Cyber security and encryption: Best practices for your business

Our data is always on the move. It goes through laptops, external drives, remote work environments, and email communications. But what happens when sensitive information falls into the wrong hands? 

For businesses, encryption is an absolute necessity when it comes to cyber security. Especially for industries that handle sensitive data, such as finance, consulting, and law. A data breach in these sectors could have devastating consequences, not only for the company itself but also for the trust of its customers. 

If you’re in charge of information security in a fintech or a consulting firm, encryption serves as your first line of defence against data leaks. Just how can you implement encryption effectively and securely to prevent losses? 

Hear from Emrick Etheridge, Information Security Expert and Product Content Owner at DataGuard, why certain companies rely on encryption and how you can implement this cybersecurity measure smoothly to safeguard your data. 

In this article, we’ll cover:


What is encryption? 

Encryption is fundamental in building an effective cyber security strategy for your business – especially when your top priority is confidentiality.  

Encryption is converting intelligible plain text into an indecipherable ciphertext. The key to this process is a cryptographic key, shared between the sender and the intended recipient. Upon receiving the ciphertext, the recipient uses the corresponding key to unlock the encrypted data, revealing the original plain text. 

In essence, encryption safeguards your data, rendering it unreadable not only to human eyes but also to machines and systems. While the data physically exists, it remains unusable due to its encrypted format. 


How does encryption work? 

In the encryption process, the original data (plain text) is converted into an unreadable jumble (ciphertext) using a complex mathematical algorithm. To decipher this ciphertext, one needs the right digital key, akin to a secret password. 

Encryption can safeguard data both at rest (stored on a hard drive) and in transit (traveling over a network), providing effective protection in both scenarios. 

There are two primary encryption types: 

1. Symmetric encryption 

In this method, a single key serves for both encryption and decryption. Both parties must share this secret key securely, as it's essential for both sender and receiver to possess it. The more complex the key, the more robust the encryption. 

2. Asymmetric encryption 

This approach employs two distinct keys: a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption. The recipient alone has access to the private decryption key. 

Encryption shields data from unauthorised access and bolsters compliance with data privacy regulations like the GDPR. It safeguards sensitive information, including customer records, financial data, and intellectual property, preventing data breaches and privacy violations. 

By embracing encryption, businesses can effectively protect their valuable assets, maintain customer trust, and mitigate risks that come with data leaks and breaches. 



The CIA Triad: Why encryption is crucial for protecting confidentiality 

Encryption stands as a cornerstone of cyber security and is the main tool for protecting your company's confidential data. It helps achieve all aspects of the CIA triad – Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. 


Encryption's significance is particularly evident in safeguarding confidentiality. Imagine unauthorised individuals gaining access to your operating systems, devices, or sensitive emails. If your data is encrypted, it becomes worthless to unauthorised parties. Without the decryption key, they are unable to decipher your sensitive information. 

For service providers handling highly sensitive data, such as financial documents, account credentials, and strategic plans, encryption ranks at the top of their security measures, protecting the very foundation of their business: customer trust. 


But: Encryption's protective powers extend beyond confidentiality to safeguard data integrity. Even if unauthorised individuals gain access to your encrypted information, they cannot tamper with or manipulate it. The encryption acts as an impenetrable shield, preserving the authenticity of your data. 


While availability may not seem directly linked to encryption, it plays an indirect yet important role. When your data is securely encrypted, you can confidently store it in the cloud or on mobile devices without compromising its integrity. This ensures that your data remains accessible anytime, anywhere. 

You might also be interested: What is Zero Trust Architecture, and is it's a must in your security? 

What are the biggest risks without encryption? 

The primary reason for encrypting data is self-evident: lost laptops, external devices, remote work, and email communications... data is constantly at risk of falling into the wrong hands. This is especially true in today's era of hybrid work and mobile computing. 

But what exactly happens when data is left unencrypted? Let's see some real-life examples: 

Data loss and data breaches 

Without encryption, sensitive data like customer records, employee information, or trade secrets becomes easy prey for cybercriminals. Malicious actors can steal, misuse, and exploit this data for their own nefarious purposes. 

