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Encryption Helps Companies Avoid Breach Notifications

With nearly twice as many firms suffering a breach compared with the previous year, limiting the damage becomes more important, a survey finds.

Companies that encrypt sensitive data have a significant chance to avoid the most major costs from a data breach because the theft of encrypted information usually does not trigger data-breach notification laws, according to survey results published on June 2. 

In the survey, conducted by 451 Research and sponsored by encryption firm Thales, almost half of respondents (46%) said they avoided disclosing a breach in the past because the stolen information had been stored encrypted. Overall, more than half of firms (56%) said they have suffered a breach in the past, while 41% of companies have suffered at least one data-loss event in the past 12 months, according to the "Thales 2021 Data Threat" report.

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The average company encrypted only about 30% to 40% of its data, although that isn't a fair measure of whether the appropriate data is secure, says Todd Moore, vice president of encryption solutions at Thales.

"In practice, not all data is created equal," he says. "It is up to each organization to decide what is important to them, but I do think the metric is pretty telling. I would expect a higher amount of data to be encrypted in the cloud."

Only 17% of respondents estimated that their company encrypted at least half of its data.

The survey comes after a disruptive year. The pandemic has driven companies to adopt a remote workforce, driving the adoption of cloud-native business infrastructure. Changes to the endpoint security environment, such as devices sharing home networks and a lack of zero-trust architectures, resulted in more than half — 57% — of security experts concerned that the risk of a data breach has increased, according to Dark Reading's, 2021 State of Endpoint Security survey.

These changes are here to stay, respondents to the Thales survey believe. Almost two-thirds of companies (64%) said they expect that remote working will become a permanent facet of their business, while a third (32%) expect that the footprint of the physical office space will decrease going forward.

Overall, 82% of companies are worried about the risks the remote workers pose to security, according to the survey's results.

"[R]emote work is expected to continue at high levels, and ... there's growing acceptance that employees can work effectively in a remote setting," the report states. "That means that organizations will need security controls and remote access mechanisms that can be effective in the hybrid working environments that organizations have begun to embrace."

Companies suffered a significant increase in breaches over the past year, nearly double the breaches, or 21%, as firms suffered in 2019, according to the survey. 

In addition, senior executives and workers do not perceive the same level of threat. A smaller proportion of executives, 40%, consider the threat of cyberattack to be increasing, compared with the 60% who do not see an increase. Yet the majority of staff members, 56%, believe the volume, severity, or scope of attacks have increased, compared with the 44% who believe cyber threats have plateaued or declined.

Malicious insiders continue to worry security professionals, with 35% of respondents considering them the top threat, with human error — non-malicious insiders — the top threat for 31% of respondents. Only a third of companies consider either external attackers or nation-state actors to be the top threat.

Despite those trends, companies have only slowly adopted a zero-trust approach to security. Three in 10 firms have adopted a zero-trust policy, and 22% are currently evaluating the security approach.

"We get forgetful when we go out to the cloud sometimes. I do think the risks in cloud are there," Moore says. "The application provider is not responsible to protect you as an individual. When you are using cloud, you are configuring it to be used an appropriate way."

Finally, almost half of all business executives (47%) are worried that, in the future, quantum computing could make their encrypted data vulnerable again. 

"This level of awareness should be generating interest in post-quantum cryptographic techniques and efforts to improve crypto agility," the report says. "These are approaches to quantum computing risk that organizations should be considering today, as data protected with vulnerable approaches could still be valuable by the time that practical quantum decryption becomes available to threat actors."

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

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