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Data In Transit & How to Protect It

by Chris Brook on Thursday July 27, 2023

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Data fulfills its purpose and potential when deployed for the right uses. This often requires moving data across systems, platforms, and networks to the target endpoints where it is utilized.

However, data is typically most vulnerable when it is in motion. Therefore, protecting data in transit is a huge cybersecurity priority.

What Is Data In Transit?

Data in transit is data that is in motion between one device and another. Data in transit faces heightened vulnerability because it’s en route between destinations. This active movement —  especially outside the perimeter-based security of corporate systems — across private networks and the internet, puts data at risk.

The terabytes of data generated daily from our information systems don’t sit passively in databases and endpoint computers. Predominantly, the majority of information used each day involves data in transit.

Whether you are browsing online, uploading data to a cloud application, sharing files with a colleague, or sending texts and emails — these activities constitute data in transit.

To fully comprehend data in transit, it is important to understand the three states in which data exists.

The Three States of Data

One of the paradoxes of data is its ability to frequently change state instantaneously and, yet also be capable of remaining in a single state throughout the life cycle of a computer or system.

Data exists in three states or modes: the aforementioned data in transit (or data in motion), data in use, and data at rest.  

How do these individual states of data differ?

  • Data at rest: This involves its storage mode, where data is preserved in a low-changing state with low latency. Although it is inactive, it can be routinely accessed and is often a rich target of criminals for data breaches and ransomware. 
  • Data in use: This is data that’s deployed, accessed, modified, and processed frequently. As a result of its active use, data in use is stored in a non-persistent digital state. It is also vulnerable to attack, abuse, negligence, and misuse. 
  • Data in transit: Because it’s transmitted outside the company’s network perimeter, its vulnerability to attacks is very high relative to the other states. 

Weakness, Threats, and Vulnerabilities to Data In Transit

Data in transit is often vulnerable to threats because it has moved beyond the traditional guardrails used to protect it. Moreover, it is out of the user’s direct control.

Here are some of the threats and weaknesses data in transit is exposed to:

  • Eavesdropping: This type of attack impacts the confidentiality of data. Intruders exploit unsecured networks by using sniffing or snooping software to intercept data.
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM): While MITM attacks encompass eavesdropping, they also involve more sophisticated vectors like injecting malicious proxy malware and communication tampering to affect the integrity of data.
  • User negligence: Some of the data in flight risks are heightened by user carelessness, like using unsecured mediums or devices like USBs to transfer data.
  • Information exchange: Organizations often need to collaborate and share enterprise information with partners, vendors, and contractors for the smooth operation of business activities. However, this reliance on third parties exposes an organization to vulnerability, even if a business doesn’t store data with vendors. Some of these manifest in accidental data leaks, supply chain attacks, and third-party breaches.
  • Excessive user rights: Granting users more rights and permissions to data than they require is a pathway to abuse. The remedy for this is implementing the principle of least privilege to ensure they work with only the data they need. 

How to Protect Data In Transit

Because data is most vulnerable in transit, cybersecurity teams must implement protection strategies to safeguard it. However, these strategies involve more than network protection, typically requiring the embrace of perimeter-less approaches like zero trust file transfer.

Robust Encryption Solutions

Encryption protects data in all three states. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is widely adopted as an encryption algorithm; it is used by the U.S. government to protect classified information.

However, since secure key storage is an issue in private key encryption, most encryption algorithms involving data transfer use asymmetric or public key encryption. This method utilizes a public key (for encryption) and a private key (for decryption).

In practice, the common encryption protocol for data in transit is SSL/TLS. Here, the SSL certificate legitimately verifies that a website’s origin server owns the private key. The SSL/TLS protocol subsequently establishes a secure connection for communication between the client and server, while also encrypting the data in transit between them.

Hashing is also employed to verify if someone has tampered with a message or information with a unique hash.

Multi-factor Authentication

Authentication requires verifying a user’s identity, especially the recipient of the data in motion. To protect sensitive data, the standard method embraced in security protocols is multi-factor authentication. This requires the user to provide more than a password to verify their identity to gain access to a site or resource.

Authentication and zero trust mechanisms with network segmentation typically go hand-in-hand. This strategy provides granular protection for file transfers and data wherever it travels.

Comprehensive Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Solutions

Preventing data loss during data flight is crucial to the free flow of business information.

Therefore, organizations implement various DLP solutions to provide a comprehensive method to prevent data leakage, especially during the transit of data and at rest in endpoints. DLP policies enable organizations to effectively control the movement of data through routine audits and the effective classification of confidential data.

Network DLP protects data in motion, particularly personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property, and proprietary information by tracking and monitoring it as it moves across a network. The objective is to disrupt and prevent the exfiltration of sensitive data.

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

Most people log onto the internet to access resources and transfer data from cloud-based applications.

As an added layer of security, organizations may strategically position a CASB between the cloud service provider and the resource consumers to protect data as it’s shared outside the enterprise.

Rigorous Data Classification

Smart data classification allows organizations to understand the risk profile of each category and data state. It thereby enables them to prioritize protection and focus resources on sensitive data.

How Can Fortra’s Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Help?

Our interconnected world requires data in transit to launch apps and fulfill business requirements. However, the security of data in motion, including regulatory and compliance standards from government agencies has made information exchange more burdensome.

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration enables you to control who has access to your digital resources, revoke access remotely, and limit what people can do with data wherever it travels.

Click here to learn more about how Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration secures zero-trust file transfers. 

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

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