Cyber Security

A Sneak Peek into Encryption of Online / Offline Data  

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Encryption is cryptography put to good use.

Why encryption?

Encrypted texts aren’t legible to an outsider/a potential hacker who is taking a sneak peek into your personal chats. What encryption does is it turns a text (say, “hello”) into an array of unintelligible characters (say, “2kadg”) that can be decrypted only by the targeted receiver. Decryption happens through the use of private-public keys. A private key is held by the sender and a public key is sent along the text to the receiver which is then used by the receiver to decode the text. This mathematical scrambling allows a safer passage for transferring data online.

We will discuss below what all data need to be protected using encryption. So, let’s get going then!

  1. Data-at-rest encryption.

All data stored in your devices (laptops, desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, USBs, etc.) are data at rest. Losing any of these devices could put you in potential risk if sensitive information is compromised. So, start with encrypting your existing devices.

For PCs, the best way to encrypt is using full-disk encryption method (FDE). FDE covers all data on your system and allows access only when provided with the designated PIN or password. Most OSs back FDE. In Windows, you can adopt BitLocker to enable disc encryption, and for macOS, it is the FileVault. BitLocker in Windows also supports encryption for removable drives such as memory cards and pen drives. In macOS, you have Disk Utility to create an encrypted USB drive.

For the smart devices (phones/tabs), it works a little differently. Android devices will need different kinds of encryption methods because of the distinct versions that’s available in the market. In iOS devices (versions 8.0 and above), the encryption is set by default, you need not do anything in particular.

You can also opt for hardware encrypted drives over normal ones. It assures security but can be a little expensive compared to it lesser secure counterparts.

  1. Cloud storage encryption.

Most of the users now delegate their data to be stored in cloud outlets like Google Drive, One Drive, iCloud, etc. Even though these mediums guard your online database against unauthorized access, they still have access to the contents stored in your space. So, if you are looking for ways to get rid of the sneak peek by these storage giants, get a tool like Boxcryptor to encrypt your data. Boxcryptor ciphers your data before being uploaded to the cloud. This way it ensures full confidentiality of your data.

Another option is to use end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) storage provider like Tresorit. E2EE storages encrypt your data by default which makes it impossible even for the service provider to have any access to your contents.

  1. Internet traffic encryption.

Another – not so popular – place to encrypt is your internet traffic. The ad you saw on a product that you just thought about last minute? Coincidence? Nope. Call in the eavesdroppers – your ISP or some lurker looking to loot – who can see what are you are up to (the websites you visit, the chats you have, etc.). One surefire way to keep these nosy beings outside is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPN helps you cover your tracks by encrypting your internet traffic. All that a hacker (or the ISP) would see is ciphered information being exchanged between you and your VPN server. They won’t have a clue as to which sites or apps you are using.

However, the flip side is your VPN provider will have access to your internet traffic. For absolute privacy, you may opt a browser like The Onion Router (Tor). Tor encrypts your internet traffic and takes it through various independent computers running a specialized software. No computer in this loop has complete knowledge of the source of your internet traffic which gives you complete privacy. A price you pay for this is the speed but it is worth your data protection.

  1. Email encryption.

In Symantec Internet Security of Threat Report of 2018, it was found that the most data loss occurred through email-based theft (like phishing). Encrypting emails has become more necessary than ever. You can use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) to encrypt your mails. This encryption program enables cryptographic privacy for your data communication. PGP is a good option as it easily fits into any email service. There are plenty of plugins to support every email application. For Gmail and Yahoo, you can use Mailvelope, a browser extension that adds PGP support to most of the email services.

An alternative to this is ProtonMail program. It encrypts your mail by default, and unlike other services like Gmail or Outlook, ProtonMail won’t have access to the data communication you carry out.

  1. Message Encryption.

Last but not the least is the texting platform. This is an easy one as most of the popular texting platforms today have encryption by default. Some of the popular ones are WhatsApp, Signal and Wickr. All these are E2EE services. One key factor to look at is whether the platform you choose is based on open-source protocols. They are reliable as they are peer reviewed by industry experts.

Signal Protocol is an E2EE tech that controls both WhatsApp and Signal, and is promoted by independent specialists alike.

Remember, your digital assets are as valuable as your physical ones. If it goes into the wrong hands, there are multifarious ways in which it can be used against you. Stay safe by adopting encryption practices.

 

Theertha Dhanesh
A novice in cybersecurity aiming to promote discussions in privacy and security related areas, and helping users to understand the intricacies of this world a little better.

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