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What Is Data In Motion & How To Protect Data In Transit

The constant flow of information between devices and networks is what keeps our interconnected world up and running. From online financial transactions and confidential medical records shared between health providers to simple emails sent across the globe, this data in motion powers our daily digital interactions.


But there is a catch: as data moves, it is exposed to various risks that can jeopardize its security and integrity. To explain this more, we prepared this guide where we will discuss what puts data in motion at risk.


We will also look at proven techniques to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data as it moves between various locations. By the end, you will have actionable insights on fortifying your data flows against both external and insider threats.


What Is Data In Motion?


Data In Motion - States of Data

Data in motion refers to data that is actively moving from one location to another across networks or the internet. Unlike data at rest which sits idle in databases or storage devices, data in motion is data that is "on the go". 


Data in motion plays a critical role in various real-world applications:


  • Streaming data analytics: In industries like finance, healthcare, and eCommerce, streaming analytics relies on data in motion. It analyzes data streams in real-time to make immediate decisions.

  • Real-time data synchronization: In modern businesses, data synchronization across various devices and platforms is critical. This includes syncing emails, contacts, and calendar entries across multiple devices in real-time.

  • Cloud services data transfer: As more businesses move to cloud computing, data in motion plays a vital role. This includes migrating data to cloud environments, backing up data to cloud storage, or syncing data across multiple cloud services.


Data in motion is crucial for making timely decisions. It lets businesses and organizations get insights and act on them immediately. This is important in sectors like:


  • Financial institutions use real-time data to detect and prevent fraud.

  • In healthcare, real-time patient monitoring can provide timely interventions.

  • Retailers adjust marketing strategies based on real-time consumer behavior data.


3 Risks Associated With Data In Motion


While data mobility and accessibility are critical for business operations and collaboration, they also present unique security challenges. Let’s discuss 3 primary risks associated with data in motion and see why you need robust security measures to protect data during transit.


1. Unauthorized Access & Interception


Data In Motion - Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

When data is actively moving from one location to another, it becomes more vulnerable to interception by unauthorized personnel. Hackers can intercept this data using man-in-the-middle attacks or by exploiting unencrypted connections. 


They can then access private digital information or alter and manipulate the data before passing it on to the intended recipient. Such breaches of data confidentiality and integrity can have severe consequences including financial, legal, and reputational damage.


2. Data Corruption & Manipulation


Besides external attacks, data in transit also faces the risk of getting corrupted or modified during the transfer process. Network glitches, faulty hardware, human errors, or software bugs can all contribute to compromising data integrity. 


The impact can range from minor data inaccuracies to catastrophic manipulation where crucial details like financial transactions or medical records are altered, causing incorrect outcomes. On top of this, restoring compromised data can be challenging and cause permanent loss.


3. Threats From Cyber Attacks


Cyber criminals employ advanced techniques specifically targeting data in motion because of the increased vulnerabilities during transit. One such technique that we mentioned earlier is the man-in-the-middle attack which allows hackers to intercept communication between 2 parties and eavesdrop on or modify exchanged data. 


Similarly, injection attacks introduce malicious code or commands into data flows to gain control or crash systems. Such threats exploit the weaknesses in data transit to cause breaches.


To mitigate the many risks that come with data in motion, implement robust security measures to ensure the safety of data in motion. But before we get to these specific techniques for protecting data in motion, let’s first discuss some important principles that you should follow to ensure your data is safe when it moves.


3 Key Principles Of Protecting Data In Transit


Data In Motion - 3 Key Principles Of Protecting Data In Transit

A sound data transit protection strategy upholds 3 principles confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Setting up controls to follow these principles is crucial for safely transferring data between different points while maintaining its sensitive nature, accuracy, and usability. Let’s discuss this in detail.


I. Confidentiality


When in transit, keep data private and inaccessible to unauthorized users. This is important because data, when it is in motion, is more susceptible to unauthorized access and interception. 


Implementing encryption and access controls ensures that only authorized parties can view or access the data during transit. This maintains the confidentiality of sensitive information like financial data, healthcare records, or intellectual property. 


Breaches in confidentiality during transit can have severe consequences including data leaks, compliance violations, and loss of customer trust.


II. Integrity


Integrity involves maintaining data accuracy and consistency throughout the transfer process. The data sent must be received exactly as sent, without any alterations or corruptions. 


