The practice of protecting sensitive information with codes and ciphers is thousands of years old. Today, it’s a technical art form that secures digital data that is being sent, received or stored.
Better known as encryption, this protection method masks digital information so that only those with the correct encryption key can decipher it.
Understanding encryption is crucial as you manage your own website and develop or design websites and apps for your clients.
Types of encryption
There are several different encryption methods — the algorithms or ciphers used in scrambling data — that designers and developers can use. To encrypt data, you need a key to alter it. You could use a symmetric encryption key, which uses a single randomly generated private key that the sender shares with the receiver. Or you could use an asymmetric encryption key that uses a public key to encrypt the data or message and a private key to decrypt the message.
Which methods should you use in coding and designing? That will depend on the sensitivity of the information being sent or stored, the data file’s size, how the data will be sent (email, FTP), and the encryption standards your receiver prefers.
Encryption examples: When do you use it?
There are a number of encryption standards to understand, along with when it’s best to use them.
AES, or the Advanced Encryption Standard, is one of the most popular file encryption methods in the world. It’s a symmetric block cipher and offers protection of sensitive data shared in closed systems and stored in large databases. It is also a good choice for emailing information that is not extremely sensitive, like your new product catalogue and price list or sending a large ZIP file via email.
Open PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, uses a symmetric key to encrypt and an asymmetric key to decrypt data. The private keys can also verify the authenticity of the sender. This adds an additional layer of protection when sharing information across open networks. Open PGP is a good choice when sharing sensitive information like payroll deposit data with your financial institution.
SFTP or Secure File Transfer Protocol, communicates over a secure connection. It uses public key encryption and password authentication. SFTP encryption is most commonly used in server-to-server file transfers, such as information exchanged with healthcare providers.
FTPS, or file transfer protocol secure, uses two data connections. A public key encrypts the data, a public key certificate provides authenticity and a private key decrypts the data. Legal, government and financial services entities rely on the security of transferring files via FTPS.
Secure Mail uses asymmetric encryption. It protects personally identifiable information in the body of an email, such as proprietary business information or personal information like an account number.
AS2 or AS4, also known as applicability standard 2 or 4, use digital certificates and various encryption standards. With AS2 or AS4, you can request a message disposition notification or receipt that verifies that your recipient received and decrypted the message. You get legal proof that you sent the message and that it was received (also known as non-repudiation of receipt.) AS2 and AS4 are commonly used in EDI transfers for business information like invoices or purchase orders.
For web designers and developers who use WordPress as their platform of choice, WordPress Salt Keys help to secure your WordPress login information. These security keys help protect any information stored in cookies required by WordPress to log in. Instead of using PHP, WordPress saves your info so you don’t have to enter it every time you log in. While convenient, this can pose a security risk. Salts work to encrypt your password into a series of random characters that can be tough for hackers to crack without knowing your salts.
Why is data encryption important?
Businesses require secure websites and applications that will protect their data, their customers’ data, their systems and their brand. Keeping security in mind from the start of the design or development phase is important for many reasons:
- Every industry mandates specific compliance regulations for data protection. Including encryption into the design and development process can help result in a final product that will not be subject to fines and sanctions.
- Data breaches cause reputation damage. Encryption protects against breaches and resulting reputational damage.
- Customers value privacy and want to be assured their data is secure. Encryption improves the security posture of applications and sites and delivers a valuable competitive edge.
How do you know if a website is secure?
Here are a few ways to tell, at a glance, if a website is secure:
- Check the URL and look for the “S” after “HTTP.” This indicates the information passed from the browser to the website’s server is protected by a secure sockets layer (SSL) . This certificate ensures an encrypted connection. In addition to checking that the URL reads “HTTPS,” another quick way to tell if a website is secure is to look for a small padlock icon next to the URL in your browser’s navigation bar.
- Scrutinize the domain. It’s not uncommon for fraudsters to cleverly mimic a trusted website address. For example, switching out the letter “o”and replacing it with a zero will make the word “micr0soft” look similar enough to the tech giant to fool you into sharing information on an unencrypted site.
- Verify trust seals. Many sites, especially ecommerce sites, will feature a trust seal verifying that a third party has vetted its legitimacy. Take a moment to click on the seal. It should redirect you to a verification page from that third party. If it doesn’t, that may indicate a less-than-secure site.
- Check for malware. A site with poor encryption may become infected with malware. You can tell this has happened if the site you are on issues suspicious pop-ups, features poor spelling, grammar and an unprofessional design, or promotes hard-to-believe offers.
Since most websites may look normal on the surface, but have hackers working in the background, an easy trick to check for malware is to search Google. Simply type “site:domainname” into the search bar and you can find SEO spam within any of the links indexed on Google. Be sure to swap in your website’s name for “domainname” and comb through the results to identify any instances of malware on your site.
Finding SSL website encryption
Security is a big deal for anyone doing business online, so it’s a big deal for developers and web designers. Protect your website, your customers’ data and the websites and apps you develop with an SSL certificate from GoDaddy. It safely encrypts information during transmission and builds trust in your brand.
Find the right SSL certificate to protect your site or your projects.