The importance of data encryption

Encryption is a critical component of a defense-in-depth strategy, which is a security approach with a series of defensive mechanisms designed so that if one security mechanism fails, there’s at least one more still operating. As more organizations look to operate faster and at scale, they need ways to meet critical compliance requirements and improve data security. Encryption, when used correctly, can provide an additional layer of protection above basic access control.

How and why does encryption work?

Encryption works by using an algorithm with a key to convert data into unreadable data (ciphertext) that can only become readable again with the right key. For example, a simple phrase like “Hello World!” may look like “1c28df2b595b4e30b7b07500963dc7c” when encrypted. There are several different types of encryption algorithms, all using different types of keys. A strong encryption algorithm relies on mathematical properties to produce ciphertext that can’t be decrypted using any practically available amount of computing power without also having the necessary key. Therefore, protecting and managing the keys becomes a critical part of any encryption solution.

Encryption as part of your security strategy

An effective security strategy begins with stringent access control and continuous work to define the least privilege necessary for persons or systems accessing data. AWS requires that you manage your own access control policies, and also supports defense in depth to achieve the best possible data protection.

Encryption is a critical component of a defense-in-depth strategy because it can mitigate weaknesses in your primary access control mechanism. What if an access control mechanism fails and allows access to the raw data on disk or traveling along a network link? If the data is encrypted using a strong key, as long as the decryption key is not on the same system as your data, it is computationally infeasible for an attacker to decrypt your data. To show how infeasible it is, let’s consider the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with 256-bit keys (AES-256). It’s the strongest industry-adopted and government-approved algorithm for encrypting data. AES-256 is the technology AWS uses to encrypt data in AWS, including Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) server-side encryption. It would take at least a trillion years to break using current computing technology. Current research suggests that even the future availability of quantum-based computing won’t sufficiently reduce the time it would take to break AES encryption.

But what if you mistakenly create overly permissive access policies on your data? A well-designed encryption and key management system can also prevent this from becoming an issue, because it separates access to the decryption key from access to your data.

Requirements for an encryption solution

To get the most from an encryption solution, you need to think about two things:

  • Protecting keys at rest: Are the systems using encryption keys secured so the keys can never be used outside the system? In addition, do these systems implement encryption algorithms correctly to produce strong ciphertexts that cannot be decrypted without access to the right keys?

  • Independent key management: Is the authorization to use encryption independent from how access to the underlying data is controlled?

There are third-party solutions that you can bring to AWS to meet these requirements. However, these systems can be difficult and expensive to operate at scale. AWS offers a range of options to simplify encryption and key management.

How OSAM can help

At OSAM, security is our top priority and we aim to make it as easy as possible for you to use encryption to protect your data above and beyond basic access control. By consulting and supporting encryption tools that work both on and off the cloud, we help you secure your data and ensure compliance across your entire environment. We put security at the center of everything we do to make sure that you can protect your data using best-of-breed security technology in a cost-effective way.

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