In a world that relies increasingly on electronic information, data security is more important than ever. Many of the functions of our business and personal life now rely on computers, mobile devices, and the Internet—and there's a lot of data out there to protect. According to a 2011 article in Forbes Magazine, every 60 seconds on the Internet:
More than 13,000 iPhone applications are downloaded.
Over 600 new videos are added to YouTube.
70 domains are registered and 60 blogs are launched.
700,000+ Google searches are performed.
More than 168 million emails are sent.
Of course, those numbers have grown and continue to increase every day. How is all this information kept secure? In addition to antivirus software and firewalls, there are multiple methods used for data security in the digital era. Websites and IT companies typically employ more than one to keep all this information contained to the proper pathways, and to prevent unauthorized access.
Encryption: The decoder rings of data security
One of the most popular and widely used forms of data security is encryption. This is the process of scrambling data by using algorithms and mathematical schemes, rendering it unreadable. Encrypted data can only be decoded by the person or program that has the right key—which is usually either a password or a data packet called a keyfile.
Secure socket layer (SSL) technology uses encryption to scramble customer data for websites that accept credit cards or require other personal information. The padlock icon that appears in the lower right-hand corner of your browser when you visit secure sites indicates that the website is SSL certified to protect your data.
Encryption can also be applied to hard drives, mobile devices, and entire IT infrastructures through encrypted software, hardware, or a combination of the two.
User authentication: Showing your ID at the door
Another method used in data security is authentication. The simplest example of this is the user name and password system, which prevents access to an account without the correct information.
User authentication is a typical component in just about any data security solution. Most commercial applications require only the user-generated name and password, but many businesses use more complex authentication systems. For example, a company firewall can require a user to be within a certain physical distance from the server in order to log on to the system.
Hardware mechanisms: Security you can touch
While software and Internet-based data security methods require a virtual key, such as a password, there are also data security protocols that use tangible, physical protection. For example, some systems may require smart cards, security tokens, or even real keys to grant access to the data.
On-premise alarm systems used at businesses and server locations for cloud-based technology can also be considered hardware mechanisms for data security.
Data masking and data erasure
Data masking is the process of hiding certain pieces of information from unwanted view. This data security method is what turns passwords into asterisks or dots when you type them into the password field, and obscures all but the last four digits of your credit card or account number on digital invoices. Data masking is also used in business to conceal customer data from developers, outsourced vendors, and other third parties.
As the name suggests, data erasure is the practice of completely destroying all data that resides in a particular area, usually a hard drive. This data security method is most often used for mobile devices like laptops, smart phones, and tablets.
Data erasure is employed by device resellers to wipe hard drives clean. It's also used in theft prevention—there are services that provide “push-button” data erasure in the event that your device is stolen, to keep your information from being harvested.
Backup solutions: The final layer
In the event that all other data security methods fail, backups provide a way to restore crucial information. There are many types of electronic backup solutions available, from online storage to physical devices like external hard drives and thumb drives. Most business and personal users employ some form of backup for their systems.
With so much electronic information floating around, data security is an essential part of our everyday lives. How protected is your data?