Encryption: Its Time Has Come

By Sharon D. Nelson, Esq. and John W. Simek

Nelson and Simek have been frequent presenters at ABA TECHSHOW. Nelson served as Chair of the 2006 TECHSHOW Planning Board. Together, they are the principals of Sensei Enterprises.

At TECHSHOW 2015, Simek will be co-presenting “Decrypting Encryption – Gaining Competence on Encryption for Your Practice,” with David Reis, on Thursday, April 16, 2015, at 10:30 AM.

Lawyers tend to cringe when they hear the word “encryption.” To most lawyers, encryption is a dark art, full of mathematical jargon and incomprehensible to the average human being.

When South Carolina suffered a major data breach of taxpayer data, what did Governor Nikki Halley say? “A lot of banks don’t encrypt. It’s very complicated. It’s very cumbersome. There’s a lot of numbers involved with it.” Leaving aside the laughable notion that a lot of banks don’t encrypt data, the rest of her quote is in keeping with what we hear from lawyers. What we hear always translates into the same thing: Encryption is hard.

So let’s make this more fun with some things you can relate to.

Encryption is designed to secure data from prying eyes. It keeps secrets secret. Think about your childhood. Did you play with invisible ink? Did you watch the mailbox for a magic decoder ring? Perhaps you spoke Pig Latin with a sibling so your parents remained clueless about what you were plotting.

You’ve seen secrets hidden in the movies – remember the World War II Navajo code talkers in “Windtalkers?” Cryptography has been featured in many movies, including the National Treasure movies, Sneakers and, perhaps most famously, in The Da Vinci Code.

In the simplest terms, cryptography is the science of secret communication. It involves transmitting and storing data in a form that only the intended recipient can read. Encryption is one form of cryptography.

Encryption is the conversion of data into a form, called a ciphertext, that cannot be easily understood by unauthorized people. Decryption is the process of converting encrypted data back into its original form (plaintext), so it can be understood.

Encryption can protect stored data (on servers, desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, portable devices, etc.) and transmitted data (over wired and wireless networks, including e-mail). Today’s cryptography can be found in streams of binary code that pass over wired networks, wireless networks and Internet communications pathways.

Fortunately, you don’t have to understand the math and computer science behind encryption in order to use it. There are now many easy-to-use encryption tools available for end-users. Many of our clients are adopting ZixCorp for e-mail encryption, which integrates with Outlook. You don’t need to use it all the time – just when you are transmitting sensitive data. Bottom line – it is EASY(press the “Encrypt and Send” button) – and inexpensive. Clients love it.

Trust us, it has now reached the point where all attorneys ethically should have encryption available for use, where appropriate,  to protect client data.