The internet is the backbone of our business and personal communications. It is common knowledge that we must encrypt this information as it traverses the internet to protect our data privacy. What is less well known is that encryption alone does not protect against a number of threats to data privacy. These threats are quite acute and can lead to costly fraud, data breaches, or ransomware. While encryption is a critical component of data transport security, it is insufficient to protect all aspects of data privacy.
First, here is some background on how data moves over the internet. To establish internet connections, network devices like mobile phones and servers must be able to discover each other, and IP addresses function as universal locators on the internet. Every elemental unit of data, the packet, must contain its source and destination IP addresses in a header for the data to find its way via countless telecommunications paths over an enormous web of third-party, untrusted networking infrastructure. This address information is not encrypted since third-party routing infrastructure must be able to read and act on it. When the data arrives at its last stop, the destination device must have an open network port, accessible to anyone on the internet, for the device to receive the packet.
The Role of Encryption in Data Transport Security
Encryption assures that only the sender and recipient can read the information contained in the packet. However, the end-to-end process of sending and receiving the packet creates exposure. The nature of internet data transmission requires a leap of faith: neither of the communicating parties control the path the data takes nor the equipment that routes it as it transits the web. That means businesses, governments, or malicious actors can observe the path the data takes, see who is communicating with whom, and obstruct or interfere with the data. The exposure of open network ports also creates vulnerabilities, as they are viewable by anyone on the internet. Encryption alone does nothing to assure the data transmission itself or the integrity of the network endpoints.
The use of encryption can give a false sense of security that using the internet to transmit data is safe. Below are five common but overlooked threats that affect the privacy and security of encrypted data-in-transit and the associated network devices.
Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM).
MitM attacks take many forms, but in all cases a malicious party positions itself in the data path between the sender and recipient. Sometimes, these attacks manifest as Phishing, where the threat actor creates an imposter of the legitimate destination site and seeks to gather login information or other PII. Sometimes, MitM is strictly behind the scenes, observing the flow of data or manipulating it. In some more sophisticated cases, the attackers trick the sender into giving the privileges to decrypt the data. In every instance, MitM attacks are a pernicious data transport threat because it can happen even in the presence of encryption best practices and even defeat them in some cases. These attacks can lead to data theft or provide reconnaissance for a more elaborate attack.
As mentioned above, in most instances, network endpoints must present open ports to receive data. While this architecture is very common, it creates significant security risks. Open ingress ports are typically scanned by third-party observers thousands of times per day, and many of these scans are malicious. In many cases, the goal of threat actors is to glean reconnaissance information that could be helpful in an attack. The open ports make it possible to determine what type of software runs on the endpoint and make inferences about weaknesses, such as unpatched software. Hackers exploit these weaknesses to gain initial access, which sometimes results in fraud, data breach, or ransomware. They can perform this type of vulnerability scanning with automation at a massive scale, potentially exposing anyone connected to the internet with open ports.
Personal phones and laptops are also vulnerable endpoints. Threat actors can monitor the activity and attributes of a personal device to develop a digital signature that is unique to an individual user. They can then monitor, interfere with, or outright block that user’s internet activity. Even if a user’s data content is encrypted and illegible, hackers glean a significant amount of information by observing what websites and services the user connects to and the timing, frequency, and data volume of those connections. Governments can monitor persons of interest, and cybercriminals can stalk the wealthy and powerful. In all cases, users expose information about their online activities without being aware of the privacy leakage.
Obstruction of Data Transport
In most cases, we have no idea who handles our data as it traverses the internet. Though encryption can usually protect the confidentiality of the data, it does nothing to assure its delivery. Certain foreign nations that exert centralized control over local internet infrastructure routinely block certain types of traffic or traffic seeking certain destinations. In parts of the world where the internet is decentralized, threat actors can compromise network nodes to cause similar problems. When threat actors interfere with or obstruct data flows for critical infrastructure or supply chain activities, these blockages can cause significant disruption and risk, which hackers might undertake for geopolitical advantage, extortion, or simply to create chaos.
Quantum computing will revolutionize the technology industry, performing operations in minutes that would take normal computers millennia. Many experts believe these capabilities are only a few years away. Unfortunately, one of the computation operations that becomes quite simple is cracking the most powerful encryption algorithms available today. Breakable encryption may expose all the data on the internet. Though quantum-safe encryption standards are in the works, they may take several years to enter the mainstream. In the meantime, threat actors can secretly copy and store all encrypted data traversing the web (also known as harvesting). They do this with the expectation that future quantum computing will easily be able to render this data in plain text. It is quite possible that your encrypted credit cards, passwords, and social security numbers are stored in a server somewhere in Russia, waiting for quantum computing to arrive.
How Obfuscation Mitigates Data Transport Security Threats
Individually and collectively, the above-listed data privacy threats could financially devastate businesses. However, there is a solution to these cybersecurity challenges: obfuscation. Obfuscation used in data transport security performs several protective functions:
- Disguises and anonymizes the data
- Creates an evasively routed transit path, and
- Conceals the endpoints at the sending and receiving end.
By adding these additional security measures, obfuscation can create an assured transport route from the data, free from monitoring, interference, or blockage. It makes endpoints undiscoverable and inaccessible, rendering malicious network scans or digital fingerprinting ineffective. And de-attribution makes it exceedingly difficult for adversaries to target your data for harvesting. Obfuscation works with existing encryption methods to secure not just the content of the delivery but the delivery itself. Moreover, obfuscation reduces network exposure by creating open communication channels.
SecureCo is the leader in providing obfuscated data transport security. Our solutions protect live communications, provide assured data backhaul, and secure APIs for distributed applications.
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