The Benefits of Encrypting Data in Use

Can data in use be encrypted? Heres how to encrypt data in use effectively, so that your data is protected throughout its lifecycle.

Best Practices for Securing Data While It Is Being Used

Encrypting your data is crucial because it will protect the information you store on your network, devices, and in the cloud. It protects you from hackers and other cybercriminals who want to break into your data to use for malicious purposes ─ including passwords, credit card numbers, addresses, or any other personal and sensitive data.

Data encryption works by transforming information so that it is not readable by unauthorized people. It uses keys to create ciphertext and decode that text. Without the decryption code, it is impossible to read the information in its original form.

Three forms of data ─ At rest, in transit, and in use

Data is the fuel of the modern economy. It is the lifeblood of all businesses, large and small. Data is generated by human and automated activity, and it can be classified into three different forms: at rest, in transit, and in use:

  • Data at rest is stored on devices or in databases. This type of data remains unchanged until it is accessed again by a user or an application that reads it from storage.

  • Data in transit refers to data that has been sent over a network but not yet received at its destination.

  • In-use data refers to data that is being input, updated, accessed, read, or processed by a system.

While data is being stored or is in transit, it does not need to be read or understood. Therefore, encrypting is meaningful. But when data is in use, it must be unencrypted for the user to read, understand, and use. You can see that this creates something of a problem ─ if hackers or other unauthorized people gain access to data that is in use, and therefore unencrypted, it becomes valuable to them.

The challenges of traditional encryption for data in use

There are four major challenges if you are considering using traditional methods for encrypting data in use:

  • Encryption doesn’t protect data in use

As we’ve touched on in this article already, encryption doesn’t protect data in use. It can’t, otherwise, the user wouldn’t be able to use it ─ that’s the whole point of encryption. Encryption makes existing data unreadable.

  • Cloud infrastructure and applications often put data at risk

Many companies (and individuals) now use the cloud to store their data and as an integral part of their IT infrastructure. With good reason, too. There are many benefits of using the cloud, including:

  • It’s cheaper

  • It allows easy remote access for all your employees

  • It is flexible and scalable

  • It is a fantastic platform for disaster recovery

  • You benefit from automatic system updates

Unfortunately, the convenience of using the cloud often comes with a price. Cloud infrastructure and applications are susceptible to hacking and data breaches ─ no matter how much cloud storage providers tell you otherwise. Even Microsoft had to announce that one of their cloud databases was breached in December 2019, exposing more than 250 million entries. Then, in August 2021, Microsoft was forced to announce that its Azure cloud-based database was susceptible to intrusion attacks.

  • Endpoints may not be secure

Endpoints are a broad category that includes all types of devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. These may not be as secure as you believe them to be ─ thus allowing unauthorized access to data in use.

  • Anomaly detection systems come with limitations

Anomaly detection is a computer system that detects any anomalies in a dataset, such as a change in the data distribution or an unusual event. These systems come with limitations, because they are not foolproof, and the risk of false positives is always there. This is because these systems rely on past data and patterns to identify anomalies. For example, if a new anomaly does not have enough similarities with any existing patterns or events, then it will go undetected by the system.

The benefits of data in use encryption

Okay, so we’ve explained why you cannot encrypt data in use ─ at least not using traditional encryption tactics. But what if you could employ encryption for data in use? If you develop smart encryption strategies, you can ─ and the benefits are tremendous. For example:

  • All sensitive data is encrypted

What if you could ensure that all sensitive data is encrypted while it is in use? If this is the case, any data accessed without authorization would have little or no intrinsic value.

  • Data is encrypted throughout the entire data life cycle

All sensitive data will be encrypted while at rest, in transit, and in use. This means that even if a breach should occur, your data is protected through encryption.

  • Governance is provided through a centralized, simple platform

You benefit from managing all your data security encryption for all stored data from a single platform, with consistent encryption methodology.

  • Real-time monitoring and action

Using appropriate encryption enables real-time monitoring of data requests and data use. This allows anomalies to be detected immediately, and automatic response defense systems to block suspicious activity.

How to encrypt data in use: Best practices

When encrypting data in use, you should take steps to ensure that the most sensitive data that is not in use is encrypted. For example, you should:

  • Use strong encryption algorithms and keys

  • Use the most secure methods of transmission available

  • Store only encrypted data on mobile devices

  • Ensure that your keys and passwords are not stored unencrypted

But, given that any data in use that must be accessed will be unencrypted while in use, you cannot rely on encryption alone. Here are three best practices that will help ensure your data in use encryption is the most effective it can be:

  1. Use identity management tools

Identity management, also called IDM and IAM, is a security practice that makes it possible for only the right people to access resources they’re allowed to.

This solution deals with the need to ensure that people have access to resources depending on their technology environment (desktop, tablet, mobile) and that it meets compliance requirements.

Identity management tools and applications cover what access an individual has, how their identity is protected, and the technology that supports this protection (such as passwords, digital certificates, etc.).

  1. Control access to unencrypted data

Use conditional access or role-based access control (RBAC) tools to control access to data on a person-by-person basis. This will prohibit unauthorized access to specific underlying data from all who have access to your system or cloud databases.

  1. Employ digital rights management or IRM

Digital rights management (DRM) allows you to protect against unauthorized use of your sensitive data by restricting access to it while enabling secure sharing of it.

Information rights management (IRM) is a subset of DRM and is applied to documents and files to prevent unauthorized access and use (such as editing, deleting, copying, and forwarding).

Could your business benefit from data in use encryption?

If your company collects, uses, or shares sensitive data, you could benefit from ensuring that you adopt robust data in use encryption strategies. Such strategies will help to secure your data throughout its lifecycle. They will help to prevent unauthorized access and use. And they will help ensure you meet any regulatory requirements applicable to you, and to validate your security credentials with suppliers, business partners, and customers.

If you’re looking for help to protect your data effectively, contact Millennium Enterprises.

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