Our personal and professional lives are reliant on technology. But the sensitive data we share and store online is more vulnerable to cyber threats than ever before. From credit card numbers and medical records to private messages and intellectual property, encrypting data is essential to safeguard our information from prying eyes and unauthorized access. Without encryption, we risk exposing our most valuable assets to malicious actors who seek to exploit our online vulnerabilities.
What’s driving the need for encryption?
Encryption has never been more critical — and the need for it will only grow as technology advances and our digital footprints expand. Concerns regarding existing encryption technology are driven by recent advancements in technology, along with changing attitudes toward privacy and security, including the following:
- Cyber threats and attacks. Hacking, malware and ransomware continue to be a significant concern for organizations. While defenders have gotten better at detecting and preventing the original modus operandi of ransomware attackers, malicious actors are constantly adopting new techniques. New methods of disruption include data kidnapping, where attackers exfiltrate and encrypt enormous amounts of sensitive corporate data and demand a ransom to prevent public exposure.
- Insider threats. Often overlooked are insider threats — the risks posed to an organization by individuals within it, including employees, contractors or any other person with authorized access to the organization’s systems and data. Insider threats can be intentional, such as when an employee leaks confidential information, or unintentional, such as when an employee inadvertently shares sensitive data.
- Quantum computing. While not currently affecting organizations, the potential trouble quantum computing could cause should worry companies. Quantum computers can perform certain tasks better and faster than classical computers. One particular concern is how quantum computing could break current encryption methods faster than today’s computers.
- Increased surveillance. We are seeing a significant increase in surveillance practices around the world — by governments, corporations and other entities. While some argue surveillance is necessary for safety and security reasons, increased surveillance can lead to a loss of privacy and personal freedoms, as well as potential abuse of power by those in positions of authority. The collection and storage of vast amounts of personal data can also create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.
- Generative AI. This AI algorithm generates “new” content by learning patterns and relationships within a given data set. Generative AI uses complex mathematical techniques, such as neural networks and deep learning, to learn from massive training data sets and to generate outputs that closely resemble the original data. With generative AI, every input and request into the system is added to the corpus of knowledge used to generate output. There’s a huge risk of exposure should personal or corporate data be captured by a generative AI system.
What is the coming ‘encryption revolution’?
The coming “encryption revolution” refers to the significant changes and advancements taking place in the world of encryption to address these issues. The advancements in encryption technology include the following:
- Post-quantum cryptography (PQC). Existing cryptography relies on mathematical algorithms and key sizes that require tens to hundreds of years to break. Theoretically, quantum computing can break existing encryption faster — possibly in days or even minutes. PQC is a new type of encryption designed to resist quantum computing attacks by using mathematical problems believed to be too difficult for quantum computers to solve in a reasonable timeframe.
- Homomorphic encryption. This type of encryption enables computations and analysis to be performed on encrypted data without first decrypting it, meaning sensitive data can be processed and analyzed without ever being exposed. Homomorphic encryption preserves privacy because it enables secure data sharing and analysis while maintaining the confidentiality of the data.
- Zero-knowledge proofs. These enable you to prove you know something without revealing what that knowledge is or how it was obtained. Zero-knowledge proofs can be incredibly useful in situations where privacy and security are paramount concerns, such as financial transactions or data sharing between organizations.
What does the ‘encryption revolution’ mean for the future of data security?
The coming “encryption revolution” is set to have a profound effect on the future of data security. Thanks to advancements in encryption technology, we can now safeguard against potential threats that were once unpreventable.
One of the key benefits of the “encryption revolution” is it will make it more difficult for cybercriminals to steal or manipulate data. Many of the new encryption techniques are resistant to attacks from quantum computers. This will be especially important as we continue to store more and more sensitive information online. The “encryption revolution” will also enable us to expand secure data sharing, collaboration and analysis, which helps drive innovation in areas such as healthcare and finance.
Note that encryption technologies can also be misused, however. Governments and law enforcement agencies, for example, have expressed concerns that encryption may be used to conceal criminal activity. A delicate balance between privacy and security needs to be maintained as new encryption technologies are developed and deployed.
This was last published in May 2023
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