one key popping out a group of many similar keys

Data is important. It powers the apps that let us stream music and video and play games on our computers and mobile devices. It helps businesses and consumers make intelligent decisions. It fuels the financial transactions that make up the global market. And it can be used to bring perspective and solutions to complex problems.

Take cybersecurity. A total of 2,044,239,647 records were compromised in 2017 alone. But that’s quite an improvement to the 4,806,032,628 records compromised in 2016. The reason for the plunge in compromised data: 2017 was the year more than half the web became encrypted.

If you’re not using at least some form of encryption, you’re in a vulnerable minority—the low-hanging fruit for malicious parties looking for a snack. The good news is there are now more tools than ever before to help you adopt an effective encryption strategy that best suits your needs. Let’s take a look at the encryption software, methods, and tools at your disposal in 2018.

What Is Data Encryption and How Does It Work?

Before we dive into the tools, it helps if you understand how encryption works. In a nutshell, encryption is the conversion of information (like the plaintext you’re reading on this blog post) into ciphertext that is unintelligible to anyone without the appropriate key to decode it. If you’re new to encryption, we recommend you read “Encryption Basics: How It Works & Why You Need It” to develop a solid foundation for understanding the types of encryption methods and tools discussed in this article.

Encrypted Web Connections

On June 30, 2018, 82% of web pages accessed through Google Chrome on Windows computers were loaded over HTTPS, a significant rise from 67% in June 2017. The S stands for “secure” and indicates that some form of encryption (often SSL or TLS) is being used to protect communications between the website and the users’ browsers. Encrypting web traffic is easy. Simply:

  • Host your web app with a dedicated IP address.
  • Buy an SSL/TSL or digital certificate (basically an ID that uniquely identifies your website). Alternatively you can set up your own for free if you own your server.
  • Activate and install your certificate through the web host (a one- or two-day wait) or manually with the help of a network administrator.
  • Migrate all your web pages from HTTP to HTTPS with the help of a front-end developer.

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)

A VPN is the easiest way for businesses to work securely with remote workers and freelancers in situations where sensitive company data must be accessed. Data is encrypted locally on a VPN client before being routed through a VPN server to a desired endpoint. Popular VPN clients include:

  • Cisco AnyConnect
  • OpenVPN
  • NCP Secure Entry Client
  • Microsoft VPN

Secure Email/Web Gateways

When you send an email to someone, you like to think that he or she is the only one who received it. End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a secure way to communicate that prevents third parties from intercepting information while it’s being transmitted. When applied to email, it allows the sender to encrypt a message locally on his or her device using the intended recipients’ public key. When the intended recipients receive the message, they decrypt it using their private key. Popular E2EE tools include:

  • Virtru
  • CounterMail
  • ProtonMail
  • Tutanota

Comprehensive Enterprise Encryption Solutions

So far, we’ve talked about encryption methods and tools for protecting data in transit: moving via email or through web traffic. To protect data at rest—data stored in databases, public/private/hybrid clouds, hard drives, and mobile devices—you need software that supports file encryption. The following softwares support varying levels of file encryption, from file by file to folder, to volume offerings to full-disk encryption (FDE), in which any files saved to the disk or hard drive are automatically encrypted:

  • BitLocker
  • VeraCrypt
  • AxCrypt
  • GNU Privacy Guard
  • Symantec

Tip: You’ll find a lot of overlap in security features across various encryption solutions. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a product to also offer email gateway encryption, VPN, and data-loss prevention plans on top of FDE.

At its core, the strategy for employing encryption involves looking at your entire business or organization and understanding how data flows through it both physically and in the digital world. This article barely scratches the surface of the types of encryption tools on the market today, but hopefully it gives you a solid foundation to help you build your own encryption toolkit. Looking for a data security expert to help you bring your encryption strategy to life? Consult with a freelance IT security expert on Upwork today.

Upwork is a freelancing website where businesses of all sizes can find talented professionals across multiple disciplines and categories. If you are a business and are looking to get projects done, consider signing up!