will grow from $13.4 billion in 2022 to $38.5 billion by 2023, a robust 16.3 percent CAGR.
With that in mind, let's dive into the various encryption technologies and what the future holds. That includes growing threats from quantum computers—and what the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is doing about it today.
How Encryption Works
Encryption is a way for data—messages or files—to be made unreadable, ensuring that only an authorized person can access that data. Encryption uses complex algorithms to scramble data and decrypt the same data using a key provided by the message sender. Encryption ensures that information stays private and confidential, whether it's being stored or in transit. Any unauthorized access to the data will only see a chaotic array of bytes.
Here are some essential encryption terms you should know:
Also known as a cipher, algorithms are the rules or instructions for the encryption process. The key length, functionality, and features of the encryption system in use determine the effectiveness of the encryption.
Decryption is the process of converting unreadable ciphertext to readable information.
An encryption key is a randomized string of bits used to encrypt and decrypt data. Each key is unique, and longer keys are harder to break. Typical key lengths are 128 and 256 bits for private keys and 2048 for public keys.
There are two kinds of cryptographic key systems, symmetric and asymmetric.
Symmetric Key Systems
Everyone accessing the data in a symmetric key system has the same key. Keys that encrypt and decrypt messages must also remain secret to ensure privacy. While it's possible for this to work, securely distributing the keys to ensure proper controls are in place makes symmetric encryption impractical for widespread commercial use.
Asymmetric Key Systems
An asymmetric key system, also known as a public/private key system, uses two keys. One key remains secret—the private key—while the other key is made widely available to anyone who needs it. This key is called the public key. The private and public keys are mathematically tied together, so the corresponding private key can only decrypt that information encrypted using the public key.
Encryption in Action
Here's an example of how encryption works with email-friendly software Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) or GnuPG—also known as GPG—for open-source aficionados. Say I want to send you a private message. I encrypt it using one of the programs listed below.
Here's the message:
Once encrypted, the message becomes a jumbled mess of random characters. But, equipped with the key I send you, you can decrypt it and find the original message:
"Come on over for hot dogs and soda!"
Whether it's in transit like our hot dog party email or resting on your hard drive, encryption keeps prying eyes out of your business—even if they gain access to your network or system.
The technology comes in many forms, with key size and strength generally being the most significant differences from one variety to the next.
Common Encryption Algorithms
1. Triple DES
Triple DES was designed to replace the original Data Encryption Standard (DES) algorithm, which hackers eventually learned to defeat with relative ease. At one time, Triple DES was the industry's recommended standard and the most widely used symmetric algorithm.
Triple DES uses three individual keys with 56 bits each. The total key length adds up to 168 bits, but experts argue that 112 bits in key strength is more accurate. Despite slowly being phased out, Triple DES has mostly been replaced by the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the algorithm trusted as the standard by the U.S. Government and numerous organizations and is also found in Arcserve Unified Data Protection (UDP) software. Although it is highly efficient in 128-bit form, AES also uses keys of 192 and 256 bits for heavy-duty encryption purposes.
AES is largely considered impervious to all attacks, except for brute force, which attempts to decipher messages using all possible combinations in the 128, 192, or 256-bit cipher.
3. RSA Security
RSA is a public-key encryption algorithm and the standard for encrypting data sent over the internet. It is also one of the methods used in PGP and GPG programs. Unlike Triple DES, RSA is considered an asymmetric algorithm because it uses a pair of keys. You have your public key to encrypt the message and a private key to decrypt it. RSA encryption results in a huge batch of mumbo jumbo that takes attackers a lot of time and processing power to break.
Blowfish is yet another algorithm designed to replace DES. This symmetric cipher splits messages into blocks of 64 bits and encrypts them individually. Blowfish is known for its tremendous speed and overall effectiveness. Meanwhile, vendors have taken full advantage of its free availability in the public domain. You'll find Blowfish in software categories ranging from ecommerce platforms for securing payments to password management tools, where it protects passwords. It's one of the more flexible encryption methods available.
Computer security expert Bruce Schneier is the mastermind behind Blowfish and its successor Twofish. Keys used in this algorithm may be up to 256 bits in length, and as a symmetric technique, you only need one key. Twofish is one of the fastest of its kind and ideal for use in hardware and software environments. Like Blowfish, Twofish is freely available to anyone who wants to use it.
NIST and the Future of Encryption
Cyberattacks constantly evolve, forcing security specialists to concoct new schemes and methods to keep them at bay. To fight back, the NIST has just announced four new standardized encryption algorithms, with three expected to be ready in 2024 and others to follow.
Started in 2016 as the NIST's Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization project, these algorithms have been winnowed down from 69 submissions by cryptography experts in dozens of countries. Those algorithms that made the cut were then released for experts to analyze and crack if they could. Following multiple rounds of open and transparent evaluation, four were selected:
- CRYSTALS-Kyber (FIPS 203), designed for general encryption purposes, such as creating websites
- CRYSTALS-Dilithium (FIPS 204), designed to protect the digital signatures used when signing documents remotely
- SPHINCS+ (FIPS 205) is also designed for digital sinatures
- FALCON is also designed for digital signatures and is slated to receive its own draft FIPS in 2024.
Go Beyond Encryption
Whether it's protecting your data in transit or at rest, you should be certain that you include encryption in your lineup of security tools. But there's much more to data protection, from deep-learning cybersecurity to immutable backups that can't be altered or deleted by unauthorized users.
For expert help with all your data protection, business continuity, backup, and disaster recovery requirements, choose an Arcserve technology partner. Check out our free trials to see how easy to use and effective Arcserve solutions can be.
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