Data corruption can occur because of:


  • Human error

  • Faulty hardware

  • Network disruptions

  • Malicious tampering


This compromises data integrity and makes it unreliable or unusable. This can severely affect sensitive processes like financial transactions, medical diagnoses, and industrial systems that rely on accurate data. 


III. Availability


The data should remain accessible and usable when it reaches its intended destination. Interruptions during transit can make data temporarily unavailable. This can disrupt time-sensitive processes like live streams, emergency response systems, or financial services. 


To assure availability, redundant communication channels, durable data transports, and resilience to outages must be implemented. The recipient systems should also have sufficient capacity to process incoming data traffic without delays or bottlenecks. Data availability guarantees seamless workflows, uninterrupted operations, and optimal use of transmitted data.


4 Techniques For Protecting Data In Transit


Given the vulnerability of data during transit, implementing advanced protection strategies is a must. Let’s discuss 4 techniques to help protect data as it moves across networks.


A. Encryption Methods


Data In Motion - Encryption Methods

Encryption techniques transform readable data into an unreadable format to make it unintelligible to unauthorized individuals even if intercepted.


Important techniques to encrypt data include:


  • End-to-end encryption: This ensures that data is encrypted from the source to the destination, making it inaccessible to intermediaries.

  • VPN (Virtual Private Network): This creates a secure tunnel for data to travel across the internet and protects the data from eavesdroppers.

  • SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security): These protocols establish an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. TLS encryption and SSL certificates are crucial for online transactions and data transfers.


B. Authentication & Authorization

Authentication verifies the identity of users or systems attempting to access data during transits. Authorization then checks if the authenticated party has the required permissions for the attempted data transaction.


Effective strategies include:


  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): When implemented, MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before gaining access.

  • Certificate-Based Authentication: Instead of login credentials, this approach uses digital certificates to verify the identity of devices and users.

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): This involves assigning permissions to the users based on their roles within the organization. This limits data access to authorized personnel only.


C. Secure Communication Protocols


These specialized network protocols provide secure communication channels for data as it travels. Some common secure protocols that you can use are:


  • IPSec (Internet Protocol Security): IPSec is a suite of protocols designed to secure internet communications across an IP network.

  • SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol): SFTP provides a secure method for transferring files and uses SSH (Secure Shell) for data protection.

  • HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure): HTTPS encrypts the data exchanged between the web browser and the server which is essential for secure web browsing.


D. Network Security Tools


Alongside encryption and access controls directly applied to data, the underlying network infrastructure must also be secured. This can significantly enhance the protection of data in transit. Major tools and strategies are:


  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) technologies: DLP systems monitor, detect, and block sensitive data from leaving the network unauthorizedly.

  • Firewalls: Firewalls act as a barrier between trusted and untrusted networks. They monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on security rules.

  • Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)/Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS): These systems are used to detect and prevent unauthorized access and threats to ensure data isn't intercepted or tampered with.


3 Key Challenges In Protecting Data In Motion


Implementing systems to protect data in motion is important but it brings some challenges with it. Let’s discuss them in detail.


i. Managing Encryption Keys


While encryption plays a crucial role in securing data in motion, encryption keys are sensitive assets that need strict access controls and strong management processes. Compromised or expired keys defeat the purpose of encryption. There are 2 important aspects that you must consider:


  • Access control: Strictly controlling who accesses these keys is crucial to prevent unauthorized access to encrypted data.

  • Key lifecycle management: This involves regularly updating and securely storing keys, covering key generation, distribution, rotation, and retirement.


ii. Legacy System Integration


Integrating modern security measures into older systems is a major challenge. Legacy systems often lack the necessary architecture to support modern encryption methods and may not be compatible with current security tools. Key issues include:


  • Outdated protocols: Older systems might use outdated communication protocols which are less secure and more susceptible to breaches.

  • Balancing performance and security: Implementing robust security measures in legacy systems can often result in performance trade-offs that can affect efficiency.

  • Upgradation constraints: Upgrading legacy systems can be costly and time-consuming, and in some cases, might not be feasible because of custom-built architectures.


iii. Regulatory Compliance


With data moving across borders and jurisdictions, following relevant regulations is difficult. 

Organizations find it challenging to maintain full compliance in an environment where each region has its own set of laws and standards.


There are 3 important aspects to this:


  • Documentation and auditing: Maintaining proper records and undergoing regular audits to prove compliance is a critical, yet resource-intensive task.

