2020 was a significant year for data breaches. Companies like Magellan Health, Microsoft, and Amtrak suffered from significant data breaches that exposed both users’ and employees’ personal information.
Many other companies suffered data breaches as well. The truth is, data breaches are becoming a common occurrence, which is why it’s crucial for companies to start encrypting their data.
Encrypted data is useless to most cybercriminals. Decrypting data takes a long time—longer than most cybercriminals have time for. That said, encrypting data can be confusing. There are so many types of data encryption, so what’s good for you and your company? Let’s take a look.
Ways to Encrypt Your Data
1. Use a VPN to Encrypt Data Sent Across a Network
What happens when you connect to a network? What can people see? When you hook your laptop up to Starbucks ‘ public network, should you be worried about cybercriminals snooping on your data?
The answer is yes. Yes, you should be very concerned. Why? Well, because public networks don’t take advantage of modern security standards due to how open they need to be. If your network caters to allowing anyone to connect, it’s only realistic that public networks will lack proper security and encryption.
On the other side of the spectrum, office networks are often accompanied by network-level encryption software. Home networks usually lack advanced security features, but these aren’t as necessary due to home networks often being limited to a few people. That’s not to say they’re always secure, however.
Most cybersecurity experts would tell you to avoid connecting to a public network. However, many people use public networks while working remotely. If that’s the case—you can’t avoid using a public network—you can encrypt the data you send over a network by using a Virtual Private Network, a VPN.
VPNs actively encrypt the data you send through a network by routing said data through a VPN server. Reputable VPN providers will also refuse to keep logs and discard any logs after a certain amount of time, if not immediately.
Downloading a VPN for security is necessary nowadays. It’s bad to be caught without one, especially if you use public networks. Using one requires paying a monthly subscription, but it’s a monthly subscription you won’t regret!
2. Encrypt Your Storage Drives With Full-Disk Encryption
Not all cybercriminals steal data by hanging out on a public network, however. Since the early 2010s, cybercriminals have learned just how effective data breaches are when it comes to stealing data, and as a result, many companies have faced major data breaches, resulting in hundreds of millions of people suffering from some data breach. Take the Equifax data breach, for instance.
How these data breaches take place depends on the situation. Some data breaches happen because an employee loses a piece of hardware, like a phone or a laptop. Others occur because the companies affected didn’t bother patching vital security flaws (like Equifax). No matter how the data breach takes place, one thing remains true: full-disk encryption limits how much data the cybercriminals can use.
Full-disk encryption software—such as Bitdefender, Sophos SafeGuard, and Symantec—completely encrypt storage drives. Programs, files, folders, registries, the operating system itself: everything is encrypted using modern encryption protocols.
As mentioned earlier, encrypted data is near-useless to most cybercriminals, as the time it would take to decrypt the data far outweighs the benefit. So, when individuals and companies encrypt entire hard drives’ worth of data, that means any potential data breach/data leak will become much less effective than if the company forwent any full-disk encryption.
However, full-disk encryption only locks access to the entire drive. If the drives were compromised in any way, such as a hacker getting the encryption key or shutting off encryption through a user account, the data would once again be vulnerable. That’s where file encryption comes in.
3. Use File Encryption Software to Encrypt Certain Files and Folders
Unlike full-disk encryption, file encryption software such as AxCrypt is designed to encrypt specific files and folders instead of the entire disk. On the surface, this may seem less secure than a full-disk solution, but remember that once a drive is compromised, even an encrypted disk can be decrypted. With file encryption software, the precise encryption allows for certain files to be encrypted independent of the disk.
This means that access to the files is limited to a user via a unique encryption key. If another user needs to access the file, they will need their own encryption key. These keys are unique to the user so as to keep confidential files secure.
File encryption software is best used in tandem with full-disk encryption software. After all, full-disk encryption software isn’t as precise as file encryption software, so encrypting the disk and adding extra encryption to the files that need it is the best way to go about encryption.
4. Encrypt Passwords With a Password Manager
Passwords are what stand between a hacker and access to your accounts—accounts that often contain personal information, payment details, and vice versa. Many users think that using a random password generator to create a password is enough—that a strong password is the only thing required to protect an account—but even strong passwords can be cracked nowadays. Not often, but they can be.
If you want to protect your account even further, you can use a password locker to encrypt and store all of your passwords. Password lockers typically use encryption and hashing to store passwords securely. Using a password manager means no more excuses for using weak, memorable passwords or storing your passwords in an unsecured place (your desk, a Word document, etc.).
Recommended: How to Keep Track of Passwords
Today, you can never be too careful when it comes to your data. Cybercriminals exist on every corner of the Internet, from innocent-looking websites to spam emails that ask you to enter in personal information. And if you want to make sure your data stays secure—out of the hands of cybercriminals—you need to start encrypting your data.
Whether you encrypt network data with a VPN or decide to encrypt all of your laptop’s internal storage devices, all that matters is that you begin immediately; the longer you wait to encrypt your data, the greater the chances of cybercriminal stealing your data.