November 16, 2022

Conventional vs. Multifactor Encryption: What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that the expanding and evolving threat landscape requires a new approach to protecting critical data.  According to Gartner, Inc., one of the top three factors currently influencing growth in security spending is the increase in remote and hybrid work. While organizations continue to embrace the business advantages of distributed and remote work, these new environments further exacerbate the problem of identifying, classifying, and protecting data that is no longer centralized. 

The main challenges with unstructured data in disparate environments are the wide dispersal of assets and the sheer complexity and sensitivity of the material. Unlike structured datasets used within centralized applications, unstructured and distributed data can end up anywhere from on-premises to cloud storage to employee devices. And the heterogeneity of data sources makes it tricky to ascertain what data needs protection. The fact is that businesses typically have thousands of files ranging from innocuous anonymized survey findings to highly sensitive intellectual property and personally identifiable information. Further complicating matters, unstructured data can quickly change status from non-sensitive to sensitive, whereas this categorization is far more stable in a structured dataset.

Setting out to solve the data protection challenges brought by the changing landscape inevitably requires a new approach to encryption. Examining the conventional centralized and advanced decentralized approach to encryption will clarify the best path for effectively securing your organization. 

Conventional Encryption - Recognizing the Limitations 

Standard encryption solutions rely on a centralized approach to data protection. This may seem like a good idea as centralization typically brings efficiency that is easy to manage, but it's more complex. Unfortunately, centralization also creates a single point of weakness for organizations that can be much more easily exploited, breached, and compromised in one fell swoop. 

Centralized, conventional key management solutions are often tied to identity and access management (IAM) frameworks that grant access to encrypted data through username and password credentials. The devastating result is data exfiltration. 

Additionally, conventional encryption requires the overhead of encryption key management which is an arduous process. Key management involves generating cryptographic keys, storing them securely, managing who they’re assigned to, replacing them, and destroying them. According to Entrust 2021 Global Encryption Trends), “56% of respondents rate key management as very painful, which suggests respondents view managing keys as a very challenging activity.” 

Finally, these solutions get in the way of user productivity and create friction between data accessibility and data security. Another issue that impacts productivity is having to remember and type in passwords to access encrypted files. As we know, any change to existing user expectations, no matter how trivial, is likely to result in pushback.

Multifactor Encryption - Embracing Innovation for Today’s World 

Now, let’s consider a modern approach to encryption that tackles data protection and accessibility head-on. Multifactor encryption is achieved through a more advanced approach to encryption key management called Distributed Key Management  (DKM). The concept is simple, but the method completely changes how data is protected. By distributing shards of the unique encryption key across physical devices, you have effectively decentralized encryption key management and utilized the fundamental advantages of multifactor authentication to reconstitute the encryption key for authorized users to decrypt the data. 

For one, it is entirely passwordless. As discussed, credentials-based solutions present a severe weakness. The use of multifactor encryption and distributed key management means that companies do not need to rely on identity access management (IAM) as the root of data security. Instead, it protects at the file level, by eliminating the central point of attack and encrypting each file with its unique encryption key. As a result, there are no passwords to remember and no single point of attack or failure. Ultimately this creates the highest levels of data security without sacrificing business performance and productivity.

In addition to enabling rock-solid security, decentralized multifactor encryption eliminates the conventional trade-off between data security and accessibility by removing complexity and creating a frictionless user experience.

Multifactor encryption satisfies compliance requirements, ensures flexibility, and delivers unparalleled visibility into encrypted data usage trends. It's not just about data protection but also gaining insights into who accesses data, when they access it, and how often. In addition, alerting on anomalous activity helps identify new threats emerging in the environment. These benefits improve compliance, business reporting, and operational decision-making.  

A centralized approach to security is no longer sufficient to stem the rising tide of advanced threats in the continually evolving ‘new normal.’ Fortunately, innovations in data protection strategies, including multifactor encryption, provide an excellent alternative to conventional security practices for those governing today’s complex network environments. As more organizations experience the limitations and risks of centralized security and move to advanced solutions that are better equipped to meet today’s data protection requirements, new levels of security, productivity and success will be achieved. 

For more information about multifactor encryption, contact Atakama today. 

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