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5 Rules For (Almost) Painless Encryption

Even as mobility and cloud take off, too many companies still leave data in the clear, spooked by operational concerns. Yes, key management remains a problem. But can you really afford not to encrypt?

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5 Rules For Painless Encryption

You can't talk about big IT trends without running into data protection worries. For the 728 business technology pros responding to our InformationWeek 2013 Outlook Survey, which explores spending and technology priorities for the coming year, "improve information security" ranked No. 1 among 19 projects. This makes perfect sense; whether your company is fixated on big data, public cloud, BYOD or mobile app development, security plays a key role.

Yet even as mobility and cloud take off, many companies still leave data in the clear, worried about operational and performance concerns. Never mind that major compliance and regulatory frameworks either require or strongly recommend data encryption. Yes, key management remains a problem. But there are ways to use encryption without breaking your infrastructure while we wait on the ultimate solution: identity-based encryption. Here are five rules that help.

Rule 1: Stop The Bleeding

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IT's natural inclination is to standardize on a single encryption vendor, since interoperability is notoriously spotty. But if you look at the top five types of encryption used by respondents to our InformationWeek 2012 Data Encryption Survey -- VPN, email, backup, file and disk, in that order -- no single provider can cover all of them. That lapse is no excuse for a free-for-all, though. We see too many IT organizations letting individual project leads make decisions about what types of encryption to use, what products to buy and even how to manage these systems once they're in place. While we do encourage flexibility, complete decentralization rarely ends well. At minimum, require that a central team approve all new encryption software buys, rules and implementations. This same group must ensure that processes, such as certificate management, are updated to include the new software project that teams want to implement. This one simple change dramatically reduces the sprawl of encryption products and processes. And don't forget the vendor management group during this process.

Rule 2: Pick Your Battles

Don't try to do everything within a narrow set of encryption best practices, and if you're lacking in this area, certainly don't try to put encryption everywhere at once. Instead, perform a risk assessment, prioritize requests and analyze the potential volume of keys and certificates to determine where to focus. The conventional approach is to pick an encryption system based on your data classification scheme and types of sensitive data, but you should also look at the ways encryption tool management can break down. Problems usually hit during key rotations and because of weak passwords or certificate expirations rather than the encryption algorithm itself being breached. Manage the weakest link.

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User Rank: Ninja
12/17/2012 | 4:49:39 PM
re: 5 Rules For (Almost) Painless Encryption
Great article. I definitely think people take any kind encrypting and what it can do for an organization. Great topic I think it will enlighten a lot individuals on encryption. I was surprised to read splitting up the vendors is the best way.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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