Why do you need encryption? In two words: privacy and confidentiality.
As private persons, we nowadays store lots of information on our computers that is not necessarily secret, but just simply private. Many of us also at times have the need to use employer-owned computers and servers, as well as public servers, to store such information. It might be copies of electronic invoices, private letters, your CV etc.
In all these situations you might feel a little more comfortable knowing that regardless of physical access to the files by network administrators, service personnel or even other family members in your home network, your private information is still kept private.
As employees we frequently are responsible for information that is sensitive in various ways. It might be salaries if you're a manager, or customer data if you're in sales or support etc. This information is kept in confidence by you, and you have a responsibility to care for it as best you can.
In many cases it's not really enough to just store it on the corporate network server and apply appropriate restrictive access permissions. The information and files are still always available to support staff, network administrators etc. Even if you trust your colleagues, as you should, mistakes do happen and sometimes it's simply human to be curious. Anyone finding a file with his or her name on it will be sorely tempted to sneak a peek...
Finally, there are an increasing number of cases where legislation and similar rules come into play such as the FDA 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 11; Electronic Records; Electronic Signatures and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA, where encryption of confidential data is required under certain circumstances.
In these and similar situations encryption programs provide a secure and convenient method to provide privacy and confidentiality as appropriate.
Options for Data Encryption
What are the methods available to encrypt data? Now that you have a basic understanding of encryption, how can you use it? What choices do you or your client have for data protection?
The options available for data security begin at a hardware level. These include:
Real-time hardware-based encryption. This consists of a hard drive controller with a USB key. Password protection is also available. Using this method, a printed circuit board is attached "in-line" between your hard drive and the computer. Data to be saved is sent to the controller card, and after being encrypted, the data is written to the hard drive. Decrypting data follows this method in reverse. Encryption schemes are chosen from the controller card's setup screen.
Hard drive encryption. Software is loaded at boot-up and decrypts the drive. Usually the partition and volume are encrypted.
Virtual drive encryption. The software creates a special file on the host system that is used as a virtual drive. Once the virtual drive is in place, it shows up as a drive letter.
Individual file encryption. Individual files can be encrypted using the encrypting file system (EFS) feature within Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP. Commercial programs are available for Mac and Linux. There are open source file encryption programs for Mac OS X and UNIX/Linux systems. However, because of the nature of open source programming, there is a risk of compromises to this encryption scheme. Always verify the source and programmer group for these types of programs - that is, let the buyer beware.
There are special systems for e-mail encryption, internal network encryption (where network traffic is encrypted) and also procedures for encrypting Web XML pages.
This leaves one final aspect of data encryption to consider: what if a hard drive with encrypted data fails or if the encrypted data itself becomes corrupted? What are the chances of recovering encrypted data?
Encrypting files on your computer provides many benefits:
Encryption is the most effective way to achieve data security.
Encrypting a file makes its contents unrecognizable to applications and to anyone snooping around on your home or office computer.
Encrypting a file guarantees that your personal information is stored safely.
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