A Guide to GDPR Data Encryption

As technology continues to advance, so does the cyber threat. As such, it’s important to ensure that personal data is secured by all means possible. This is why the European governments saw it fit to come up with laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law did help in imposing the necessary security measures, which guarantees data safety. Now, from a general point of view, one may deem GDPR regulations as ones that need encryption, but the truth of the matter is, encryption is an essential form of data protection, as it’s considered to be the most secure and convenient method of data transmission and storage. In this article, we are going to take a look at GDPR encryption, what are the requirements? Are there any benefits when it comes to compliance? We will tell you all. But first:

What is data encryption?

Now, before we look at what GDPR encryption entails, we need to first understand what exactly data encryption is. In a nutshell, data encryption means scrambling data into cipher-text so as to render it unfathomable to those who don’t have the correct password or decryption key. This is the perfect way to ensure that you keep cybercriminals out, and actually, this is how organisations that deal with critical data protect it from these criminals. Many people assume that implementing data encryption is a complex ordeal, but the truth of the matter is, it is somewhat easy, and it’s actually super beneficial. Here are some of the benefits:

  • The main benefit is the one we have already mentioned – protecting the data from cyber-attacks or unauthorised access.
  • It helps in maintaining data integrity as it protects it from being tampered with.
  • It can be relied on when working remotely, as it eliminates the risks of data breaches.
  • It enables secure data exchange, even through channels that are considered insecure
  • And lastly – based on our topic today – it helps in achieving compliance when it comes to data privacy laws and regulations, such as GDPR.

So, what’s GDPR?

In simple words, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a legal framework created by the European governments, collaboratively, which outlines the guidelines, not only for collecting data, but also for processing personal information from EU citizens. The main aim of this regulation was to ensure that the individual whose data is at stake has full control – that he/she can delete, update, or even replace their personal data whenever they feel like it. Strict compliance with these regulations is of crucial importance, and every organisation, in all sectors, dealing with their citizens’ personal data must follow the guidelines set out to-the-letter. As a matter of fact, most organisations are now more vigilant than ever, with GDPR in place, especially when it comes to imposing cyber-security and data privacy measures.

How encryption does come into place

Now, since data that has been encrypted is incomprehensible, especially to the unauthorised third parties – those that don’t have a decryption key – most organisations do rely on encryption for data protection and privacy. And you can’t talk of GDPR compliance without mentioning data privacy and security.

Yes, processing, storing, as well as transferring personal data is quite risky, and this is one of the reasons GDPR regulations were put in place. If there is something that the law has largely emphasised on is the implementation of robust security measures to safeguard the citizens’ private data. As a matter of fact, though vaguely, the law did provide the means of implementing data security, in the form of a controller catalogue, which outlines the implementation criteria. Under Article 32(1) of the GDPR law, both the controller and processor were tasked with implementing all the necessary technical and organisational data security measures. The actual measures to be used will be up to the organisation, so long as it’s in compliance with the GDPR implementation catalogue. The implementation criteria merely mention encryption, but the organisations must go the extra mile of making sure that they implement robust encryption measures that are able to guarantee maximum data protection and privacy to all citizens.

GDPR encryption requirements

When it comes to GDPR data encryption, the ICO recommends the following as GDPR encryption requirements:

  • It’s important that you have a policy in place to govern the use of encryption. This includes guidelines that dictate to the staff members when they should or shouldn’t use it.
  • When storing the data, the organisation needs to ensure that it’s kept in an encrypted form, as it will protect it from unauthorised users. This is particularly crucial when the personal data involved is one that can lead to so much damage or even distress to individuals.
  • An appropriate encrypted communication protocol also needs to be in place, especially to be used when transmitting personal data online, over a wireless network, or when you know that data might pass through a network that can’t be trusted.  
  • You also need to consider any industry-specific guidelines put in place for GDPR encryption.

Can organisations be fined for not encrypting data?

No, they can’t. The thing is, since data encryption is not mandatory under the new GDPR regulations, not implementing it is not a violation of GDPR in any way. However, we can all agree that data breaches are a common occurrence nowadays, especially since cyber-criminals are evolving with the technology, and also that any organisation can fall victim to cyber-attacks. When this happens, the organisation risk being heavily fined as per the new regulations. When we talk of penalties, we are talking about millions of euros. For instance, recently, British Airways was directed to pay $27.8 million because of a data breach, and violation of the GDPR law. Basically, the company experienced the breach due to the absence of sufficient data security measures in place. The breach did result in a lot of personal data, such as login, travel booking details, payment card, as well as names and address information, getting compromised. But you can avoid this if you choose to rely on data encryption as one of the data security measures.

What are some of the best practices for maintaining GDPR encryption?

Given how strict maintenance of data integrity, as well as security, is under GDPR, it is very important that you follow the best practices to ensure inviolable encryption. It’s quite simple actually, follow the best data encryption practices, avoid hack attacks or data breaches, and in turn, avoid the penalties! So, what are some of the best practices you should consider? They are as follows:

Secure the encryption key – as we have mentioned above, an encryption key is one of the surest and most secure ways of protecting personal data. For maximum safety, you got to ensure that you keep it separated from the data itself – store it in a much safer area, rather than leaving it hanging around in plaintext. One more thing, make sure that you limit those who are able to access the encryption key for maximum security.

Evaluate your data encryption performance – here is the thing, effective GDPR encryption doesn’t just mean that it remains inaccessible to third-party unauthorized users, but the data need to remain accessible to the authorized individuals. When even you can’t access the encrypted data, or it takes too long to load, then, it is most certainly useless to you. If you are in such a situation, you will need to consider a different encryption algorithm that is a bit simpler to decrypt, thereby ensuring that the data do remain accessible at all times.

Make sure the data is safe even in storage and transmission – the majority of the organisations in the country often maintain data encryption during data transmission, where they either encrypt all the data or just transmit the info through an encrypted channel. But did you know that even when the data is stored within the computers, it is still super necessary to ensure that it is secure and protected. The stored data is as prone to hack attacks or data breaches like the one being transmitted, which is why it is crucial that you first encrypt all the files before storage.          

Final thought

Even in the absence of GDPR regulations, data security, as well as privacy, were of great importance. It’s only that the new law emphasised the importance and imposed heavy penalties for organisations that were in violation. The good news is that, thanks to the advancement of technology, organisations did get a boost in their security measures through data encryption, which is considered to be the best possible way of maintaining, not just data security, but integrity as well. It has helped a lot of organisations to avoid violation penalties. Other than that, encryption helped the organisations when it comes to protecting customers’ data, which enhances their trust, and in turn, helps to create a positive impact on their reputation, not to mention helping them prevent financial losses.   

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