Data Encryption 101 for Small Business

Encryption - Blog

The goal of encryption is to ensure information cannot be accessed by a third party. This is done through a complex algorithm that ensures encryption while sending and receiving data. To make sure your small business information is properly encrypted, you have to make use of the best encryption software.

Encryption software is formed through strings of numbers that function as keys to be used while locking and unlocking the data. To form these strings, complex mathematics is used. Just as you protect your physical files against access by unauthorised parties, you should also protect your electronic information.

Encrypted information can only be accessed through a unique key. When important data is sent, a high level of security is guaranteed. Encryption can also be used to secure devices or perform disk encryption.

Why You Need Encryption Software For Your Data

Data breaches have often caused businesses to shut down. Many small businesses have lost important files to cyber-criminals or even had the privacy of some important files and folders violated.

This is why businesses need to look for ways like encryption to protect their data and systems. Great encryption software like Windows BitLocker and Apples FileVault can help protect your small business and the information you send, receive or store.

With data encryption, you will not have to worry about your company’s cloud operations as data is well secured against hackers and their brute force attacks. You will also get rid of communication sniffers who are trying to get hold of your small business’s private data.

With encryption, you are ensured that the privacy of your user’s data and information is guaranteed. You should however note that although encrypting hard drives will prevent strangers from snooping through your files, you will not be fully protected from cybercrime. Your data and information will however be safer.

Public Key Cryptography and Sharing

There are times when you might need to share passwords of your encrypted files. In such case, you will make use of the Public Key Infrastructure cryptography (PKI). This method has 2 keys, one which can be shared with anyone you want called the public key. The other one is referred to as the private key. This one should be guarded closely. If a file is sent to you, it is encrypted using the public key. After you receive it, you will decrypt it with your private key.

You can also use your private key to form a digital signature which proves that a certain file or document originates from you. In this case, your public key will decrypt the files. This is all the proof you need for people to open files originating from you.

However, other tools may not support PKI cryptography. You should not be worried about this since many encrypting tools allow self-decrypting executable files.

Encryption Algorithms

The idea behind encryption algorithms is to make the file, images, or documents as gibberish as possible. To decipher the meaning of the encrypted files, the holder is supposed to make use of passwords and a public key.

There are many free resources for learning encryption but you should rely on legitimate ones. This is why we have different encryption forms and standards like the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES encryption is great for even the average user. You might however choose other options like GOST or Blowfish.

Full Disk Encryption

Hard drives require utmost protection. Keeping all your files encrypted will keep away prying eyes. When you choose to encrypt files and folders only, you might miss some things. This is similar to choosing a password only for protecting your whole computer. When you boot your computer then insert the password, everything else is decrypted. This is risky. You should use strong file encryption software that protects all your sensitive files.

Data Encryption Software

Three major operating systems are often used among businesses. Windows, Mac, and Linux. Most people however use Windows and Mac operating systems, here is how to encrypt your computer’s hard drive.

Hard Drive Encryption for Windows Operating Systems

All windows versions from Windows 2007 have BitLocker. Currently, most users with a Microsoft account use Windows 10 operating systems. To encrypt your computer’s hard drive using BitLocker, follow these steps;

  1. Search the word ‘encryption’ on the search bar. You can also use the control panel.
  2. Look for the ‘Turn BitLocker on’ option. Choose this option and wait for it to process and answer if your computer can also be encrypted.
  3. In some computers, a prompt option will appear to ask you to restart your computer. This is because you have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Doing this will enable TPM for your BitLocker.
  4. If you don’t have a TPM, you will receive an error message. To avoid this, you should allow BitLocker to run without a TPM in your local computer policy settings.
  5. Once you are done with that process, it is time to create a passkey or a password.
  6. You could print or save the recovery key in case you forget your password and keep it in a safe place. You could also attach this key on your Microsoft account. However, this could be risky because if your account is compromised by a hacker, they could have access to your key.
  7. The next step is to choose whether to encrypt some drives or the whole hard disk. It is advised that you however choose full encryption. This is because if you don’t, someone may still have access to the deleted filed and folders on your hard disk.
  8. You may be asked to choose whether you want to use Windows new encryption. This is for Windows 10 users which has XTS-AES new encryption method. This encryption version has better security and other late versions of windows cannot decrypt it.
  9. The last step in this process is to enable the BitLocker system check. You should also follow the step that asks you to restart your computer. If after restarting your computer you receive a prompt to insert your password, you should know that your whole disk is encrypted and all your data and information is safe.

How to Encrypt Your Hard Drive in Windows – Simplified

  1. Type ‘encryption ‘ in the search bar to find BitLocker.
  2. Turn your Windows BitLocker on.
  3. Enter your passkey and password.
  4. You could save the recovery key or print it in case you lose it.
  5. Select the encryption settings you desire.
  6. Restart your computer when prompted to do so.

Encrypting Your Hard Drive in macOS

Apple computers have a strict policy on user privacy. This is why their disk encryption is built into their operating system. This disk encryption software is called FileVault. It uses 256-bit encryption and AES 128 bit encryption keys making it very effective for data protection. Here is the detailed process of how to encrypt your computer’s hard drive using FileVault.

