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Hardware-Based Encryption Can Be a Hassle-Free Security Solution
Written by Mathieu Petrie, Product Manager, StarTech.com

Worried about losing sensitive data? Join the club! But before you decide on a security strategy, be sure you know about all the options available to you. Third-party encryption software isn't the only game in town - a hardware-based encryption solution can be a hassle-free way to secure your data.

Billions of records were compromised last year in high-profile data breach incidents affecting major brands like Facebook, Newegg, Starwood and Panera. Even as governments and regulatory agencies scramble to put stringent rules in place to protect data, the threat grows. A Juniper Research report estimates that nearly 150 billion records will be hacked over the next five years, half of them in the U.S.

It's a huge worry for businesses and consumers alike, especially since people are storing more highly sensitive personal data on cloud platforms and portable devices than ever before. With more users conducting business online and storing account information on their PCs, tablets and smartphones, it's a target-rich environment for hackers, who can steal financial data and access personal files.

The level of anxiety about device security increased late last year when major electronics brands and Solid State Drive (SSD) manufacturers warned users about a newly discovered way to bypass built-in encryption systems. Fear that hackers will exploit the flaw has many users rethinking their cybersecurity posture. If default security settings are vulnerable, what can users who store business or personal data on devices do to beef up security independently?

Third-party encryption software is one option, and some manufacturers whose products may be affected by the recently revealed SSD vulnerability are advising users to add an encryption software solution, even though it may compromise performance. As a device user, it can be a positive step to take security matters into your own hands. But it's also crucial to understand what's available and make the right choice for your unique cybersecurity needs.

Making an informed choice requires familiarity with encryption standards, which vary on key points like speed, flexibility and strength. The highest level of security is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which is widely used by businesses that handle the most confidential and sensitive information. AES encrypts blocks of data in 128 bits, 192 bits or 256 bits.

The number of bits is important because it correlates with the cryptographic key size. A 128-bit encryption approach uses 10 rounds to protect data, while 192-bit encryption uses 12 rounds and 256-bit uses 14. The larger the key size, the higher the computational barrier to a breach and the greater the deterrence to hackers. That makes the 256-bit option the most secure choice.

Once you've determined the appropriate bit encryption level for your security needs, it's time to evaluate software vs. hardware options. Researchers at the Netherlands' Radboud University, who first identified the vulnerabilities in widely used SSDs, advised users to take a look at third-party software security solutions. That may be the best option for some users, but it's not a one-size-fits all solution.

Installing and configuring software can be an arduous process for many users, particularly those who use devices that run on different operating systems. It's not unusual for people to have an iPhone and also use a Windows PC - or an Android phone and a Mac. Many software-based encryption products only support a single operating system, so those users would encounter problems trying to install and use a software-based encryption product for all their devices.

In that situation, a hardware-based solution can be a great alternative, providing as much protection as a software-based security tool but with support for different operating systems to take the hassles out of installation and configuration. Since they don't require platform support to run the encryption process, hardware-based security solutions are more flexible.

Flexibility is one feature to look for when evaluating security options. Another consideration is whether you prefer a plug-and-play solution, which makes beefing up security simple. Today, there are hardware-based encryption solutions available in a hard drive or SSD that make deploying 256-bit AES encryption - the gold standard for handling highly sensitive data - easy. With a hardware-based solution, users don't have to worry about handling software or firmware links problems.

There's no end in sight to the hacking epidemic, so it's a good idea to up your security game, especially since default security tools have exploitable flaws. But before deciding what approach to take, make sure you understand the options available to you and the implications of those choices. If you prefer an independent path that is easy to follow - especially if you use more than one operating system - a hardware encryption solution might be the simplest and best way to protect your data.

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About the Author

Mathieu Petrie 

Mathieu Petrie is a Product Manager at StarTech.com, responsible for overseeing the development and life-cycle of the Data Storage product lines. His expertise lies in developing product forecasts and roadmaps to align with the global StarTech.com category strategy. From legacy to the latest, and bridging all in between, StarTech.com offers over 3000 products to provide customers with the parts that connect their business solutions. More than just cables, StarTech.com offers the industry's most comprehensive range of connectivity products and technologies including USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. These technologies develop into diverse product portfolios ranging from display adapters, docks and hubs, networking I/O, wireless networking, A/V converters and extenders, Display Mounts and Ergonomic products as well as Hard Drive related accessories.

Published Thursday, April 11, 2019 7:29 AM by David Marshall
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