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Demystifying Data Protection: How Does it Work?

In today’s digital age, data has become a valuable commodity, and protecting it from unauthorized access is more critical than ever. From personal information to company secrets, data breaches can cause significant damage to both individuals and organizations. That’s why data protection has become a top priority for businesses of all sizes. But how does data protection work? In this blog post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of data protection and examine the latest technologies and techniques used to safeguard sensitive information. Whether you’re a business owner, IT professional, or simply curious about data security, understanding how data protection works is crucial in today’s world. So, let’s dive in and discover the secrets of data protection.

Introduction

Protecting your data has become increasingly important in today’s digital age, as more and more sensitive information is stored and transmitted electronically, either on websites, mobile phones, or computers. With the rise of cyber-attacks and data breaches, it’s crucial to have robust data protection measures in place to safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access and use.

But how exactly does the protection of data work? Let’s have a deep dive into data encryption: the what and the how.

Encryption explained

When asked how to best protect data and applications, the most common answer is probably through encryption. Encryption is one of the most effective methods of protecting data. It involves converting plaintext into a coded form that can only be read by authorized parties. The process uses an encryption algorithm and a secret key to scramble the data. Only those who possess the key can unscramble the data and read the original message. Without the encryption key, no hacker or other external/internal threat can gain access to the encrypted data.

Encryption is a desirable solution when it comes to protecting data. But while the idea of encryption is easy to grasp, implementing it in an effective and secure manner can be difficult.

How to ensure that you use encryption right?

There are several ways to ensure that the cryptographic implementations used are sound. One of the most important steps is to use well-known and widely-used cryptographic libraries and algorithms. These libraries and algorithms have been thoroughly tested and reviewed by the security community, and any vulnerabilities or weaknesses have likely been discovered and addressed. Additionally, it is important to keep the cryptographic software and libraries up to date, as new vulnerabilities or weaknesses may be discovered.

Another important step is to use a cryptographic implementation that has been verified and certified by a well-known institution (for example certifications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)).

It is also important to validate the proper use and configuration of the cryptographic implementation. This includes verifying that the correct algorithm selected and key size are being used, that the key is being securely generated and stored, and that the implementation is properly configured for the intended use case.

Encryption is a powerful tool, but it’s not foolproof. If an attacker gains access to the encryption key, they can decrypt the data and read the original message. This is why it’s crucial to keep encryption keys secure. This can be done by storing them in a secure location, such as a hardware security module (HSM).

And now the talk is shifting towards confidential computing technology, as the crucial element.

Confidential Computing adding an extra security layer

Confidential computing is a new approach to data protection that builds on these traditional encryption methods explained above. It allows sensitive data to be processed and analyzed without ever exposing it to the underlying infrastructure. This is achieved by using trusted execution environments (TEEs) to isolate the data from the rest of the system. TEEs are secure areas of a computer’s memory that can only be accessed by authorized parties.

Confidential computing can be used to protect data not only while in transit or at rest, but rather while it is being processed. This means that using this new technology, the confidentiality of data usage hits a new level. Because now, the data and application are being stored in a black box, encrypting it fully while data processing is taking place inside. This means that even if an attacker gains access to the data, they will not be able to read it without the encryption key. But only the CPU has the encryption key stored.

Pic. 1: In-memory encryption

Once a container is loaded into encrypted memory, the CPU exclusively has the ability to decrypt instructions from the memory. The key material is generated at random during boot and is stored in special registers inaccessible to software. Before a write-back to memory occurs, the CPU re-encrypts the result.

Secrets like environment variables, files, passwords, or cryptographic keys are never stored in a confidential container. A key management service (KMS) provisions the secrets into the confidential container through a TLS-like protocol. The KMS verifies the authenticity of the containers and makes sure, only the right confidential containers obtain the secrets.

Furthermore, using a secure enclave comes also with a remote attestation functionality. This means, that they have a cryptographic identity. The authorship is verifiable, allowing the implementation of finer-grained white-labeling mechanisms as well as proactive user protection: Remote attestation allows for on-the-fly scanning of outdated or vulnerable containers in use based on their cryptographic identity.

Pic. 2: Remote Attestation Feature

Wrap up

In conclusion, data protection and encryption are essential in today’s digital age. Encryption is one of the most effective methods of protecting data, but it’s not foolproof. Confidential computing is a new approach that builds on traditional encryption methods and provides an added layer of security. By using secure enclaves to isolate sensitive data from the rest of the system, confidential computing ensures that even if an attacker gains access to the data, they will not be able to read it as only the CPU has the ability to decrypt the information within the enclave.