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Computer Encryption Guide – A How-To Guide for Small Businesses

By Hanna Welch | September 17, 2019 |

greater than 9 minutes

Why is encryption important in data security? Find out why you need to encrypt your data and how to use encryption for business goals.

Encrypting your data is an important security measure. Perhaps, it would help you to better understand the importance of encryption if you knew what it means. According to the Internet Society, encryption is a process which involves “scrambling or enciphering data so it can be read only by someone with the means to return it to its original state.” Basically, this process involves converting your data into code that will only be given selectively to prevent unauthorized access. Only those with the password to turn the encrypted information or data back into its original state will be able to view it.

Although it usually proves challenging for businesses to wrap their heads around encryption and fully understand the concept or its importance, it remains necessary for any business looking to thrive. If unauthorized people aren’t able to read the company’s data, it remains safe. What can be encrypted, are there size limits? You can encrypt absolutely anything and everything. From individual files to folders to volumes to even complete disks, the list is endless.

It’s possible to encrypt data and information that is directly on your PC, stored externally on a flash drive or an external hard drive or even on the cloud. Yes, you can store encrypted backups. Alternatively, you can avoid the long processes involved in encryption by encouraging everyone in the office to start sharing files securely via FileWhopper.

Why Is Encryption Important in Data Security?

Encryption is one of the widely used forms of data protection within the network or on the PC. Small businesses might be put off by the idea of encrypting all their data. But, for the most part, encryption actually protects the company’s data against any unauthorized parties. In the long run, this can be one of the forms of first-line defense for small businesses against hacking and other threats. There is no business too small or too big for security risks. And when hackers break through to the data or company details, they can collect the likes of personally identifiable information (PII). This means that all employees, as well as executives and partners of the business, are under threats or attacks.

With any part of PII, hackers can cause personal and even financial damage. Small businesses cannot afford to take chances. If partner or client PII is leaked or passed over to unauthorized bodies, this can result in serious legal ramifications for the business. As they say, when starting up, the business cannot even afford bad publicity. Talk less of legal suits by clients and partners whose PII will be leaked.

Encryption is an important part of the security measures. However, it doesn’t eliminate the need for other, stronger means of securing company information. The best way of ensuring data protection would be keeping a secure network connection all the time. Ideally, small businesses will always be protected if they have secure network connections. But in the real world, this is difficult to achieve, mostly because the company employs and gives access to different employees. The security is thus in the hands of the different employees who can choose to be responsible or browse unsecured sites compromising the entire business network connection.

There are always security risks. At times, even after carefully installing and following the security protocols, one employee can unknowingly click on a malicious link in the email. This will infect the primary computer with whatever malware or virus the link contains. But since the small business uses the same network connection, all other PCs in that network are exposed to the risk of the malware/virus infection. Therefore, if each and every computer disk is encrypted, the chances of data theft are significantly reduced.

The Basics – How Encryption Works

Basically, you get the idea from the definition. When a file or data is encrypted, there is a set of algorithms used to scramble or jumble up the information so that unauthorized personnel cannot understand it even if they intercept the data being sent. The scrambled information is transferred to the recipient who has the password or key to unscramble the received information.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so there are different sets of algorithms. They all involve various methods of encrypting and decrypting your information. At the very basis of the encryption process, you need to understand the relationship between data, cryptographic keys, and encrypted information.                          

To get started with encryption, the encryption keys must be generated. Here are the basic details you need to learn about encryption key generation:

  • The keys are mostly created using Random Number Generators (RNGs) or computer algorithms that copy RNGs.
  • There is a smarter, more complicated method of generating encryption keys. This is when the PC studies and uses the unique mouse movement to generate unique seeds.
  • Lastly, there is a modern key-generating method that involves what is known as forward secrecy, whereby a new key is generated for every session. This adds another layer of protection to your business’ network.

Understanding Encryption Terms

There are two main methods of encryption: symmetric and asymmetric. Whereas symmetric encryption is the protection of data using a single private key, asymmetric encryption involves the use of a combination of multiple keys that are both private and public. To fully understand encryption and its basics, it might be helpful to understand some of the most used terms.

  • Algorithm – there are a lot of encryption algorithms also known as codes or ciphers. An algorithm is an actual route followed by the encryption process. Some of the most popular examples of ciphers are Blowfish, RSA and Triple DES.
  • Keys – these are comprised of bits that are used in the encryption or decryption of data. Information can have either private or public keys. A private key means that both the encryption and decryption codes are the same. The sender and recipient must have the same key to complete the secured transfer of data or information. A public key, however, spells that the encryption key is publicized and anyone who wants to can use it at their discretion. Only the decryption key is protected meaning only the recipient has access to it. Each key is created via an algorithm and is therefore unique and unpredictable. Most symmetric keys are strings that have 128 bits; public-key algorithms are 2048-bit.
  • Cipher – a series of steps that are followed when encrypting information. Algorithms can be used to encrypt or decrypt your data. You will find stream ciphers or block ciphers.
  • Cryptanalysis – the study of ciphers to crack the system and get access to the encrypted data without the actual algorithm or key.

