End-to-End Encryption: A Solution to a Fundamental Data Security Problem
Why you should be aware of the ever-present dangers of data breaches.
While the digital age has brought about innumerable benefits to our professional and personal lives, like any technology, this new realm of infrastructure presents a series of hazards both to individual customers and entire corporations. One of the most problematic is data hacking.
Even if you already have extensive security features on your personal computing device, your information isn’t wholly immune to being hacked when sending or receiving data. What’s worse, in addition to your own device being a potential target of malicious individuals and groups on the net, the data servers that the web service providers you use are as well.
Notable examples of data and cloud security breaches
One of the most infamous examples of a massive data breach was reported on in the autumn of 2017 when reports surfaced that a hack attack on Yahoo four years earlier which exposed the account data of hundreds of millions of users.
What’s worse, while the firm originally reported in 2016 that only a billion user’s data had been hacked, Yahoo’s parent company explained a year later that three times that many accounts had been compromised. While no financial information was taken, users’ email accounts, personal names, and passwords had been acquired.
For an even more harrowing example, in 2013 the American retail chain Target suffered a cyber-attack which compromised the data of 40 million Target shopper’s credit cards. As a result, Target ended up delivering an $18.5 million settlement. Similarly, earlier this year, a group of hackers broke into Tesla Motors’ public cloud to mine cryptocurrency.
Even on secure servers, your data may still be compromised
While not truly a hack in the traditional sense, the mishandling of personal data during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal also highlights just how vulnerable data stored on the net is – even if it’s information uploaded to a supposedly safe, private user account.
While Facebook has attempted to compensate for this embarrassing debacle by promising to incorporate new security features for their customers, this post-facto response doesn’t entirely solve the inevitable problem of data being stolen either from a central server or from an individual’s internet connected device.
Furthermore, since so much data is not delivered through a physical connection like a flash drive or through a semi-secure email service, but is now transferred over the cloud, data is now more vulnerable than ever.
So, for all of us denizens of the net, what will keep our data secure?
The advantage of data security through different forms of encryption
Companies use some form of encryption on the data they send or receive between devices to solve the problem of data theft. One of the most ubiquitous forms of basic network encryption is Secure Socket Layer (SSL). If you’re not familiar, look at the green lock next to the URL of this or most other web pages. By encrypting data before it is sent and then decrypting it after it is received by its intended destination, any data intercepted in transit is unintelligible to the hacker.
However, this type of protection doesn’t secure any data received and stored on a server or other terminal. One way to compensate for this is to use at-rest-encryption which keeps data partial secured in the recipient server – even from someone who may attempt to physically steal the hard drive it’s kept in. That said, someone savvy enough to gain access to the server while the data in question isn’t being used, or is “at rest,” can still acquire access to it.
While there are additional countermeasures you can employ to address the issues you may have with either method of encryption, there is a third option to consider without the drawbacks mentioned previously.
What is end-to-end encryption and why is it different?
End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is another form of encryption in which data – from the point that it is sent all the way to its arrival in a server – always remains encrypted, even when being stored on a server. The only time that it is ever decrypted is by a user who inputs one or a pair of proper access credentials, referred to as public-key encryption. The first public key secures a message and is sent with each packet of data but said public key can only be unlocked using a private key which only the user has access to.
For example, the Swiss-based email service provider Protonmail uses this type of encryption to keep their customer email data safe not only from hackers, intrusive government agents but even from webmasters who run Protonmail. In other words, it is virtually impossible for a user’s data to be seen by anyone, other than the user (or users) who know the decryption passcode for their account.
Over the past few years, a growing number of tech experts have begun to recognize the enormous benefit of this innovation, particularly as it pertains to cloud-based data transfers. In fact, not only are individual net users and businesses adopting this revolutionary system, but government agencies such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority are recommending financial institutions to use E2EE systems.
In short, while your existing data security software may be adequate in the short-term, a superior long-term investment for cloud security would be to consider using end-to-end encryption to keep your data safe.
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