  1. Opening your system preferences and select ‘security and privacy. Go to the second tab, ‘FileVault’ which is at the top to select your settings for the tool.
  2. There is a lock situated at the bottom left corner of the screen. Click on it and key in your administrator’s details. These details will allow you to edit the settings.
  3. The next step is to set up and begin the encryption process. Locate the button labelled ‘turn on FileVault’. There is an option of choosing how you should store the recovery key. The first option is to ‘Allow your iCloud account to continue and unlock your disk and make a recovery key but don’t use your iCloud account’. Choose your preferred option.
  4. After restarting your device, the FileVault tool will start to encrypt your files. Wait until the process is done and all your personal and private data is protected. You can now continue using your Mac device.

How to Encrypt Your Hard Drive in macOS – Simplified

  1. Locate FileVault in the system preferences.
  2. Unlock FileVault settings on your device.
  3. Turn your FileVault on.
  4. Save the recovery key.
  5. Restart your computer. Wait for FileVault to encrypt your files.

Encrypting External Hard Drives

An external hard disk drive can be used as a backup for your data. This is because it is cheap and an effective local storage solution. There are many options to choose from when looking for an external hard drive. Some even come with software encryption which ensures an extra layer of protection.

If your external hard drive doesn’t have that option, then you should not worry since you can do that using a simple process. The process is also different from encrypting the internal hard drives.

How To Encrypt an External Hard Drive Using Windows Operating System

Even for external drives, you should still incorporate Windows 10 BitLocker. Using this tool will provide access to other forms of encryption that are also newer and provide extra layers of encryption.

The first step you should take when encrypting your hard drive is to ensure all your files are backed up. You should also format your hard drive correctly to prevent losing any important data.

If your computer is running Windows version 10,8 or 7, you should select NTFS. If you are using a Windows Vista, XP, or a Mac computer, you should select FAT32 or exFAT.

  1. After you have ensured that you have selected the correct file system, open the Windows file explorer. There are several options you will have to select from. Right-click on your driver’s name and choose the turn on BitLocker option.
  2. After BitLocker is turned on and the window shows up, select the option of ‘Enter your password’. Enter a strong password.
  3. You will be prompted to save your password or the recovery key that you entered. You might save it to your Microsoft account or a secure file. Ensure the file is kept safely in case you forget your password.
  4. There might be data that has been deleted but hasn’t been overwritten. To provide an extra layer of security, you can choose to encrypt this data. However, at times this is unnecessary and may take longer than expected.
  5. The next step after will be to select the method that you will use to encrypt your hard drive. If you are likely to change your computer to a non-Windows 10 version, you should choose ‘compatible mode’ . The other option which is the ‘New encryption mode’ however provides greater and reliable security.
  6. The last process may take longer than you expect. This is where you start the encryption process.

How to Encrypt your External Hard Drive Using Windows 10 – Simplified

  1. Open the file explorer and right-click on the external hard drive.
  2. Select the option of ‘turn on BitLocker’
  3. Enter your strong password.
  4. Save your recovery key to a file or your Microsoft Account.
  5. Choose the encryption settings you prefer.
  6. Wait for the process to end. The process of BitLocker finishing encryption.

How To Encrypt an External Hard Drive Using macOS

The process used for encrypting an external hard drive on Mac computers is easier and very similar to encrypting an internal drive. However, you might encounter issues if the hard drive is not formatted properly.

This is why you should pick a compatible external hard drive. To do this, here are the simple steps you should follow.

  1. Plugin your hard drive and inspect if the file system is correct. Then locate and right-click on the particular disk you want to encrypt.
  2. Select the option to encrypt the hard drive.
  3. The second option will open an overlay asking for your password. Enter a strong password for the encrypted data. Always ensure that you do not lose your passwords. It is recommended you save them using a password manager or store them physically in a safe.
  4. Once the disk is automatically disconnected and reconnected, you will know that the process is done.

How to Encrypt Your External Hard Drive Using Mac OS – Simplified

  1. Locate Finder, open it, right-click on your hard drive.
  2. Select the encrypt option.
  3. Enter a strong password and the encryption process begins.
  4. Hold on until the encryption process is done.

Final Thoughts

Nowadays, hackers are using new data breach methods. This is why computers in your small business should be well secured. Encryption will help in securing all your business’ devices, network, privacy, and data. You do not want your sensitive data to be in the hands of cyber-criminals.

Any operating systems you use should be properly secured. Encryption will save your small business a lot of costs in case of a security breach.

You should however know that encryption will not protect you from all forms of cyber attacks. You have to use data encryption together with other cybersecurity measures and data recovery policies. Encryption is mostly known for protecting against physical access and threats.

This is why you might still be vulnerable to other forms of attacks that don’t take place in your physical environment. The process of whole disk encryption is easy and should be completed within a few minutes as your small business is most likely to be using Windows and Mac operating systems.

The two disk encryption tools you should always consider are Windows BitLocker and Mac FileVault. These two tools are easy to configure and provide a high level encryption for internal and external hard drives.

After ensuring the encryption process is completed, you should ensure the passwords set are stored in a safe place. You do not want hackers to have access to files holding your passkeys. Encryption will also keep your files safe from accidental deletion.

How cyber-secure is your business? Find out with our free cybersecurity health check.

It’s a 30 minute Zoom call that walks through a checklist to assess your current cybersecurity levels and provide a short report with some advice and recommendations.

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