Encryption – A Beginner’s Guide

Published On: 2nd October 20208.7 min readTags: , , , , , ,

What is Encryption?

Encryption is the process of protecting data by changing it from a readable form to an unreadable form. It uses complex algorithms to “scramble” and therefore protect data – as it’s unreadable and can’t be accessed. If data falls into an unauthorized party’s hands, it cannot be read without having the correct encryption keys to decrypt the data. Only members of an organization that have access to the encryption key(s) can translate the files to make them readable.

Encryption Icon

The concept of encryption could be compared to protecting your home from being accessed by strangers, with a lock and key. In this analogy, the “lock” equates to encryption, keeping unauthorized individuals from accessing your house (or your data). Your house “key” is the equivalent to an encryption key, which is used to lock and unlock the door to the house. Only individuals that possess the key can lock / unlock the front door to your house (or encrypt / decrypt your data). If the key falls into the wrong hands, someone that you don’t want entering your home could break in and steal your personal belongings. If a cybercriminal gets its hands on your encryption key, they could steal your valuable information.

What is encryption

How Does Encryption Work?

Using an algorithm that is based on a mathematical formula, encryption “scrambles” or encrypts an organization’s data, making it unreadable. When a user wants to unscramble the data, they then use a designated encryption key to decrypt the information. In it’s encrypted state, data is referred to as “ciphertext” and in it’s readable form it’s called “plaintext.”

To give you an idea of just how complex and advanced encryption algorithms are, it would take a normal computer around 300 trillion years to break an RSA-2048 bit encryption key (source), using what’s called a brute force attack. It’s the equivalent of trying every random key on a key ring, only in the digital domain this would mean trying any and all combinations of credentials, like usernames and passwords.

There are two different types of cryptographic algorithms – symmetric and asymmetric. A symmetric (private key) algorithm consists of a single key, that is only distributed amongst trusted members of an organization that are allowed access to sensitive data. These members use that key to both encrypt and decrypt information. An example of symmetric encryption is a password-protected PDF. The creator of the PDF secures the document using a passcode. Only authorized recipients that possess that passcode are able to view and read that PDF. In this instance, encrypting and decrypting are limited to individuals that possess the single key.

An asymmetric algorithm consists of two different keys – a private key and a public key. The private key is kept secret and only accessible by authorized users, while the public key can be shared freely. While the public key can be shared with anyone to encrypt plaintext, the private key is required to then decrypt that ciphertext. An example of asymmetric encryption would be sending out an email via a platform called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). Anyone within an organization could use PGP to send out an encrypted email, using the recipient’s public key. However, only the recipient could decrypt and read the email, using their private decryption key.

Symmetric Key Algorithm

Symmetric key algorithm (above) and asymmetric key algorithm (below)

Asymmetric Key Algorithm

What Are the Benefits of Encryption?

Data Protection

As the volume of data being created, managed and stored by organizations around the world increases and diversifies, it becomes ever more important to have a data protection plan in place. Breaches and cyber attacks are on the rise, and can often result in some severe consequences for businesses of all sizes. These include revenue loss, damage to brand reputation, loss of trust from customers, operational disruptions, and even legal ramifications. According to a report from IBM and the Ponemon Institute, in 2020, the average cost of a breach is $3.86 million, which is a substantial financial burden for a business to take on. There are a number of techniques that can be used to protect and secure data from a breach, but the most effective method is encryption. Having an encryption solution in place ensures that sensitive information is kept private and gives businesses peace of mind, knowing that their data is always protected.


One of the biggest factors influencing organizations to implement encryption within their IT environments is compliance. There are major regulations that exist across several specific sectors, with the purpose of maintaining the security of clients’ personal, and often sensitive, information. Examples include: healthcare (HIPAA), financial services (PCI-DSS and GLBA), biotechnology (FDA) and the energy industry, and IoT (NERC and FERC). Failure to comply with these regulations can result in a number of penalties, including fines, increased fees, and revocation of rights to interact with clients in given industries. Encryption provides that level of protection a business needs to ensure sensitive data won’t be compromised, and confirms that the necessary precautions have been taken to keep data safe.

