What is device encryption and why do you need it ?

We are living in an era where widespread connectivity including the Internet and the digitisation of assets has become convenient. However, these have put us at a high risk of getting hacked. Sensitive data, which includes personal information and other digital assets of critical value, can potentially fall into unauthorised hands and thus the outcome can be devastating. Recent trends have shown an increase in ransomware attacks and prominent data breaches which have left individuals and organisations on the edge for the best techniques to protect their data, now and in the future.

While there are many strategies that are successful in protecting the data in transit through the Internet, it is also important to protect data which is at rest. While it is important to protect all data that is at rest, however it is even more important to protect such data on mobile devices including tablets, smart phones and laptop computers. With increase in mobility, the risk of loss or theft is higher and hence the importance for measures to be taken accordingly.

There is a well-tested scientifically proven method which has been used for decades and that is progressively becoming an essential connection in the security chain. This method is called encryption. Encryption is the method of transforming data into one which is not readable by anyone who does not have the proper keys to decode it. It is turning out to be an essential requirement to have in any device to deter thieves and hackers from stealing sensitive data. In case a mobile device is lost or stolen, the data residing on it will be useless and unreadable if it is encrypted.

Encryption has been used historically from ancient times to turn plain text into unreadable code. To encrypt and decrypt data you would need to apply a cryptographic key. A cryptographic key, also referred to as an encryption key, is basically a series of data that is privately stored or shared with the intended recipient as a means to lock (encrypt) or unlock (decrypt) the data.

Below is a simplistic example of how encryption works. Let’s say that you want to encrypt this sentence: “This sentence will be encrypted”. Using a particular cryptographic key, then the sentence would look like “csjqJ+bncWJ97l/Ho2Gnbdrv9Ai7/HIPo7CPpEJUHpM=”. One can save or share with another recipient the encrypted sentence and the recipient would then be able to decrypt it to the original readable sentence using only the cryptographic key.

This method can be used to enable device encryption often known as full disk encryption. This is a way for protecting the sensitive data at rest on storage media such as laptop hard drive and mobile storage. Enabling this feature means that the encrypted storage device can only be decrypted seamlessly using the cryptographic key/s on the device itself. If the mobile device gets stolen and its storage media is attached to another device to retrieve sensitive information, this would not be possible since the cryptographic keys are stored in the stolen device. Thus, it is very important to always protect access to a mobile device using a strong password to access the device and also by encrypting the data stored within it.

There are various software options and products for encrypting data; some of which are inbuilt within the operating systems and others which may potentially be found as freely available software for download and use.