Recently, encryption is being considered as one of the best solutions for securing documents against theft. While encryption does add a robust layer of security when done the right way, it is by no means bulletproof. Companies relying solely on encryption to protect their data may encounter several security-related risks, such as the ones below.
Risk 1: The Data is Still There
The safest way to prevent cyber criminals from accessing sensitive data is to move the data to another, safer place, even offline. If the data is not available to be stolen, it won’t be stolen. With encryption, the data remains on the drive, open for any enterprising hacker to access. The only thing that prevents hackers from stealing such data is the encryption key. Apart from the obvious risk of hackers getting their hands on the encryption keys, there is also the risk of hackers somehow circumventing the process.
A resourceful hacker could get away with a cold boot attack and obtain the encryption key directly from the RAM. Normally, such data can only be recovered when the computer is on, but cooling methods can elongate the period of time in which RAM data stays intact. Moreover, a backdoor hacking process could also give hackers access to the encryption key.
Risk 2: Encryption Algorithm Weaknesses
The strength of the encryption depends entirely on the strength of the algorithm itself. While 128- or 256-bit military grade encryption is very strong and virtually impossible to penetrate via brute force and may take years to crack, weaker encryption standards (less than 128-bit as well as MD5, SHA-0, SHA-1, and DES,) are still susceptible to hacking. Even for higher-grade standards, advancements in decryption technology can make the encryption keys susceptible. Unless the encryption technology in place keeps pace with the increases in processing power, it becomes that much easier to crack open an encrypted file.
Worse, the New York Times reports that the algorithm adopted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2006 contains a “back door” which the NSA or even hackers can exploit.
Risk 3: Human Error
Encryption is susceptible to human error, most notably carelessness in storing the encryption keys in an unsecured location. In fact, many users store the encryption keys in the same location as the encrypted file, delivering it to hackers on a platter. Therefore, put simply, don’t store the encryption keys together with the encrypted files.
There is also the risk of the user losing the password to access the encryption key, and being locked out of the data. In many cases, losing critical data would be just as bad as such data being copied and stolen. Effective management of encryption keys is an added but necessary administrative task for the often-overburdened IT staff.
Risk 4: Business Risks
A strongly encrypted file can be difficult to access even for a legitimate user, who may require the file urgently at a crucial time for decision-making. Traditional full-disk encryption can also reduce overall system performance. When forced to make a trade-off between compromising the business and a potential security risk, many users would opt to dabble with an unencrypted version of the file, or turn off encryption, leading to large security holes.
Encrypting data and creating the keys necessary to encrypt and decrypt the data is an added cost and consumes resources. Many businesses looking to cut costs in a recessionary environment may settle for lower grades of encryption, which are easier to crack. Such poor encryption implementation could result in a false sense of security and should be noted and assessed periodically. The decision between cost-saving measures and security is a balancing act which should not be taken lightly; it may also have implications for business insurance and this should be investigated before decisions are made.
Risk 5: The Risk of Visibility
Professional spies and undercover agents never try to shake off the tail because doing so would confirm their guilt beyond doubt. Similarly, storing encrypted files is the sure-shot indication that the file is valuable. Visibility of such files may prompt cyber criminals to attack with full vigour. Rogue insiders may also put in extra effort to steal the data in encrypted files and even the encryption keys. This goes back to the first point that if the encrypted data is not there to be found then it can’t be attacked.
It is never a good idea to rely on any one technology to protect your data, no matter how robust the solution. Final Code offers comprehensive multi-layered solutions, customised to your specific needs. To find out more, click here.