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Securing Data: Encryption at Rest vs. in Motion in Microsoft 365 -An Overview

In today’s data-driven landscape, safeguarding sensitive information is paramount. Data breaches can lead to financial losses, regulatory penalties, and reputational harm. This underscores the importance of data encryption for organizations dealing with customer data, financial records, and more. While encryption is a familiar concept, it’s crucial to understand its application across different data states, each with distinct security demands.

Data in Motion: Protecting Information on the Move

When data is transferred from one location to another, it’s considered “in motion.” This encompasses actions like uploads, downloads, transfers, and email attachments. However, data in motion is susceptible to cyberattacks, particularly “Man in the Middle” attacks, where adversaries intercept data during transit. Examples include employees’ work-related data being backed up or data transfer during server migrations.

Data in Use: Guarding Active Data Interactions

Data in use involves active processing, editing, or accessing of information. This state applies to office applications, databases, system memory, and more. Yet, data in use is vulnerable as security measures like encryption can be temporarily lifted during processing. Instances include modifying business information in a database or data left in memory after using applications.

Data at Rest: Ensuring Dormant Data Security

Data at rest refers to inactive information not undergoing transfers or modifications. It resides on devices such as hard drives, external storage, and cloud platforms. Although seemingly secure, insider threats pose risks to data at rest. Attackers, often insiders, can exploit their access to file storage. Examples comprise documents stored on a user’s PC or files on company servers.

The Crucial Role of Encryption

Encryption plays a pivotal role in modern data security strategies. Utilizing intricate algorithms, encryption transforms data into unreadable content for unauthorized users. The encryption process involves encryption keys, algorithms, and encrypted data. After encryption, data storage location becomes flexible, but safeguarding encryption keys and algorithms is essential.

Navigating Regulatory Demands

As digital transformation advances, data protection regulations have emerged globally. Laws like GDPR, HIPAA, and more mandate encryption for safeguarding sensitive data. Non-compliance could lead to substantial fines and reputational damage.

Best Practices for Data Encryption

Effective data encryption strategies span all data states:

  • Strengthen identity management using IAM and MFA.
  • Apply granular access controls and obfuscation techniques.
  • Limit user actions on sensitive data.
  • Automate encryption for data in motion and in use.
  • Secure sensitive email attachments through encryption.

Choosing the Right Encryption Approach

For comprehensive protection, a layered encryption approach is recommended:

  • Encryption at rest denies user access to stored data.
  • Layer other encryption styles as users access data, mitigating risks of data loss.

Dynamic Encryption in Microsoft 365

Data encryption and key management are integral to securing Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Server data. A third-party solution, NC Protect, enhances Microsoft’s encryption capabilities. It adds dynamic encryption through ABAC policies, providing real-time protection for sensitive data.

In Conclusion: Ensuring Comprehensive Data Security

While data encryption isn’t the sole solution for data protection, it’s a crucial element of an organization’s security arsenal. Comprehensive data protection involves encryption at rest, in motion, and in use. Dynamic encryption, coupled with robust policies, helps thwart insider threats and evolving cyber risks. NC Protect offers dynamic encryption in various Microsoft platforms, ensuring data security throughout its lifecycle.


“This article previously appeared on archtis.com and is reposted with permission from

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