Why Use Higher Data Encryption Levels?

In recent years, a number of high-profile data breaches have been in the news. In some cases, the data of millions of customers or files from high-profile projects were stolen and either sold or released online. To make matters worse, in almost all of these cases, the data stolen either wasn’t encrypted or was using only lightweight data encryption that was easily defeated.

This is a reality that business owners have to face every day, but it’s not just businesses that are at risk. Thanks to the evolution of cloud computing platforms and the digital ecosystem that allows us to access data from anywhere and on any device, data security is a concern that should be on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, a number of modern data encryption methods simply aren’t enough to keep us safe into the future.

Data Encryption, Explained
To understand why some modern methods fall short, let’s first define data encryption. There is often a misconception that encryption is some sort of technology that prevents hackers or other bad agents from getting hold of your data. While some forms of encryption do help to secure access to data, the job of encryption isn’t actually to keep others from getting the data.

Instead, encryption helps ensure that no one is able to read or use the data if they don’t have permission to do so. Encryption uses computer algorithms to change the makeup of your data to a form that can’t be read, ideally making it unusable to anyone who doesn’t have a copy of the “key” data that was used to encrypt it in the first place.

Problems with Current Standards of Data Encryption
There are multiple standards that exist for data encryption. Many of them are based around 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, though this varies depending on how the specific encryption standards are implemented.

There are a few problems with this, however:

  • Once a specific implementation of an encryption algorithm is “broken,” details on how to defeat it are usually published in a number of places online. The internet never forgets.
  • As more and more personal data, business data, and other important information is stored online, data will become an increasingly tantalizing target for the bad guys who are already familiar with existing standards.
  • Computers are getting both smaller and more powerful, making it easier to bypass existing encryption standards in reasonable amounts of time.
  • Many standards that are commonly used have been around for years, and even some of the big guns in security have started to fail. It took 20 years for the SHA-1 hash encryption used to secure a vast number of websites to finally break, but researchers have known it was possible since 2013.

Higher Data Encryption Levels
This all may sound a little bleak, but the good news is coming. If modern encryption standard implementations can’t keep data safe, will we have to come up with completely new algorithms? Not yet. Instead of creating wholly new algorithms, the answer is to simply use higher encryption levels with the algorithms that already exist.

As far back as 2011, research was being done to test existing encryption types with 512-bit encryption instead of the then-standard 128-bit encryption. The results of that early research were very promising, and these days we have a number of implementations of 512-bit, 1024-bit and even higher levels of encryption.

Each of these increases in encryption key complexity makes decrypting data without authorization millions upon millions of times more difficult, meaning that solutions that penetrate lower levels of encryption within a few hours could take hundreds or thousands (or even millions) of years to penetrate the same encryption types at higher levels of encryption.

Military-Grade Encryption
You often hear about “military-grade encryption” in popular media as well as products such as ours. This phrase often brings to mind images of some super-secret, unbreakable encryption algorithm that only a few lucky companies might be able to master. It might surprise you to know, then, that most branches of the military use publicly available encryption algorithms and in most cases even make known which types of encryption they use.

The secret to “military-grade” encryption has nothing to do with the specific type of encryption they use. Instead, it’s all about the complexity of the encryption itself. The more classified something is, the stronger its encryption needs to be -- which is why the military relies on higher encryption levels for each level of secrecy required for different data or files.

Looking to the Future
At present, 128-bit encryption is increasingly falling by the wayside in favor of 256-bit solutions. Even that level of encryption is quickly becoming insufficient for our most sensitive data, however.

The best way to prevent data breaches and information theft is to protect against the future as well as the present. In other words, your business and data will be better off if you adopt higher standards of data protection through higher encryption levels now instead of later. This will not only keep your valuable data safe in the short-run but will also save you the cost of upgrading in a hurry once 256-bit encryption is no longer the standard.

And we all know how fast technology changes.

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