FDA compliant


GLBA compliant

HIPAA compliant


PCI DSS compliant

Customer Trust

According to a study by Security.org, one in four Americans won’t do business with data-breached companies (ZDNet). One of the biggest and most significant consequences of a data breach, is the impact it has on customer trust and loyalty. For example, between 2013 and 2014, Yahoo! experienced the largest data breaches of all time, impacting 3 billion user accounts. After announcing the breaches publicly, Yahoo was forced to reduce its sale price to Verizon by $350 million, pay an $80 million settlement in 2018, and later a further $35 million fine. In the years that followed, they were surpassed by several other search engines and email service providers, who exercised better security practices. Implementing data protection, such as encryption, enables businesses to build trust with their customers and ensure that their sensitive information won’t be compromised in the event of a breach.

Encryption and Edge Computing

Edge computing organizations face some unique challenges when it comes to data security. Businesses with hundreds to thousands of IoT devices, for example, are at risk because they often manage and store users’ personal data and don’t have built in data protection. A retail chain may have many different locations, each holding mass amounts of sensitive information, and a remote office or manufacturing warehouse may not be physically secure. A smart city could be completely taken out, (including power systems, street lights, and traffic management systems) if they fall victim to a breach.

Edge computing environments are often more susceptible to breaches, because they aren’t physically secure, and often store sensitive information that needs to be kept private. It is for these reasons that edge computing sites can benefit from implementing encryption. Encryption provides an additional layer of protection for these environments, to keep their data from being compromised or stolen. It also helps edge organizations across different industries remain compliant, in order to abide by specific data protection regulations.

Learn more about what defines an ‘edge” environment, in our Beginners Guide to Edge Computing.

Edge Computing Use Cases

Key Management

How should the keys necessary to encrypt data and applications be stored and managed? Learn more about key management in this beginners guide.


StorMagic SvSAN and Encryption

Available as an additional feature on top of the base SvSAN license, SvSAN’s data encryption feature is the most cost-effective encryption solution for storing data in edge computing environments. The 100% software approach eliminates the need for operating system or hypervisor-level encryption and does not require any special hardware. You get a simple and inexpensive way to protect sensitive data at the edge, where servers aren’t typically located in secure datacenters.

SvSAN’s data encryption feature delivers ultra-secure encryption using a FIPS 140-2 compliant cryto-boundary and meets HIPAA, PCI DSS and SOX requirements. It does not require special self- encrypting disk drives, RAID cards or FPGA/ASICs and has the flexibility to encrypt all mirrored data, or just selected volumes. The data is encrypted in-flight, before it is written to disk.

SvSAN’s data encryption feature has been developed to provide ultra-secure FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption and the flexibility to work with any KMIP-compliant key manager, including StorMagic SvKMS. Visit our SvSAN Data Encryption page to learn more.

StorMagic SvKMS and Encryption

StorMagic SvKMS enables secure and effective encryption key management when using SvSAN’s data encryption feature. It is a powerful encryption key management solution that allows organizations to store keys locally, in the datacenter, or cloud. It adapts to any environment and integrates with any existing encryption workflow, to deliver flexible, robust, simple key management, all within a single platform, at a surprisingly low cost.

SvKMS eliminates the need for hardware security modules (HSMs) and uses a REST API for easy integrations into any workflow with custom key imports facilitating an easy transition from legacy solutions. It is FIPS 140-2 certified, allows advanced identification and access management through SAML 2.0, and can be configured as a single- or multi-tenanted solution.

SvKMS is a separately licensed product to SvSAN and the two can be used independently of each other. Furthermore, if your organization is already using an existing KMS solution, providing it is KMIP-compliant, SvSAN’s data encryption feature is already fully compatible and can be integrated with it immediately.

Learn more about StorMagic SvKMS here.

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