The Types of Encryption

The old-age question, “Why do you need computer encryption?” can be answered quite simply: you need it to add a layer of security that protects all PII and other data. Encryption is an umbrella term, but there are different types of computer encryption.

The most basic is individual file or folder encryption, which is a process that encrypts only those items that you need encrypted. You select, or hand-pick, what you need. Individual encryption is best used if there are only a handful of documents on the PC and you prefer to have some sort of security.

The next up in line would be volume encryption, which creates an entire container of fully encrypted information. Everything to that effect is saved as encrypted files or folders within the container.

Then further up, there is whole-disk or full-disk encryption, which is the comprehensive form of computer encryption. Everything on the computer is automatically encrypted. There is no need to select files or folders or create containers for information to be collected and encrypted. If you are after a somewhat complete form of encryption, then whole-disk is the way to go.

When you use whole-disk encryption, during startup, you will need to insert a USB with your random set of numbers and letters that form the encryption key or have your PC read an encryption key. All files are opened during startup, and you will access them with ease.

Also, note that USBs can carry malware or viruses. You can reduce the chances of compromising your data by purchasing USB sticks that come with encryption. Search amongst the likes of Kingston, Corsair, EAGET, SanDisk, IronKey, and Kanguru brands for your backup USB.

How Does Advanced Encryption Standard Work?

So far, we have discussed the simple encryption standard. There are also built-in encryption programs that are somewhat advanced. The latest Windows and Mac OSX systems come with advanced built-in encryption features. On the Linux, you can get them in some versions.

The OS X comes with Apple FileVault, which is the built-in encryption feature for all PCs running macOS X. You can use your iCloud account to store the disk encryption recovery key when prompted to by FileVault. If this might prove problematic on your end, you can simply write down your recovery key.

The Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, and Pro and Windows 8.1 Enterprise versions, as well as Windows 10, come with Microsoft BitLocker. This encryption ability works with a module chip on your PC to keep the disk encryption key. From the admin account, you can alter the settings until you get the desirable ones for your BitLocker. Easily toggle between enabling and disabling your Bitlocker to use your PC in the most convenient way.

How Does Third-Party Encryption Standard Work?

There are third-party open-source products that can be used to encrypt your files, data or disk on your PC. Security experts are always thrown off their feet when these third-party encryption methods or tools change or become unresponsive.

The way that most of them are wired demands that you hand over your PC protection to the hands of the encryption program. Thus, in the likelihood that the developers stop maintaining or upgrading the version, you are left stranded. There are several popular open-sourced third-party products that you can use.

Some of them are sold by well-known anti-malware vendors such as Kaspersky, ESET and Symantec as part of their security suites. Thus, before you get your antimalware, even if you want a cost-saver, you will have to take such factors into consideration.

Practice Safety All the Time

You can work around the safety issues by following the best practices for computer encryption. If it becomes a habit, then it’s easy to make it a lifestyle. If you use most of these practices, you might not need to constantly learn how to use PC encryption for business goals. You will achieve your business goals as a small business and soon grow in all desired aspects. Take a look at some of the best practices for computer encryption:

  • While having whole-disk encryption is a great thing, it might come with some risks on your part. If the encrypted disk becomes corrupted or crashes, you stand to lose all files. You can avoid this by easily practising ‘the art of backing up data.’ To create backups that are as current as possible, try using trusted cloud environments. Should your disk act out of hand, you can quickly and easily retrieve the latest backed-up data and continue working.
  • To easily decrypt all encrypted files and folders, practice creating passwords that are easy for you to master but difficult for a third party to crack. Always make sure that your passwords are a strong combination of letters and numbers that are too random to guess and crack. You can make it even more difficult by capitalizing some of the letters within the password and throwing in some symbols as well. Remember, forgetting your password might result in you getting locked out of your own PC, files or folders. To avoid this, you can back it up by writing down the password and placing it where you can access it when needed.
  •  Avoid using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) if you’re using Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) as it isn’t safe.
  • Even if you’re a small business with a limited budget, you should try by all means to use a paid-for virtual private network (VPN) whenever you’re working remotely. Even logging in briefly without a VPN can cause serious security risks.
  • Lastly, you can always practice file sharing via FileWhopper. This is an online-based service that allows you to securely share your data. When you upload your file or folder on FileWhopper, it gets encrypted onsite. Once the upload is complete, you can send the link to everyone within the office who must see the documents. As soon as the link is opened and the information is downloaded, the contents are deleted from the server with every trace of their existence. If left unattended, your files and folders will be deleted from the server 14 days after the upload has started.
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