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Encrypted communications, no longer just for monarchs and militaries

Updated: May 19, 2021

Why is there a need for communications security?

Encrypted communications, no longer reserved for militaries and monarchs

Since the advent of the spoken language and text, there has always been a need to secure confidential information between parties. Preventing third parties from listening in on conversations, intercepting messages, or even understand the contents of these messages, should they fall on the wrong eyes and ears, was of utmost importance. In the early days of encryption and communications security, messages were protected by converting the original voice message or written text into an unintelligible format that could only be understood or deciphered by the intended message recipient.

In the earlier years of encryption, communications security and encryption was typically reserved for government and militaries with examples historically evident in multiple regional and world wars. Commanders of opposing armies would send confidential messages between their respective front lines, containing details of the current status of the assault or new plans of attack, in coded formats to prevent the opposition from accessing this information.

To prevent enemies accessing this information simple codes were used to scramble the original text into an unintelligible format. These encrypted messages were then given to soldier runners using a relay format to eventually get the message back to the respective Commander. The Commander was the only person that had the correct decryption key to decipher the unintelligible message into its original form. If the soldier runner were captured, there was no way the opposing army could decipher the message thus protecting the end-to-end security of the original message.

This original form of converting voice or written text to an unintelligible form was called encryption and decryption.

Why you should shift your view, and consider your communication as confidential.

In today’s modern world encryption is not just limited to governments and militaries but has now become imperative for the protection of information for multinational organisations, industries, corporates and individuals. Connectivity has increased, and so has the amount of information you are sharing daily with the digital domain. This essentially means that entities and individuals are opening themselves to multiple opportunities for cyber threats such as industrial espionage, company hijackings, fraud, corruption, and ransomware.

More information, more connectivity, better collaboration - greater risk.

Encryption, and protecting communications is no longer limited to protecting communications being between parties from external threats. Threats against governments, industries, corporates, and individuals also occur from within organisations. Access to sensitive information could be used with malicious intent by disgruntled employees, corrupt individuals and hackers. These ever increasing threats to information technology and communication infrastructures require a new security approach that reaches beyond the traditional encryption of transmitted information.

Changing your outlook on the importance of your information, means changing your communication security methods

In current terminology, communications security, is a term used to describe the securing of typical communications methods such as voice, data and video. Traditionally communications security was applied to legacy type systems such as the Public Switched Telephone network (PSTN), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) and leased point-to-point lines. These networks supported legacy analogue and digital systems and were used as point-to-point communications devices and systems. In previous years, an encryption device would be installed together with the end point device which would encrypt and decrypt communications between parties while the conversation took place. In the data environment, these encryption systems were known as line encryptors and ensured that data communications between two points were always encrypted.

However, with the arrival of the digital age and the advent of the Internet and the Internet Protocol, technology allowed for a single multipoint network to connect to anything and everything providing a seamless, robust, and effective communications medium.

This has given rise to a whole new myriad of threats. Today, it is not only business communications that are at risk, but also complete networks and individual users too. Multiple threats with malicious intent exist, from various private and state entities.

More connectivity, more access opportunities

Advanced operating systems, computing power and small carry and wearable smart devices allow industries, corporates, and individuals to work in an always connected mobile environment, away from the protection of the secure office environment that corporates have in anticipation of these threats to ensure the protection of their data.

Voice, data, and video communications now take place over a global public internet protocol infrastructure where governments, groups and individuals could easily and deliberately attack IT networks, systems, computers, and individual end-user devices such as smartphones, tablets and PDA’s to intercept and access confidential corporate, and personal information.

Communication security needs to keep up with existing technologies and applications, and should be directed to protect individual end user devices across a myriad of operating platforms and hardware well into the future.

Online or cloud-based technologies were designed to provide access to hosted secure voice and texting platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, to name a few. These platforms have boasted their ability to provide end-to-end encryption for voice, text and data sessions. Government agencies, corporations and individuals that are serious about communications security, should not trust a hosted platform residing outside their corporate infrastructure or that was designed and controlled in a foreign country, to provide protection for their confidential voice, data and video sessions to a third-party country.

Communications security is complex in nature but it is an absolute necessity for any network, computer or smart device connected to the global internet network. Governments, corporates and individuals need to ensure that their vulnerable corporate, personal information, conversations, emails, file transfers and video interactions are protected from the unscrupulous and malicious threats. There are many recent examples of what has transpired when these threats were successful, not only to governments, but corporates and individuals. Once they have access to this information the damage can be irreparable.

Understanding the exponentially growing threat environment highlights two burning questions that each entity should be asking themselves: Who are we ultimately entrusting with the storage of our sensitive voice, text and data communications, and are we giving device security the priority it requires?

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