A prime example is the Equifax data breach of 2017. Due to outdated encryption standards and unencrypted passwords, hackers gained access to the personal data, credit card numbers, and addresses of over 150 million users. As a result, the company faced a staggering $400 million penalty. 

Legal consequences and compliance breaches 

Failing to encrypt sensitive data can lead to violations of data protection regulations like the GDPR. This translates into hefty fines, legal battles, and, in the worst-case scenario, the loss of licenses or certifications. 

The Cash App data breach of 2022 exposed the sensitive data of 8.2 million customers. The company delayed notifiying affected customers and only informed them four months after the breach, which resulted in a class-action lawsuit against Cash App Investing and its parent company, Block. 

The consequences of such data breaches are far-reaching: data leaks involving unencrypted information can shatter a company's reputation and erode customer trust for years to come. After all, your customers entrust you with their sensitive data – and they rightfully expect you to safeguard it properly. 

Who needs encryption? 

Data breaches, cyberattacks, industrial espionage – the list of cyber threats facing businesses today is as long as it is daunting. But which industries are most at risk? The answer largely depends on how a company generates its profits. 

Financial institutions top the list. Their customers entrust them with sensitive information such as bank statements and financial assets. The same applies to other service providers: a data leak here could have devastating consequences – from reputational damage to hefty fines. 

Industries that deal with intellectual property, such as pharmaceuticals or high-tech, face similar challenges. Patents, formulas, and development plans must be protected at all costs – otherwise, their competitive edge is gone. 

In short: the more valuable and sensitive the data, the more crucial a well-thought-out encryption strategy becomes. 

You might also be interested: Cyber security measures for tech companies

What are the best practices in encryption? 

Encryption is one of the most important cyber security measures, particularly for businesses that thrive on customer trust. But the question remains: how to do encryption right? 

1. Encrypt your external devices 

The rise of hybrid work arrangements, encompassing home offices, mobile work, and remote workspaces, has transformed the modern workplace. While it offers flexibility and productivity, it also introduces security concerns. 

Imagine losing your laptop, containing sensitive financial data, customer contacts, and strategic business plans. Such a scenario could have disastrous consequences, eroding customer trust and exposing your company to cybercriminals. 

Encryption acts as a safeguard, ensuring that even if your devices go missing, the data remains inaccessible to unauthorised individuals. It's like trying to unlock a phone without the password – the data is essentially useless. 

2. Implement robust key management 

Let's face it, we've all lost keys at some point. But in encryption, losing access to keys can mean losing access to data altogether. Encryption keys, often stored as text files, are vulnerable to misplacement. Therefore, your number one priority should be to establish secure key management practices. 

To guarantee secure key storage, consider these strategies: 

  • Dual storage: Store keys both digitally and physically. Encrypt the key file itself to prevent unauthorised access, creating multiple layers of security. 
  • Physical backup: Don't underestimate the power of physical methods. Establish a backup key, a master key, which you can print and store securely in a safe. In case of digital key loss, this backup key can be used to decrypt data via the emergency system.

Why does key management matter?

Effective key management serves as a proactive risk mitigation strategy. Once encryption is implemented, a new vulnerability arises: the key itself. Robust key management practices establish a strategic framework for your encryption system, safeguarding your valuable data. 



3. Secure data transmission with TLS encryption 

Imagine sending valuable data – financial information, contact details, or business strategies – via forms, emails, or cloud services to partners or employees. Sounds like a significant security risk, right? After all, this sensitive information is moving through the digital world, where unauthorised people could intercept it easily. 

But with the right encryption, you can render your data useless to cybercriminals even during transmission – even if they manage to intercept it. 

  • Employ secure transmission protocols: Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption is your go-to solution. This protocol establishes a secure connection between your device and the website to which your data is being transmitted. It uniquely identifies the website and ensures that your information cant be read or tampered with during transmission. This channel encryption has become a modern-day standard and should be active for every web service. 
  • Multi-Layered protection: This technique further safeguards the transmission of login credentials, metadata about files and folders (names, data types, etc.), and the files themselves with an additional encryption layer. 
  • Identifying secure connections: Recognising an encrypted connection between your browser and a website is straightforward. Instead of just "http" at the beginning of the web address, you'll see "https." The "s" at the end stands for "secure" – indicating a secure connection. 

