A possible use for encryption in the future
I just read another interesting report from the Burton Group. This time it was "Information Confidentiality." The section of this report mentioned two possible uses of encryption that we may be seeing more of in the future. One of these was cloud computing. There's been so much talk about cloud computing in the past few years that it's probably not worth mentioning much more about the obvious use of encryption to protect data in a cloud environment. The second use was to cryptographically destroy information: encrypt data and throw away the key and the data is essentially gone for good.
Here's what this report said about this:
Information destruction is an important part of the information life cycle, but it's often neglected in information confidentiality architecture. An intensifying regulatory environment has caused organizations to pay closer attention to destruction. And with the increased use of encryption to protect data during its normal period of utility, the possibility of using encryption for destruction emerges. Specifically, disposing of encryption keys can effectively destroy at-rest data that is encrypted with strong ciphers and whose keys have been properly managed. Disposing of keys renders encrypted data unusable. Although some enterprises entertain the notion of using this data-disposal technique, caution is warranted to ensure that spare copies of keys or weak encryption implementation don't undermine destruction. Another caution is warranted: Combinations of ciphers and key lengths have anticipated protection life spans. In other words, encryption can protect sensitive information only for a certain time period, until advances in computing power or mathematics make recovery possible. This goes for information “destroyed” through intentional key loss or destruction, as well. If information is still valuable after a cipher or key length no longer protects it, then data may be exposed and cause harm.
I've heard of lots of cases where people unintentionally cryptographically shred data through careless key management or by using buggy products, but I haven't heard of many businesses using encryption to intentionally destroy data. Maybe we'll be hearing more about that in the future.