Advantages of Using Encryption
When using the Internet, most people know to use encryption of data in transit. This is the big difference between HTTP and HTTPS traffic (i.e. whether or not the lock icon shows up in the address bar). Using HTTPS helps to ensure that you’re connected to the right website and that no one can eavesdrop on your connection, which may include personal data like credit card information, your Netflix queue, etc.
However, your personal data isn’t only at risk when it’s traveling over the Internet. Despite your best efforts, there is a chance that your computer will be infected with malware that your antivirus doesn’t catch. If this is the case, the malware may start looking for sensitive data on your computer and send it to the cybercriminal running the malware.
This is where file encryption comes in. Instead of just encrypting data in transit, file encryption ensures that data is stored encrypted on your computer. This means that an attacker or malware with access to your computer can’t read your sensitive data unless they also know your password.
Encryption protects your privacy
The most common argument against implementing good cybersecurity practices is “I don’t have any data worth stealing”. However, this statement is incorrect, and cybercriminals commonly target individuals to steal personal data.
When thinking about your personal data, you might focus on credit card and banking information, which is primarily entered into the browser and not stored on the machine. A great deal of personal data can be extracted from files that you may store on your computer without thinking twice about them. Some examples of these files include:
- Tax Return Documents:
Most tax preparation software provides an option to store a copy of the return on your computer. A full tax return provides an attacker with all of the information that they require to perform identity theft. Similarly, W2s, 1099s, and other common forms can contain sensitive data.
- Family Photos:
By default, many cameras and smartphones will embed location information in photos, which is why your computer can tell where and when the photo is taken. A picture of a backyard barbecue can reveal a home address, or a birthday photo reveals someone’s name and date of birth.
- Application Forms:
Applications for a loan, rental, etc. often contain sensitive information like a social security number (SSN). This information can be used in identity theft scams.
- Travel Plans:
When booking a vacation, you may store a copy of the booking information on a computer. These confirmations can include financial information, information about your travel plans, and provide a would-be burglar with a list of dates when a house will be empty.
Encryption prevents Identity Theft and Ransomware Blackmail
The latest trend in ransomware is to steal all your data which is then used to blackmail you into paying a ransom. If you don’t pay, your data its leaked to the internet, used for Identity Theft or sold to the highest bidder. Scary stuff!
The good news is, if your files are encrypted, the cybercriminals do not have access to your data, instead, they can only see scrambled data which is useless and cannot be held to ransom.
Encryption allows you to securly share your files
Sharing files online is more popular than ever. You do it on social media like Facebook, on messenger apps, forums, and cloud services. But what’s the risk? Only the people I’ve sent the file can see it, right? Wrong!
If your shared files are not encrypted, they’re accessible to everyone. Imagine the devastation of finding your private pictures or bank number scattered across the web…
The reason why it is important to encrypt files before sharing is simple – encrypting your files ensures your privacy. Someone unauthorized can’t open the files, meaning only you and your intended recipient gets access.
Encryption protects Lost/Stolen Devices
Employees are increasingly using mobile devices for work. This trend has become more common in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic created an explosion in telework and the use of personal and mobile devices.
With the increased convenience of these mobile devices comes higher cybersecurity risk. A smartphone, tablet, or laptop is relatively easy to lose or have stolen in a public place. If this occurs, the thief may be able to read sensitive company data off of the device by scanning its hard drive.
File encryption protects against the threat of lost or stolen mobile devices. Each file on the machine is encrypted, and the encryption keys are stored protected by the user’s password. If an attacker doesn’t have access to this password, then they can’t read any useful data off of the stolen device.
What to Look For in a File Encryption Solution
File encryption is a valuable tool for data security. However, implemented improperly, it can lull you into a false sense of security. Some vital features to look for in a file encryption solution include:
- The Encryption Algorithm
A lot of encryption products use such terms as ‘Military-graded’, ‘Bank-level’ or other marketing phrases which on paper sound really impressive, but let’s get real here, who actually knows what encryption algorithms the military use? Looking beyond those marketing phrases and claims, you’ll want industry standard, unmodified AES encryption, preferably, independently audited.
- The Keys to your Files
Some encryption solutions use a single key to encrypt all your files and data, but this forces an ‘all or nothing’ approach and puts all your data at risk should your key fall into the wrong hands. A good file encryption solution should encrypt each folder or file with a unique key which minimises the risk of all your data being breached should a key be hacked or stolen. Additionally, if you suspect a key has been compromised, your encryption solution should allow you to change all your file keys with ease.
- Always-on encryption
Your files should be encrypted at ALL times and when editing, any changes should automatically be saved and encrypted.
- Secure sharing
Your encryption solution should allow you to easily share encrypted copies of your files to any recipient. Shared files should only be accessible by you and your recipients.
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