  • Continuous updates: Data protection laws are continually evolving. This means organizations have to stay updated and adjust their compliance strategies accordingly.

  • Diverse regulatory requirements: Organizations must comply with various regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and others, depending on their geographical presence and nature of business. We will discuss these in more detail in the next section.


Regulatory Requirements For Protecting Data In Motion


Protecting data in motion is a technical necessity as well as a regulatory requirement. Governments and industry groups established regulations that mandate certain security measures for protecting sensitive data in transit. Let's look at key regulations:


a. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)


Data In Motion - Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard

PCI DSS safeguards credit card data handled by merchants and associated vendors. Compliance with this standard is if you are dealing with credit card transactions. Major aspects include:


  • All cardholders' data that passes over open, public networks must be encrypted to protect it from unauthorized access.

  • This standard applies to all entities that process, store, or transmit credit card information, including merchants, payment processors, and other service providers.

  • Organizations are required to regularly monitor and test their network security to maintain compliance with PCI DSS.


b. Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)/HITECH


HIPAA and its subsequent enhancement, HITECH focus on protecting patient health information. This impacts many entities in the healthcare sector. Essential components include:


  • These regulations mandate the secure transmission of Protected Health Information (PHI) to prevent unauthorized access.

  • Healthcare providers as well as their business associates who handle PHI are required to comply with HIPAA and HITECH.

  • Organizations can face heavy penalties for failing to secure data in motion as per HIPAA and HITECH standards.


c. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)


The GDPR is an EU regulation focused on protecting the personal data of EU residents. It mandates that organizations processing EU citizens' data must take appropriate measures to ensure the security and confidentiality of that data. It emphasizes:


  • Organizations must place data protection measures right from the beginning of data processing activities.

  • GDPR imposes rigorous rules on transferring personal data outside the European Union.

  • GDPR requires that organizations obtain explicit consent for data collection and processing and they must be transparent about how this data will be used.


d. Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)


GLBA primarily targets financial institutions for the protection of customers' financial data. Its key features are:


  • Financial institutions must inform their customers about their data-sharing practices and must take measures to protect sensitive data.

  • Any financial data that is sent electronically must be encrypted to ensure its security.

  • Financial institutions are required to continually assess and update their customer data protection strategies to address evolving risks.


How Can Timeplus Enhance Your Data In Motion?


Data In Motion - Timeplus

Timeplus is a fully managed data analytics platform that ingests, processes, and analyzes data in motion in real-time. It uses the open-source streaming database Proton to provide powerful end-to-end capabilities for streaming data.


Here’s how Timeplus can enhance data in motion:


  • Timeplus connects effortlessly with a variety of data sources like Apache Kafka and Amazon Kinesis. This connectivity makes it simpler for you to integrate your existing data infrastructures with Timeplus to provide a seamless data flow and comprehensive analytics.

  • Timeplus runs on a high-performance streaming SQL engine. This engine processes large volumes of data in motion quickly and efficiently. This capability is important if you need to make real-time decisions based on the latest data insights.

  • It can analyze streaming data as it flows. This helps spot trends, identify issues, and respond promptly. Its alert system notifies relevant stakeholders when predefined conditions are met, ensuring immediate attention to critical data events.

  • You can easily create dynamic dashboards and visualizations which makes it simple to understand and interact with real-time data.

  • Timeplus recently achieved SOC 2 Type 1 compliance which shows our commitment to high standards of data security and privacy. This means you can trust that your data in motion is handled carefully and follows industry standards.


With its unified streaming engine, Timeplus makes it easy to connect, process, analyze, and act on data that is in transit. This provides real-time risk visibility, rapid detection of issues, and quicker response times while enhancing data security and privacy safeguards.


Conclusion


The protection of data in motion is a collective responsibility that goes beyond just looking out for ourselves. When data breaches happen, it is more than just losing money; trust and reputation take a hit too. A proactive approach to identifying and rectifying vulnerabilities is a preemptive strike against potential data breaches.


Timeplus offers seamless integration with various data sources and employs state-of-the-art security measures to ensure your data remains protected. Whether you are dealing with sensitive financial information, confidential health records, or crucial business data, Timeplus provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing your data is safe and secure.


So if you are looking to fortify your data flows against both external and insider threats, consider Timeplus. Start your free trial or sign up for a demo.

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