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Ensure your electronic documents are delivered securely: Encryption/cryptography

Encryption Cryptography

Think of any high volume, system generated paper document that you currently print and deliver by mail and chances are you’re already working towards converting each one to electronic delivery.

But what about security, confidentiality and non-manipulation? How do you ensure trust and compliance with your new process?

Our special blog series is going to look at every aspect of document security and how you can deliver secure eDocuments with confidence.

Opening the envelope vs. opening the email

Thief comic strip

Let’s start with traditional mail. A piece of paper sitting in your post box is hardly secure, it can be removed read, changed and replaced without your knowledge – it follows that  any level of security associated with an electronic document already makes it a better option. However post does have one thing going for it – you have to physically go to each post box to collect mail.

Unlike post boxes, websites (and the now standard customer portal) are publically accessible, so the security requirements immediately become more stringent. Registration and multiple levels of authentication become necessary, but also cause usability and liability issues.

So, you have ease and convenience on one hand vs. barriers and a (good) dollop of effort on the other. What’s the middle ground? Email of course. In a nutshell, an email address is an online version of a post box but with the benefits of cool tech that can be layered on top to make it far more secure than its paper counterpart.

9 Reasons why you should consider sending documents via email

Money Cost take out: Significantly reduces paper, printing and postage costs. Low cost of implementation and pay per use pricing.
Document Encryption Convenience of email and secure attachments: Ability to save the attachment, view it offline and print hard copies. Advanced functionality included within the electronic document.
Security in email Security: The eDocument remains encrypted offline and outside the mail client, protecting confidentiality. The email attachment is secured using the latest in encryption technology.
Increased revenue Days Sales Outstanding (DSO): email billing can dramatically reduce a company’s days sales
outstanding by cutting the time it takes to get bills to customers and to elicit payment.
CRM Support for corporate e-communication and CRM initiatives: Promotes interaction and direct communication with customers.
Website Drives qualified web traffic: Augments and complements existing online services.
Marketing Communications Marketing: Provides effective marketing real estate that can be used for personalized, targeted marketing offers.
Customer experience Customer experience insight: Enables detailed tracking reports.
Environmental impact Environmental impact: Minimized by reducing paper output.

Security and its role in eDocument delivery

I trust you now agree that sending documents to the inbox is a good idea. The next step is to explore all the security aspects of electronic document delivery in detail. Because it’s a big theme we’ll look at each aspect on its own over the next few weeks, including:

  • Encryption – which I’ll cover in this blog post
  • Password strength: Your document password shouldn’t be the weak link in your secure application chain
  • Data protection: Security measures for your eDocument data
  • Usability & customer convenience: Ensure your paperless gateway isn’t locked too

Understanding Encryption/cryptography

Banks use 128 bit encryption to protect communications on Internet Banking. We believe electronic document delivery encryption levels from 128 bit and above are sufficient. Let me explain why and how it all works:

Some quick terminology to help you:

  • Encryption is a process of scrambling data from its original format into one that is unreadable except by authorized persons, by using one or more algorithms and keys
  • The information needed to take data from one format to another is called an “encryption/decryption key”
  • The original format is called “plaintext” and the scrambled data is called “ciphertext”

Different encryption schemes

There are two basic types of encryption schemes: Symmetric-key and Asymmetric-key (also called public-key encryption)

Symmetric algorithms – uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt the message

  • 3DES – Data Encryption Standard.
  • AES – Advanced Encryption Standard
  • RC4 – also known as ARC4 is used in protocols such as SSL (to protect Internet traffic), WEP and WPA (to secure wireless networks)

Asymmetric algorithms – uses a different cryptographic key to encrypt and decrypt the message

  • PKI – Public-key infrastructure

However, sticking to Symmetric algorithms is advisable because it takes away the requirement for complicated key exchanges. For PKI encryption the consumer has to “have something” (e.g. a private PKI Key) rather than for symmetric encryption where they just have to “know something” (e.g. a type of password).

Key strength

In cryptography, size does matter. The larger the key, the harder it is to crack a block of encrypted data. Typical key strengths are:

  • 128bit (RC4)
  • 168bit (3DES)
  • 256bit (AES)

A password is converted into a key length appropriate to the chosen algorithm.

A brute-force attack consists of systematically checking all possible keys until the correct key is found. The resources required for a brute-force attack grow exponentially with increasing key size. However the key combinations depend on the length of the password that generated the key. Hence the longer the password the harder it is to crack.

Time To Crack Cryptographic Key Per Key Size

Maybe this is why hackers don’t generally attack the actual encryption; instead they try to “guess” the correct password… in our next post in this email security series we will detail how password strength works in conjunction with encryption.

Keen to get more expert advice on email security? Ge in touch with one of our encryption experts.

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Linda Misauer

Linda Misauer

Head of Global Solutions at Striata

Linda Misauer is the Head of Global Solutions at Striata and is responsible for technical Research and Development, Operations and Project Management for global initiatives.

Linda previously led the Product Management of the Striata Application Platform before moving across to Striata North America as Chief Technical Officer (CTO). As Product Manager, her responsibilities included internal project management of the product development team, market research & product feature design, as well as the product lifecycle management and quality control. As CTO, Linda was responsible for all technical operations for North, Central and South America, including the Project Management, Support, Production and Data Engineering.

Linda has over 10 years of experience in the IT industry, ranging from video streaming solutions and website application development to electronic billing and messaging. Prior to joining Striata in 2002, Linda held the positions of Chief Information Officer at AfriCam, and was IT project manager at Dimension Data.

Linda studied at the University of Natal - Pietermaritzburg and holds a degree in BSc, Majoring in Computer Science and Economics. Linda also has a Diploma in Project Management.

Read more of Linda's blog posts here or connect with her on the following social channels: