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Database Encryption – Why is it important in the age of ‘Cyber threats?

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Databases may hold critical data about your enterprise and customers. The data could be important personally identifiable information (PII) of the customers or critical values with respect to business operations and financials of the company.

Whether the data is at rest or in-motion, we need to ensure security of the data. Database encryption is a process that converts data in the database to ‘undecipherable’ text using an algorithm. To decrypt the data, the user would need a key that is generated from the algorithm used for encryption. The databases are also a sought-after target by cyber criminals because it contains data that is invaluable. If they manage to get hold of such data, they can arm-twist the organization to derive financial gains. Organizations on the other hand, try to settle such cases amicably, as they prefer not to get unwanted negative attention that can damage their reputation.

Also Read: Database Security: 8 Threats and Best Practices [Part 2]

How does Database Encryption help?

With the proliferation of digital channels, and hybrid/ anywhere working models, the points of access to data have extended far beyond organizational perimeters. Even with the best systems in place, security attacks cannot be eliminated. However, with data encryption, cyber criminals cannot comprehend the data even if they gain access to it. In such a scenario, they are rendered powerless to use it. Data encryption is an enhanced level of security over and above the security of access points that an organization might build.

If the database is encrypted, the only way for an attacker to cause damage is to decrypt the data. If the algorithm used for encryption is not simple enough to crack, the attacker may not succeed at all.

What are the advantages of having an encrypted database?

Apart from the obvious benefit of restricting access to databases and preventing unauthorized access, database encryption can also provide value as below:

Regulatory Compliance

Whether it is a security-based standards such as PCI-DSS or an industry requirement (for instance, banks are mandated to ensure that the database that deals with personally identifiable information of customers is encrypted), encryption of databases is critical to ensure regulatory compliance.

Protection of Sensitive Data

Encryption of databases is essential for protecting sensitive data. With innovations across the digital landscape such as open banking, there are a lot of APIs that are used for sharing information. It is important to ensure that relevant information such as personally identifiable information (PII) does not fall into unauthorized hands.  Also, with the data being sliced and diced like never before, it moves across various systems, environments, and sometimes even from on-premises to the cloud and back. In such a scenario, it is critical to protect the data from malicious actors within or outside the system. Encryption of databases plays a vital role in ensuring the same.

Builds trust with customers, regulators, and key stakeholders

Database encryption provides the required safety for the customers, regulators, and other key stakeholders such as investors to trust a company and its operations. It directly contributes to enhancing business and bottom line and is often a critical growth parameter. Most importantly, if an unencrypted database is compromised, it can create significant damage to the business and to the reputation of the brand.

What should one be careful about before encrypting their databases?

In-spite of its benefits, database encryption can strain the network and compute resources and if the requests on the database are large in number, the performance may be impacted. Hence, it is advisable to do a feasibility study and consider the impact of database encryption on the performance of the said database before going ahead with its implementation.

Another issue could be the loss of decryption key. Unless you have different encryption keys for every aspect of the database rather than having one global key for the database, the loss of decryption key could be a serious issue. Even if you have different keys, it would be challenging to remember multiple passwords and ensure that they are securely stored and retained when required.

Way forward

While database encryption comes with its pros and cons, the benefits would far outweigh the operational challenges of implementing database encryption. It is recommended that companies encrypt their databases to win trust of customers, regulators, employees, and investors and create a robust foundation to build a sustainable organization.

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