Most companies and organizations today share and store important data on the Internet. Given the prevalence of hackers constantly seeking opportunities to access sensitive information, the importance of data security cannot be understated. This is where cloud data encryption comes in.
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Cloud data encryption is also commonly known as “data masking” and it is one of many ways that companies protect data stored on cloud servers. It is a way of making sensitive information appear like random information and requires a special cryptographic key to interpret the data.
There are many ways of encrypting information, and not all of them will suit your organization. Therefore, it is important that you find the right encryption techniques to make sure that your data is safe.
In this article, comprehensive information about symmetric and asymmetric data encryption techniques is presented. There are many data masking algorithms that are available today and let’s discuss how to use them.
How Does Cloud Data Encryption Work?
As mentioned earlier, data masking is a way of hiding sensitive information by making it appear like random data. You can hide information in documents, office files, databases, internal messages, or any other communication channel in your organization’s network.
There are three main ways to scramble the data; in transit, at rest, or end-to-end. To elaborate:
- Encrypting data in transit means hiding the information while the data is being sent from one recipient to another.
- Encrypting data at rest means hiding the information while it’s stored on the servers.
- End-to-end encryption signifies the masking of data from the point it is sent to the point it is stored in cloud servers.
Is Hashing an Encryption Technique?
This section details in depth about some of the best data masking practices and techniques. Before that, a bit about what is hashing.
Many people often classify hashing as an encryption technique. However, this is a misunderstanding. Unlike encryption, hashing does not require a key; therefore, it cannot ensure complete privacy. It uses a mathematical function to convert files or messages of any size into a fixed length value.
Most organizations typically use hashing together with cryptography as a way of retrieving or storing data. It is commonly used for
- Digital signatures
- Verification of documents
- Integrity controls
Common Data Encryption Algorithms And Techniques
There are two primary techniques that most organizations use to mask their sensitive data; Symmetric and asymmetric data encryption methods. These two methods vary significantly due to three crucial factors. They are:
- The type of decryption keys used to interpret the data.
- The length of the encryption key, and
- The size of the encrypted data blocks.
Understanding how each method works is crucial in selecting the one that suits your needs. Let’s begin by exploring symmetric data encryption.
Symmetric Encryption Techniques
Symmetric encryption is also commonly referred to as private key cryptography because it uses one secret key to encrypt and decrypt data. As long as you have the decryption key, you can access the hidden information at any time.
The most common algorithms that use the symmetric encryption technique include:
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
Many organizations around the globe use AES for data encryption. It is commonly applied by many government bodies worldwide, including the United States Government.
AES can encrypt up to 128-bit data blocks at a time; therefore, most people use it for:
- Masking files and applications
- Wifi security
- SSL and TLS protocols – These are communication protocols that encrypt the data between servers, users, applications, and systems.
Triple Data Encryption Standard (TDES)
The Triple Data Encryption Standard, sometimes shortened to Triple DES or 3DES, is an algorithm that uses a 56-bit key to encrypt data blocks. It is an advanced and even more secure version of the Data Encryption Standard (DES) algorithm. This encryption method applies DES to each data block about three times!
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, TDES is secure but it is still less superior when compared to AES. Nevertheless, this method is often used to safeguard things like ATM pins, and UNIX passwords among other payment systems.
Programmers initially designed the blowfish algorithm to replace the Data Encryption Standard (DES). It uses 64-bit block sizes and masks them all individually, making it one of the most flexible, fast, and resilient data encryption techniques.
The best thing about blowfish is that it’s in the public domain; therefore it is widely available. For this reason, it works best for securing E-commerce platforms, email data encryption tools, and password management systems.
Twofish is the next-generation version of Blowfish and it uses 128-bit data blocks instead of 64-bit blocks. This algorithm uses a more complicated key schedule compared to its predecessor – blowfish. Moreover, it masks data in 16 rounds no matter the size of the encryption key used.
Like blowfish, the Twofish algorithm is available publicly. In addition, it is faster; therefore most people use it for file and folder encryptions.
Format-Preserving Encryption (FPE)
As the name suggests, the FPE algorithm retains/preserves the length and format of your data during the encryption process. Let’s use the example of a phone number. If the original number is 123-456-7891, the algorithm will produce a ciphertext with the same format, but with a random set of numbers. For instance, the ciphertext would read 375-233-0164
FPE works well for securing cloud management tools and software. A good example of a trusted cloud platform that uses this masking method is Google.
Asymmetric Encryption Techniques
Asymmetric encryption aka public key cryptography requires two keys – a public and a private key for both the encryption and decryption processes.
The public key is either publicly available to the entire organization or shared with a few authorized people, and is the one used to encrypt the data. On the other hand, the private key is often accessible only to the recipient of the data, and it is the only key that can decrypt the information.
Asymmetric encryption techniques offer an extra layer of security for your data, and as a result, it makes online transfers safer. The most common algorithms that use the asymmetric encryption technique include:
Rivest Shamir Adleman (RSA)
Both its public and private keys are made up of two numbers, where one number is obtained by multiplying two large prime numbers. Therefore, If a hacker manages to factorize the large number, the private key becomes compromised.
The encryption strength of this algorithm totally depends on the size of the decryption key. This means that if you double or triple the size of the key, you also increase the strength of the encryption.
Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC)
The ECC algorithm is Pretty similar to the RSA algorithm because it also uses public-key encryption. However, the difference comes in when you compare the size of the encryption keys.
The RSA algorithm depends on extremely large prime numbers for encryption; therefore, its keys are usually quite long. On the other hand, ECC encryption uses mathematical elliptic curves to encrypt data. As a result, it can achieve the same level of security as RSA but with much smaller keys.
As demonstrated, numerous encryption techniques are available today, making it easier to find one that fits your organization’s needs. Choose an algorithm that ensures confidentiality, integrity, availability of data on the cloud, performance, key management, and compliance regulations.