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What Is Database Encryption? Types and Best Practices

June 26, 2024

Database Encryption

If you gather sensitive and personal data, it’s critical to protect it. Database encryption exists to help. 

Many businesses use Encryption software stays popular with all kinds of organizations for protecting confidential information and securing data while reducing the possibility of breaches or leaks. Encryption software uses cryptography to make certain only intended parties can access databases and other files. 

Types of database encryption

Companies use encryption to securely store and transmit data through two main types: at-rest and in-transit. Both are crucial and necessary for keeping  sensitive information private. Here’s a breakdown. 

Data at rest encryption (DARE)

Data at rest encryption safeguards data while it’s “resting” on a hard drive, in a database, in cloud storage, or across physical storage devices. It shields data even if the storage is compromised or accessed without permission. That means if data is stored on a hard drive and a hacker  steals it, they can only understand it if they have the proper encryption key.

Data in transit encryption

Unlike data at rest, data in transit (or data in motion) encryption oversees data as it moves  between devices and networks through the internet or across private networks, for example. This type of encryption is critical because data is very vulnerable during transmission; unauthorized users can easily intercept and compromise it as it travels.

Advantages of database encryption

Database encryption provides numerous benefits to organizations by allowing them to quickly protect and store sensitive information. The primary advantages of database encryption include the following aspects. 

Data privacy 

Most importantly, database encryption watches over sensitive data at all times to protect sensitive and confidential information from unauthorized access. It also adds an extra level of armor by rendering data unusable and unreadable without the proper encryption keys.

Data integrity

Database encryption technology assists in reinforcing data integrity by keeping it safe  with encryption keys, making it more challenging to alter. The data remains confidential even if unauthorized eyes access it unless they have the keys to decode it accordingly. It’s protected from easy alteration, which supports data integrity.  

Compliance protection 

Data protection is more than just a nice-to-have. In many regions and industries, strict data protections like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are in place. Organizations are not only obligated to protect individuals’ data because it’s the right thing to do, but they also face significant fines and legal consequences when they don’t comply.

Levels of database encryption 

Database encryption can be implemented at various levels, offering different scopes of data protection to meet the needs of different data set types. 

Column-level database encryption

Column-level encryption lets users encrypt specific columns within a database table rather than the entire database. This technique benefits databases that contain a mix of sensitive and non-sensitive information. For example, you could encrypt the social security numbers (SSNs) column if a database includes this information and an appointment date. 

Field-level database encryption

Field-level database encryption scrambles data in specific fields to provide more granular options than column-level database encryption. This methods protects sensitive information (e.g., credit card numbers, account numbers, SSNs) that may be dispersed through a database rather than organized into one column. 

Transparent data encryption (TDE)

Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle apply TDE to encrypt database files and safeguard data at rest (data, log files, and backups), meaning sensitive data stored in tables and tablespaces can be kept private.

Full disk encryption (FDE)

FDE takes care of data at the hardware level by encrypting data on a disk drive. It’s designed to preserve information on a device in the event of loss or theft. While it reduces the likelihood of unauthorized access if the device goes missing, it’s not built to handle data in transit. 

Symmetric vs. asymmetric database encryption

There are two primary forms of data encryption. There’s one significant difference between the two types. 

Symmetric encryption

Symmetric encryption is a widely used technique in which data is encipheredencrypted with one single key for encryption and decryption. Think of the single key as a shared secret among parties that allows them to encrypt or decrypt information as they need. The sender has to use the secret key to alter the file before sending it to the receiver. The recipient can’t access the data until they enter the same key the sender used. 

Symmetric encryption keys are one of the following:

  • Stream ciphers convert one plaintext symbol directly into a ciphertext symbol bit by bit.
  • Block ciphers encrypt a group of plaintext symbols as an entire block or unit using a predetermined key length (e.g., 128-bits).

Since only one key is involved, symmetric database encryption is quick to execute. Many industries, like financial services, government entities, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, use this technique.

Asymmetric encryption

Unlike symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption involves using a pair of keys: a public key for encryption and a separate private key for decoding. This method is also referred to as public-key cryptography or public-key encryption

The public key used to encrypt data is accessible to everyone and can be shared broadly, whereas the private key used to decrypt the message should only be accessible to the individual accessing the information. The key pairs are mathematically linked and work together to encrypt and decrypt data as needed.

Asymmetric encryption is more complex than symmetric encryption, but is often regarded as more secure, given its key-pair setup. 

Top 5 encryption software tools

Encryption software protects data confidentiality and integrity. Many companies use it to reduce their liability in events when data is hacked or inadvertently exposed. It converts raw, normal data into unintelligible, virtually unusable data. These tools are beneficial for safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI) that various employers and healthcare organizations must collect.  

To qualify for inclusion in the Encryption category, a product must:

  • Secure data and files using ciphertext
  • Prepare either data at rest, data in transit, or data in use for encryption
  • Allow users to choose and manage files and their encryption settings

Below are the top five encryption software programs from G2’s Spring 2024 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.

