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Encryption: How To Utilize it Online and Why It’s Important

Encryption is the process of protecting personal data, often in the form of a “secret code,” so that it cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the code key. Today, huge amounts of personal information are managed online, via computer applications, and stored in the cloud, or servers with an ongoing connection to the web. It’s nearly impossible to do business of any kind without personal data ending up in a networked computer system.

Utilizing Encryption Via SSL

Most legitimate websites use what is called “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL), which is a form of encrypting data when it is being sent to and from a website. This keeps attackers from accessing that data while it is in transit. Look for the green padlock icon in the URL bar, and the “S” in the “https://” to make sure you are conducting secure, encrypted transactions online.

It’s a good idea to access sites utilizing SSL when:

You store or send sensitive data online. If you use the Internet to carry out tasks such as filing your taxes online, make online purchases, renew your driver’s license, or conduct any other personal business, visiting sites utilizing SSL is a wise idea.

Your work requires it.  Your workplace may have encryption protocols, or it may be subject to regulations that require encryption.  In these cases, encryption is a must.

Why Encryption Matters

Why is encryption important?  Here are three good reasons:

1. Internet privacy concerns are real.   

Encryption helps protect privacy by turning personal information into “for your eyes only” messages intended only for the parties that need them – and no one else. You should make sure that your emails are being sent over an encrypted connection, or that you are encrypting each message. Most email clients come with the option for encryption in the settings menu, and if you check your email with a web browser, take a moment to ensure that SSL encryption is available.

2. Hacking remains big business. 

“Hackers” aren’t just bored kids in a basement anymore – they’re big business, and in some cases, they’re multinational outfits.  Large scale data breaches that you may have heard about in the news demonstrate that people are out to steal personal information to fill their coffers.

3. Regulations demand it. 

Healthcare providers are required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to implement security features that protect patients’ sensitive health information.  Institutions of higher learning must take similar steps under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), while retailers must contend with the Fair Credit Practices Act (FCPA) and similar laws.  Encryption helps businesses stay compliant as well as protect the valuable data of their customers.