Only when you see an https address can you be confident that your data is optimally protected during transmission and cannot be intercepted or manipulated by unauthorised parties. However, a word of caution: not every https connection is equally trustworthy. Occasionally, issues with the website's security certificate may arise, and your browser will alert you with an appropriate message. 

Do you want to know more about cyber security? Why manufacturing is hacked more than other industries

4. Control key access 

Imagine you've securely encrypted your data. Now, the question is: who exactly holds the keys to this data? And what happens when employees with key access leave the company? 

No matter how robust your encryption is, if access to it isn't strictly controlled, it ultimately becomes ineffective. This goes beyond simply identifying who has access; it also encompasses managing how access is revoked. 

  • Managing employee access: Let's assume you utilise online-based software that employees access using keys. When an individual leaves the company, there's a risk that they've copied keys and retain unauthorised access. Similarly, a senior IT administrator with extensive system access could also depart the company. 
  • Mitigating access risks: What can you do? Maintain a comprehensive overview of your keys and access permissions. Verify who has access and whether any changes have occurred in employee roles within the company. If individuals with key access leave the company, re-encrypt critical systems and data. 

5. Monitor and update your encryption 


The key to effective encryption lies in its dynamic nature. It's not a one-time implementation that can be set and forgotten. Instead, encryption requires continuous monitoring and updates to maintain its effectiveness. 

Keep up with technological advancements in encryption. New security vulnerabilities and weaknesses emerge constantly, demanding vigilance and adaptation. 

Outdated encryption methods can be cracked using brute-force attacks. So refer to the latest encryption standards, such as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which utilizes larger blocks (up to 256-bit) and is applicable across various applications and industries. 

Selecting the right encryption solution for your business 

With a wide range of encryption solutions available, choosing the right one for your business requires careful consideration. Here are the key options to evaluate:

1. On-premises software

This solution involves installing encryption software on company servers, managed by your IT department.

2. Physical and virtual appliances

Physical appliances are hardware-based encryption devices, while virtual appliances run within a virtualized environment.

3. Cloud-based services

Cloud-based encryption services are provided by an external cloud provider.

4. Hybrid configurations

Combining two or more of the above options creates a hybrid configuration, catering to specific business needs. For instance, a local solution can be used at the main office and a cloud service for remote employees. 

A hybrid encryption solution often proves to be a practical choice for many businesses. By combining an on-premises solution for in-office employees and a cloud-based service for remote users, organizations can leverage the strengths of both approaches. This flexibility allows for tailored encryption that aligns with the specific needs of the business. 

Strengthen security in your organisation 

If you could use some guidance on how to go about your security efforts, including encryption strategies, we’re here to assist you. Check out our all-in-one security platfom or reach out for a talk with one of our experts: 



Frequently Asked Questions

What is encryption? 

Encryption is the process of converting readable data (plaintext) into an unreadable format (ciphertext) using a mathematical algorithm and a secret key. Only authorised parties with the correct decryption key can reverse the process and read the original data. 

What does encryption do? 

Encryption protects the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive information like passwords, financial records, communications, etc. when stored (data at rest) or transmitted over networks (data in transit). It prevents unauthorised access, theft or misuse of data even if it is intercepted by cybercriminals or hackers 

What is an encryption key? 

An encryption key is a string of random data that is used to scramble and unscramble data during the encryption and decryption processes. The strength of encryption relies on using long, random encryption keys that are difficult for attackers to guess.   

About the author

Emrick Etheridge Emrick Etheridge
Emrick Etheridge

Emrick Etheridge is an associate Information Security Consultant and a certified ISO 27001 Lead Auditor. Prior to DataGuard, Emrick studied Computer Science at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge) before entering a world of Digital Forensics and Information Security for a Cambridge based company. In these roles, he consulted merchants who required either a digital forensic investigation or re-certification. Emrick was also a certified Cyber Essentials assessor at the heart of the pandemic which proved to be an interesting time in industry. In his current role, he helps SMEs create an Information Security Management System (ISMS) to strengthen their security posture as well as consulting them on their path to obtaining ISO 27001 certification.

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