Cloud security

How Cloud Encryption Has Changed in 2015 —and What the Future Holds

April 2, 2015 by Noah Gamer

When mega-retailer Target was the victim of a data breach during the 2013 holiday season, more than 70 million customers earned that their personal information, including email addresses and credit card numbers, had possibly been compromised. However, there was one small bright spot in the torrent of bad news: Target reported that the PIN numbers for compromised debit cards were encrypted, and therefore useless to the criminals who now had access to them.

While that might have been little consolation to those customers who had to spend time locking down their accounts, to Target, it was a major victory in an otherwise bleak situation. Because the retailer did employ encryption to protect certain vital data, they were granted “Safe Harbor” from certain reporting requirements and more importantly, major fines, as a result of the breach.

The Target data beach, and the others that have occurred since at retailers like Nordstrom and Home Depot, only serve to underscore the importance of encryption as part of a data protection strategy. While prior to these breaches, businesses that collect customer payment information, including credit and debit card numbers, were required by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) to encrypt data, many other businesses that store and transmit data via networks had less defined rules regarding encryption. However, that’s all changing. Encryption, once viewed as “extra” protection by many, has become a priority in the ongoing quest to secure data.

3 Top Trends in Data Encryption

The fact that encryption has become a bigger priority in the last year is not the only change in the data security universe. In fact, the new emphasis on encryption itself has led to some significant trends. Among them:

1. Key Management Has Become More Complex

One of the leading causes of data breaches is the inappropriate management of credentials, and encryption key management falls squarely under the umbrella of credential management.

As more enterprises adopt encryption as part of their security protocol, the number of keys that need to be managed has also increased. Vendors that offer encryption as a service are growing more reluctant to be responsible for customer keys, while businesses employing encryption are also finding challenges in maintaining separation between the keys and the encrypted data.

2. Compliance Standards Are Changing

While certain regulations, including the PCI DSS and HIPPA already required encryption as a minimum security standard, those regulations are expanding and becoming more stringent. The definition of “sensitive data” is expanding all the time, and organizations that fail to comply with the regulatory standards of their industry could face serious consequences. Many are choosing to err on the side of caution, and employing advanced encryption ahead of regulatory changes.

3. Expectations for Encryption Are Evolving

One of the primary reasons that many businesses have resisted encryption — especially small businesses — is that encryption has often been viewed as complex and cumbersome function.

Some older (read: a decade or more) encryption solutions did present some hurdles to users, but today’s virtualization security solutions present a seamless alternative. In short, modern encryption technology protects data without any effect on application functionality.

Developers are also working toward homomorphic encryption to make the analysis of Big Data more thorough. Currently, most cloud based data analysis tools are not able to work with encrypted data. Businesses must either take the risk of working with unencrypted data in the cloud, or develop their own analytical applications, which increases expense.

Homomorphic encryption, however, allows encrypted data to be analyzed just as it would if it were unencrypted. This allows businesses to not only tap into the power of Big Data more securely, it also presents opportunities to analyze data from multiple sources at once, without exposing potentially sensitive information.

Even just a few short years ago, encryption was often viewed as a “bonus” security measure, something that enterprises could choose to employ. Believed to be the realm of government agencies and hackers, it was often reserved for the most sensitive data only, and considered unnecessary for the average user.

With so much data being shared online, and with the explosive growth of cloud computing, though, encryption has become as commonplace as antivirus protection and firewalls. As adoption grows, expect to see more changes in encryption standards and security management going forward.

Posted: April 2, 2015
Noah Gamer
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Noah Gamer directs the global Internet Marketing optimization and product web reputation strategy as the Senior Manager of Search Marketing at Trend Micro. He specializes in web product strategy development, competitive analysis, targeted content ranking methods and site optimization while influencing online identity and brand for product marketing, public relations, investor relations, technical support and corporate marketing initiatives.