2017: The Year Encryption Goes Wild
- By Mike McCamon
- Jan 11, 2017
Wow, another year goes by with even more monumental data breaches. Believe what you want about the election, the DNC hacks, the latest Yahoo breach revelation and the numerous other data thefts put even more business decision-makers in fear for their own company’s technology security. Leadership’s historical response to breaches has continued to be higher walls and wider moats. Maybe it’s time for a different (and maybe more affordably efficient) approach.
My prediction is 2017 will be the year Encryption Goes Wild – as in wider use by more enterprises, more users, and in more applications. There have been some nice inroads over the past few years at better encryption for personal chat, but the record for these exact tools’ migration and deployment into the enterprise is abysmal. The scope of enterprise chat, messaging, and file sharing has completely different requirements from how you message your buddy or spouse with dinner plans.
The reasons encryption goes wild in 2017 are (1) enterprise user security fatigue means they regularly and repeatedly take unadvised technology risks in the spirit of “I need to get my job done,” (2) leadership team anxiety continues to grow from swelling, yet suspect effective, security budgets, (3) the growing realization by most IT professionals that the game has changed from “if we get hacked” to “when we got/get hacked,” and (4) encryption is the most affordable way to secure information both outside and inside the firewall.
Encryption technology has historically been something that only the most technical software engineers and developers discussed, but more and more it comes up in daily conversation and has become a front-and-center business opportunity. In 2017, encryption will go wild.
These days, most everyone in the enterprise deals with encryption at some level. Whether by ensuring they have a secure connection to an email server or that https is included in a website address, a majority of people wouldn’t argue against the fact that security is important. But while these practices are all good, they don’t address the wider issue.
Even though a hosted connection or a server might be secure, the company data hosted on the server is now at the mercy of the service provider. Similarly, when companies use a cloud-hosted group chat tool, that provider’s servers can collect, store and even analyze company data to learn about their customers. Even on-premise servers present a risk because insider threats are a legitimate possibility. In fact, the Ashley Madison hack and the NSA breach were both insider jobs.
In order to better protect from both internal and external threats, companies are realizing that end-to-end encryption is no longer just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessary safeguard against an almost inevitable breach. More and more services are offering end-to-end encryption, and we’re going to see this grow exponentially in the coming years.
Email for Internal Discussions is Showing its Age
Anyone familiar with the security industry knows that the history of end-to-end encrypted email is not pretty. No one has been able to successfully deploy any usable, fully encrypted email service, yet it’s the tool that businesses use most to communicate and collaborate on important documents. For many CIOs, this translates to more spending on firewalls and other external safeguards to reduce the risk of a breach. With rising awareness of the importance of encryption, however, companies are moving to alternative types of communication and file-sharing tools to protect their businesses.
Enterprise-deployable, end-to-end encrypted software that can be properly scaled is few and far between, but in 2017, we’ll continue to see more technology companies announcing secure software for the enterprise to address this need. Secure collaboration software, storage servers and chat tools are already gaining strong user bases. While email won’t ever be fully replaced any time soon, its position as the primary means of sharing internal company data is being recognized for how unsecure it is, and email usage is already declining.
Being a black hat becomes harder to hack
So a company has now ensured nearly all employee activity is done on fully encrypted applications, eliminated employee use of unsanctioned tools and reduced unnecessary spending on firewalls. Even in a scenario in which CIOs have rolled out every secure, deployable, verifiable encryption tool, a determined hacker can still find a weakness to exploit.
However, once they are able to infiltrate the system, they’ll find all services use end-to-end encryption, and that the only avenue for them is to try to breach a user’s end point. With this model, the only way a hacker can achieve a large-scale breach is to compromise nearly every single end point in the organization.
As a hacker, this raises some questions: How do I get into a network, have no one realize and compromise every device with no one noticing? This is even more difficult and time-consuming at scale, and there are no longer quick wins of getting all the information a company has to offer. As more enterprises roll out fully end-to-end encrypted systems in the coming year, hackers will have a hard time accessing the information they want.
Tear down that wall
End-to-end encrypted email was proven to be completely unusable, and we as an industry have abandoned efforts to deploy it successfully. With that failure has come the realization that bulletproof, future-resistant encryption is not only achievable, its already in use today. We’ve proven we don’t need two-step verification or USB dongles to create an experience that’s both user-friendly and secure, and we’ve shown there are ways to avoid using unencrypted services like email—such as encrypted chat—and still succeed at our jobs.
Rather than focusing on “building a wall” to secure their companies, CIOs that want to reduce risk should focus on using apps and tools that offer to fully encrypt corporate data – without storing keys – so that there are fewer security weaknesses to safeguard against in the first place.