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Watch that Data: Encryption and a Digital World

Watch that Data: Encryption and a Digital World

Once a large sign in front of the Beth Emet synagogue in Evanston, Illinois, “Never Again is Now” has come to represent the spirit of new aspirations and opportunities following the Holocaust. The world today is digital. Never again, is now. But a vastly expansive digital establishment also faces ever rising threats to security. According to a 2017 report published by Verizon, out of 42,058 security incidents analyzed in the study, 1,935 were identified as data breaches. The study was conducted across 84 countries.

The practice of encrypting data is not new. Nazi Germany made wide applications of the Enigma machine to encrypt their communication. It was the cracking of the Enigma code by British Intelligence that changed the contours of World War II. Converting data into secret codes, or cryptographic protocols ensures that sensitive information does not get intercepted.

Changing Contours of Encryption

Traditionally, encryption for typical businesses has been a two-pronged entity. It comprises the concepts of data-in-motion and data-rest. The first suggestively deals with the packaging, transmission and reception of data streams across various networks. The latter involves static, stored data in a particular system. A good example of data-in-motion encryption is the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which protects banking and card transactions online – indicated by a small padlock icon that appears on the browser URL bar on a transaction page.

But the rise of everything digital has also altered the nature of data breaches and thefts. The specter of cybersecurity continues to haunt digitally-driven organizations worldwide. After Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, the messenger service introduced end-to-end encryption. Yet concerns involving the effectiveness of this encryption still persist in the public domain. Demonstrably, when it comes to data security, public opinion is highly divided. The key reason behind this involves the formulation of new, and revision of existing protocols and regulations.

A Complex Terrain of Regulations and Policies

At the beginning of the millennium, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) was established by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It provides a standard specification for the encryption of electronic data, which is now utilized across the globe.

Recently, the European Union introduced a legal framework to regularize data privacy protocols across the EU and the businesses under its aegis. Known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or the GDPR, these legal benchmarks have been introduced to better an individual’s access to data security, and to encourage business and organizations to rethink their approaches. Access to encrypted data has also been a point of contention, especially noticeable in the conflict between the US government and Apple. Clearly, legislations and policies are still being hammered to deal with the leviathan of cybersecurity and encryption.

Cybersecurity and the Future of Encryption

A 2017 study conducted by the Ponemon Institute surveyed 4,802 individuals across multiple industry sectors in 11 countries. 41% respondents confirmed having an enterprise-wide consistent encryption strategy in place. It was also found that Cloud services and Hardware Security Modules (physical encryptions, like the chip in electronic cards) will occupy the encryption concerns of most businesses. With end-to-end encryption promising to effectively counter security breaches, the question remains what the next wave of innovation will be. Google Brain researchers have already discovered that AI, when properly tasked, creates oddly inhuman cryptographic schemes which they are better at encrypting than decrypting. Surely the future is fascinating. Never again, is now.

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