Sensitive Data Protection: Encryption vs Tokenization
In today’s data-driven world, protecting sensitive information is paramount. Organizations must ensure that their data is secure from both external and internal threats. Encryption is one of the most common methods of protecting and sharing sensitive data. A newer, more secure alternative method to encryption is tokenization.
High-profile data breaches, such as those experienced by Equifax and Yahoo, have demonstrated that relying on encryption can lead to disastrous consequences. In these cases, hackers were able to gain access to encrypted data by exploiting vulnerabilities or obtaining decryption keys.
Continue reading to learn more about sensitive data protection: encryption vs tokenization.
What are the limitations of encryption?
Encryption has long been the primary method of securing sensitive data, transforming it into unreadable code that can only be deciphered using a decryption key. However, this approach has inherent weaknesses that can lead to devastating data breaches.
1. Encryption relies on a single decryption key
One of the main limitations of encryption is the reliance on a single decryption key to unlock the entire database. This key must be shared among all individuals who require access to the data, which increases the risk of unauthorized access or compromise.
A real-life example of this vulnerability is the 2017 Equifax data breach, where attackers exploited a security flaw in the company’s web application and gained access to encrypted data. The breach resulted in the exposure of sensitive information of more than 147 million consumers.
2. Encryption does not protect against attacks that target database credentials
Database encryption primarily secures data at rest, meaning it protects against unauthorized access to the physical storage medium. However, it does not provide protection against attacks that target database credentials, which are the most common form of compromise.
Once an attacker gains access to valid database credentials, they can interact with the database as a legitimate user, bypassing the encryption in place. This poses a significant risk, as many data breaches occur when cybercriminals gain access to database credentials through various techniques, such as exploiting software vulnerabilities or using stolen login information.
3. Encryption does not protect against internal threats
Internal threats, such as disgruntled employees or individuals with malicious intent who already have access to the decryption key, can pose a significant risk to the security of sensitive data.
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked thousands of classified documents after accessing the decryption key to encrypted data. This event highlighted the potential risks associated with granting individuals access to sensitive information.
These examples demonstrate that encryption alone cannot guarantee the safety of your organization’s critical information.
Tokenization as a more secure layer beyond encryption
As the limitations of encryption become increasingly evident, organizations must explore more secure alternatives to protect their sensitive data. Tokenization is one such solution that offers granular control over access to data elements, significantly reducing the risk of data breaches.
How does tokenization work?
Tokenization works by replacing sensitive data elements with unique, randomly generated tokens that have no intrinsic value. The tokens are then used within the organization’s systems and processes. This approach ensures that even if an attacker gains access to the database, they will only obtain the meaningless tokens, rendering the data useless to them.
What are the advantages of tokenization?
The key advantage of tokenization vs encryption is the ability to control access to sensitive data at an individual data element level, independently of database access controls, and without sharing encryption keys. This means that users can be granted permission to access only the specific data elements they need to perform their job functions, adhering to the principle of least privilege. For example, an analyst performing business analytics may not need access to personally identifiable information (PII) and can be restricted from accessing such data, reducing the risk of unauthorized access or compromise.
At the same time, tokens afford users most of the utility of the underlying data, whereas encryption does not. For example, business analysts can perform operations on tokenized data elements that they can’t with encrypted data, such as matching tokens to merge records or append additional data to a record. All the while, the sensitive data remains in tokenized form, protecting it from a breach.
Spring Labs’ TrueZero technology takes data protection to the next level
Building on the advantages of tokenization, Spring Labs has developed the TrueZero Tokenization technology, an advanced system that takes data protection to the next level. This solution not only provides granular control over access to sensitive data elements but also enhances security by separating the key material that secures the tokens into multiple independently-managed pieces.
A key feature of Spring Labs’ TrueZero technology is its innovative approach to securing tokens.
Rather than relying on a single key to protect the entire service, TrueZero uses a distributed key management system that divides the key material into several independent components (backends). Each component is managed and permissioned separately; only when they are combined can the tokens be reversed. This added layer of security makes it considerably more challenging for attackers to gain access to the sensitive data, as multiple backends would need to be simultaneously compromised. The secrets containing key material can be continuously resplit at specified intervals without altering the token.
By incorporating Spring Labs’ TrueZero Tokenization technology into their data protection strategy, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of a material breach, safeguarding their sensitive data, and upholding their reputation and customers’ trust.
Spring Labs’ tokenization software provides a more secure alternative to encryption
In an era where data breaches are becoming increasingly common and have far-reaching consequences, it is crucial for organizations to adopt effective data protection strategies such as encryption and tokenization.
Traditional encryption methods, while offering a certain level of security, have limitations that can leave organizations vulnerable.
Tokenization offers a more secure alternative, providing granular control over access to sensitive data elements and reducing the risk of data breaches.
By incorporating advanced solutions like Spring Labs’ TrueZero tokenization technology, organizations not only improve their overall data security but can also save millions of dollars by avoiding costly breaches and reducing dependency on expensive legacy data protection providers.
According to a study by IBM, the global average cost of a data breach in 2022 was $4.35 million per incident. Of course, the cost of a breach at financial institutions that handle significant amounts of sensitive personal data can be one or two orders of magnitude higher. In contrast, by investing $1M or so in a tokenization program, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of incurring breach costs while also protecting their sensitive data and maintaining their customers’ trust.