A Guide to Data Encryption Best Practices

Data encryption provides the best available protection against unauthorized access to data. Although encryption has been proven to be indispensable to companies that store significant volumes of sensitive data, the use of encryption is not yet universal and much critical data remains unprotected and vulnerable to cybercriminals. Fortunately, all data can be encrypted, whether it’s at rest or in transit over a network.

Implementing effective data encryption for the first time can be a complex undertaking for companies, and the biggest challenge may be deciding where to begin. Following best practices can simplify the process of implementing data encryption mechanisms.

1. Assess the Data to Encrypt

Before encrypting data, you should determine what data would cause the most harm if lost or compromised. Encrypt sensitive data, such as payment card information, names, social security numbers, and trade secret information.

Personally identifiable information (PII) requires special encryption to meet the latest compliance regulations. Even if a regulation doesn’t require encryption, it may be the only reasonable and appropriate safeguard for sensitive data and therefore should be utilized.

Data in transit can be more challenging to protect and more at risk than data stored in a secure device or facility, which makes encryption even more critical. In fact, you should always be mindful of protecting sensitive data transferred over a network or accessed remotely.

2. Formulate a Security Strategy

To establish a strategy for securing company data, consider creating a policy to address not only what data to encrypt but also how to keep that encryption effective. When determining such a policy, you need to address the following as a minimum:

  • Understand the Relevant Regulations: Which data security regulations (PCI, HIPAA, etc.) and data governance policies apply to your business, and how do they impact your security strategy?
  • Data Access: What roles and privileges determine who can access data?
  • Encryption Tools: Which encryption tools are best suited to your data volume and business needs? Which encryption vendor can provide the tools required?
  • Encryption Algorithm: Does the encryption, provided by encryption vendors, measure up to international standards? It is important to consider factors like the encryption speed, memory usage, cost, and range of coverage. You can check whether a vendor’s encryption method meets standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by visiting the Cryptographic Module Validation Program.
  • Encryption Key Management: How can you generate, store, and replace keys? How can you destroy encryption keys in the event of a security breach?
  • Auditing Data: How will you log events so you can track irregularities and identify unauthorized access?

3. Establish Appropriate and Secure Key Management

Once encryption is in place, properly secure and back up all decryption keys. Such keys represent security risks that need to be identified and addressed before implementing encryption. Find a secure location for encryption keys, and make sure it is in a separate location from the data itself. The backup key will need to be stored in an entirely different location too.

Centralize key management to avoid the risk of isolation creating vulnerabilities. Keys need to be vaulted in a hardware security module (HSM), which provides hardware-based protection. With more companies nowadays using cloud providers for data storage and encryption, HSM ensures the proximity of encryption keys and reduced data latency.

4. Apply Your Encryption Strategy

When implementing your encryption strategy, consider the following:

  • Scalability: When implementing encryption, you should ensure it scales across your network in a way that’s least disruptive. You should aim for a solution that protects data in a growing environment, especially if resources are being shifted to the cloud.
  • Multiple Encryption Practices: If you work with different technology partners, your business will need multiple approaches to encryption. Providing support for third-party technology integration will provide your business with the flexibility to manage new opportunities with the same commitment to security. Operating multiple encryption practices will also provide additional layers of security to ensure data remains secure even in the event of a data breach.
  • Integrating with Cloud Systems: When interacting with cloud systems, you should determine what encryption will be applied to data stored in the cloud environment. You will also need to understand the impact of encryption upon the functionality of any application that uses infrastructure stored in the cloud.

5. Assess Encryption Performance

After successful implementation, be sure to assess the effectiveness of your data encryption strategy. If the data encryption causes performance issues, such as an excessive consumption of CPU time, you may want to consider a different encryption algorithm or encryption tool.

Logging tools can help you evaluate the performance of your encryption and should provide details on what data is being retrieved, who is accessing sensitive data, and when.

Wickr Data Encryption

Providing full enterprise-ready secure communication solutions since 2012, Wickr offers the most secure encryption technology in compliance with global and industry regulations. With multi-cloud and customer-hosted options, Wickr will tailor the best approach to encrypting your data.

Find out how Wickr can secure your data and download Wickr today to protect your most valuable information.