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  • Writer's pictureRichard Blech

Why Encryption Should be at the Application Level

Fundamentally, cybersecurity regulates what data is accessible to whom or what. Encryption is a key component of cybersecurity. In fact, encryption is the ultimate method of controlling and limiting access.

Data does not exist solely at a standstill, such as in file systems, cloud databases and other general storage infrastructures; it moves back and forth across networks and is in regular use by applications. Encrypting data in one area and not encrypting it in the other is an insufficient use of encryption technology, and in an age of escalating cyber threats, it can be dangerous.

Consider some of the disclosed cyberattacks that have occurred just this year. The threat environment is still changing, and bad actors have established a thriving business of ransomware attacks. To mitigate the malware and advanced persistent threat attacks that are targeting the application layer, data and privacy protection has to begin with hardened encryption at the application layer.


In the OSI model, the application layer is a component within an application that controls the communication processes to other devices. While it masks the working details of the subsystems, it performs many functions, including synchronizing communication and determining resource availability. The services that it provides to ensure that an application program on a network can effectively communicate with another application program rely on all the layers below it to complete its processes.

The encryption implemented at this level protects data on all underlying layers. It has been positioned to have the most impact, allowing it to:

o Reduce the attack surface of a network

o Permit the encryption of data before that data is transmitted and placed in storage infrastructures

o Prevent physical data access risks

o Provide another layer of security if any underlying encryption or access control fails

It may be useful to think of encryption as having its own stack, one that is similar to the OIS model. The lower in the stack that encryption measures or solutions are used, the easier they are to implement and the less invasive. While encryption that is used higher up along the stack is necessarily more complex and more intrusive, the different types and quantity of threats that can be addressed are higher. The higher along encryption is in the stack, the higher the level of data security.

With application-layer encryption, it is the application that is encrypting the data that is in use. Encryption and decryption keys are not accessible to connected third party applications, only to the application itself. This presents a nearly unsurmountable obstacle to cyberattackers because they would only be able to access the encrypted data using certain functions within the application.


Applying encryption at the application layer does not mean that encryption efforts elsewhere should be abandoned. Encrypting at different places along the OSI model is necessary, but it should be done so with the understanding that the measures on their own leave the data above the layer at which the encryption takes place in clear text and vulnerable.

TLS, which is implemented on the Session layer of the OSI model, is used between the components of a system. It provides protection against the manipulation or leakage of the network traffic between nodes along with authentication measures; it cannot provide protection against users who have access to the database. Another issue with TLS is that even though it is routinely used to provide authentication to application layer protocols like HTTPS, it is unable to protect against attacks that target the processes on the application layer. One major vulnerability of TLS, in which it fails to bind a TCP connection to the intended application layer protocol, makes servers susceptible to cross-protocol attacks at the application layer. A network protocol like EBP, which uses XSOC’s cryptosystem with symmetric encryption security and is implemented on the Transport layer, would be able to prevent this exploit.

Another common encryption approach, full disk encryption, or FDE, will safeguard the data stored on an encrypted disk, but the data loses that protection when it leaves the disk. These encryption measures are unable to provide sufficient protection against internal or external malicious actors or advanced persistent threats.


There are not yet regulatory requirements that mandate the deeper integration of encryption. However, the increased security requirements across all industries make the adoption of application-level encryption solution a much-needed aspect of an organization’s data security strategy. The encryption used at the application layer should:

o Employ robust cryptographic keying system, as the strength of the encryption solution used depends heavily on the cryptographic keys being used

o Facilitate integration between the encryption solution and other security controls


Data security is an ongoing process. While there is no single technology that can ensure network security, it is important that the solutions that are used are able to help organizations meet the moment in the changing cyber threat landscape. Get in touch today to learn how XSOC CORP’s cryptosystem solutions can be critical in implementing an effective data security infrastructure.

Contact us today to learn how our technologies can help your company meet its IT security goals.


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