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Why Use Data Encryption?

written by: Robert Faustus•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/20/2010

Data encryption is not used by many, and some would consider it cumbersome and annoying to use. So why use data encryption? What is the purpose of it? Read on to understand why data encryption is important and why only taking preventative measure to protect your computer are not enough...

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    The Main Benefit of Encryption

    Encrypting Data - Like Placing a Lock on Your Data 

    Encryption is considered an annoyance by some businesses and people as it can be a bother if you try to share files or forget your encryption key. Many people follow tips and tricks to prevent hackers from breaking into their computers and wireless networks, which is definitely a good thing. Preventative measures are a great start in protecting your computer, but preparing for when a successful attack hits is equally important.

    The main benefit of data encryption is that even if you were to lose your computer, get malicious malware or are hacked, the data inside your computer is still safe. Encryption of data gives you one last saving grace, the data may no longer be in your hands, but no one else can see it or use it.

    Now, you may be asking, what are the chances that you'll lose your data? It can't be that simple can it?

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    Laptop Theft

    Laptop theft is a rampant crime that is constantly rising, and it can happen instantly, anywhere. It can be the laptop you use for work or the laptop you use personally; they both contain valuable information and are easy to steal. Examples of where you can have your laptop stolen are:

    • Airport
    • Library
    • College campus
    • Work
    • Hotel
    • Home
    • Public transportation
    • And the list goes on...

    Unattended Laptops - A Prize For Thieves Except if it's Encrypted 

    The portable aspect of laptops is enticing, but it also increases the risk of them being stolen. A study by the Ponemon Institute in 2009 showed that in the first half of 2008, across 106 airports, 12,000 laptops were stolen or lost every week! That averages to about 1 laptop being stolen every 53 seconds!

    Year after year, laptop theft is on the rise. According to the FBI, the number of reported stolen laptops in 2009 went up 32% from the previous year, totaling 128,280 reported stolen laptops! It doesn't help that the FBI reports that 97% of stolen laptops are never recovered. Laptop theft is no laughing matter and can happen to anyone. Data encryption ensures that even if you were to become a victim, the perpetrator cannot hack into your computer and steal anything valuable. You may have lost a few hundred dollars on the hardware, but with data encryption, you can at least sleep safely knowing that they can't dig through your files and folders to look at personal pictures or steal valuable information such as social security numbers.

    You might think that locking down your computer to a desk with a cable lock or placing it in a safe will keep your data safe and that encryption is not needed. However, you must note that physically tying down or placing your laptop in a safe is still a preventive measure. A cable lock can be broken, or the entire safe and the contents can be stolen, so they're both preventative measures that have flaws. Data encryption is an additional layer of protection on top of the preventive measures you put in place.

    Another flaw in just using physical locks and safes to protect your data in your computer laptops is the fact that hackers don't need your laptops. Laptop theft isn't the only way a hacker can take data from your computer...

    Read on to page 2 to see how else data can be stolen and how encryption can save your data...

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    Encrypting data on just your laptop or computer is not enough in today's high paced business world. Many people now use smartphones which can easily contains sensitive data. Smartphones are easier to lose or be stolen due to their size and demand. Encrypting data on smartphones ensures that though you may lose a few hundred dollars, your data is still safe. Data that can be worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than the phone itself will not be useful to a hacker. Malware can also be used to steal your data, whether it is on a computer or a phone. The main benefit of data encryption in this situation is that your data is useless even if the malware manages to send it back to a hacker.
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    Stealing Information with Malware

    Malware is a term used to describe computer viruses, spy-ware, trojan horses, worms, keyloggers, and rootkits. It's a term that many computer repair technicians are weary of. Malware can cause headaches, not just by slowing computers down, but the process of removing some of them can be painful. Malware has many functions, some replicate in the system and slow down your computer, some turn your computer into a zombie on a botnet, others log your keystrokes and send it back to a hacker, but there are some that delve even deeper. Certain types of malware can actually find password stores in your computer, take the information, and send it back to the creator of the malware.

    Malware - Used to Steal Unencrypted Data 

    If you followed the basic steps to secure your computer, you may think you're safe. However, in the world of cybercrime, hackers are always two, three steps ahead of the anti-malware companies. Some types of malware are able to modify themselves constantly; these are polymorphic. In conjunction, these types of malware come with another piece of malware added, called a watcher. The watcher's function is to identify the anti-malware programs running on the system and to alert the polymorphic malware to change its code in order to avoid detection.

    How does data encryption help in a situation where your computer has polymorphic malware that sneaks by your anti-malware software and steals data? Simply put, the data is useless even if the malware takes it and sends it. Since malware does not have the ability to decrypt the data, it will be sending the hacker absolutely useless encrypted data.

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    Smartphone Encryption

    Smartphone - Another Resource to Place Data Encryption 

    One last subject to touch on is the encryption of data in smartphones. In today's busy world, many people keep sensitive, important information in their smartphones. Do you have a corporate smartphone, or a personal smartphone? Do you have your company e-mail sent and stored in your smartphone? Do you use the store password option in your browser on your smartphone?

    Smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, HTC HD2, Motorola Droid, and others are widely used like computers. The lines between smartphones and computers are blurring, and the amount of unprotected data is smartphones is always rising. Data encryption is just as important on smartphones in case you lose your phone or have it stolen. There is software available that you can download onto your smartphone that will encrypt your data.

    Encryption of data on a smartphone works the same way as encryption of data on a computer. Someone needs the key to decrypt the data and steal it. The worst case scenario is that the person fails at hacking your phone and ends up wiping it clean for their own use. You may have lost a few hundred dollars but at least your identity is safe, your computer information is safe, and any other data is safe.

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    The Benefit of Data Encryption

    Remember that even with the most effective of preventive controls that your data is still at risk. Encryption adds an extra layer of security to help you feel at ease, even if your laptop is stolen, your smartphone drops out of your pocket, or your anti-malware software eventually detects that malicious software is snooping through your computer. Encrypted data is worthless to a hacker, and you've effectively made them waste their time and effort to achieve very little. The most you lose is your hardware, but the most important aspect, the data is still well protected.

    Encryption of data can be annoying at times and cumbersome for some, but it is the last stand in protecting your data. When all other security measures fail and your data ends up in the wrong hands, encryption is the last piece of security standing guard.

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