1. Progress MOVEit

Progress MOVEit is managed file transfer software that provides security, centralized access controls, file encryption, and activity tracking for a holistic file transfer solution. MOVEit offers on-premise and as-a-service in-the-cloud solutions to help meet the needs of various organizations and their architectural preferences. Bankers and financial professionals, government employees, healthcare teams, and insurance providers use it to securely transfer files back and forth. 

What users like best: 

“What I like about MoveIT Automation is its versatility and its simplicity. Whether you're managing file transfers between servers, synchronizing data between systems, or scheduling routine tasks, this platform provides a flexible and customizable solution. Its drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to create and modify workflows, allowing me to tailor automation processes to my needs without extensive programming knowledge.”

- Progress MOVEit Review, Carson F.

What users dislike: 

“License cost is a little bit high. Should consider some discount for startup companies.”

- Progress MOVEit Review, Srinivas K.

2. Microsoft BitLocker 

Microsoft BitLocker is a Windows full-volume security feature that safeguards documents and passwords through data encryption. It uses an advanced encryption standard (AES) algorithm with key lengths of 128 or 256 bits. 

What users like best: 

“Out of the encryption tools I've tried, Microsoft BitLocker is my favorite. Its user-friendly interface is the first reason, and its distinctive method of securing data by encrypting the entire disk stands out as the primary advantage, ensuring heightened security. The excellent customer support, ease of implementation, frequent use, and seamless integration make it incredibly helpful for me, earning my preference and making it my top choice.”

- Microsoft BitLocker Review, Civic V.

What users dislike: 

“It can sometimes degrade the performance of the running processes, which amplifies when we use this application for different platforms or on systems with limited computational resources.”

- Microsoft BitLocker Review, Bilal A.

3. Tresorit 

Tresorit is an end-to-end encrypted cloud storage platform for businesses. Companies use Tresorit to safely share files inside and outside organizations through one-click, end-to-end email encryption. It protects data at rest and in transit for a total data security and management system. 

What users like best: 

“One of the main aspects of Tresorit is its robust encryption, which offers end-to-end encryption for files kept on their servers. This indicates that even if Tresorit wanted to, they cannot access the user's files; only the user has access to them. Also, its user-friendly interface makes it simple to upload, download, and share data securely.”

- Tresorit Review, Deepak J.

What users dislike: 

“Reorganizing files is a pain. It is much more cumbersome and visually unintuitive than Windows File Manager. Renaming, you have to click, wait, click, wait, and often it doesn’t work. Moving files you have to go all the way up the directory and into the subfolder, subfolder, etc., which shouldn't really be necessary. You also can't open more than one window, necessitating following Tresorit's built-in path.”

- Tresorit Review, Rosi H. 

4. Virtru 

Virtru offers end-to-end encryption for Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, and applications like Salesforce, Zendesk, and Looker. Its founders previously worked in US government positions and used their agency experience to create the Trusted Data Format (TDF), a powerful data protection standard with military-grade security. 

What users like best: 

“Since the transition with Virtru, it has been easy to train staff to send encrypted emails. We work with a lot of families and school districts and need to make sure that we are keeping their information confidential. The implementation was very easy to do, and customer support was available to answer any questions that we had. We use this platform on a daily basis, and it is easy to integrate into our email system.”

- Virtru Review, Amy H. 

What users dislike: 

“Sometimes, messages that do not need to be encrypted are sent in that fashion without an option to disable it. There are occasions when encrypted messages are not sent. I either wait for an extended period for an encrypted message to send, find a message that I thought had been sent in my drafts, or restart Outlook and try again. The arrangement to encrypt previous messages in an email chain does not allow the included parties to confirm earlier discussions/details without going back through their inbox and finding the original message. I am not sure that there is a workaround for this that is HIPAA compliant, but it would be nice.”

- Virtru Review, Lauren L. 

5. FileVault 

FileVault is a data encryption feature for Macs without Apple silicon or Apple T2 Security Chips. You must be an administrator to set up FileVault. It helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information stored on Mac devices.  

What users like best: 

“FileVault is a highly secure encryption system for all types of files and can run on any Apple device. It is easy to use; you can protect any file, folder, file, image, document, or whatever you want, with encryption of high level, from a very simple application; you do not need to be a genius to use it. Anyone can protect their information with this application in the simplest way, without complications, as happens in other data protection applications, which are complicated.”

- FileVault Review, Ronald K S. 

What users dislike: 

“Apple has yet to provide an enterprise-wide management option for FileVault. While third-party vendors do a lot of the work here, it would mean more if Apple did work here to make sure we have a sustained path forward with FileVault.”

- FileVault Review, Joel P. 


Keep it secret. Keep it safe. 

Database encryption helps convert readable data into unreadable ciphertext by using different levels of encryption. Sensitive information will always exist, and it’s your company’s job to protect it in order to maintain privacy, prevent breaches, and reinforce the trust you have with your team and your customers. Don’t wait – find the right database encryption software for your needs today.

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What Is Database Encryption? Types and Best Practices Database encryption provides enhanced security for your at-rest and in-transit data. Learn about the types, advantages, and different levels of encryption.
Alyssa Towns Alyssa Towns works in communications and change management and is a freelance writer for G2. She mainly writes SaaS, productivity, and career-adjacent content. In her spare time, Alyssa is either enjoying a new restaurant with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats Yeti and Yowie, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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