A More Secure, Scope-Reducing Solution: What is Tokenization?
Learn about tokenization, how it works, and why it is a superior solution to other data-security methods and technologies.
Tokenization is the process of sending sensitive data via an API call or batch file to a tokenization provider that then replaces that data with nonsensitive placeholders called tokens. It can be used to secure and desensitize data by replacing the original data with an unrelated value of the same length and format. The tokens—which, in the interest of maintaining business utility, can retain elements of the original data—are then sent to an organization’s internal systems for use, and the original data is stored in a secure token vault.
Unlike encrypted data, tokenized data is undecipherable and irreversible. This distinction is particularly important: Because there is no mathematical relationship between the token and its original number, tokens cannot be returned to their original form.
A token is, very simply, a piece of data that stands in for another, more valuable piece of information. Tokens have virtually no value on their own - they are only useful because they represent something bigger. A good analogy is a poker chip: instead of filling a table with wads of cash (which can be easily lost or stolen), players use chips as placeholders. The chips can’t be used as money; they must be exchanged for it after the game.
Tokenization works by removing the valuable data from your environment and replacing it with these tokens. Most businesses hold at least some sensitive data within their systems, whether it be credit card data, medical information, Social Security numbers, or anything else that requires security and protection. Using tokenization, this data is taken out of your environment entirely, and then it is replaced with tokens that are unique to each piece of information.
The purpose of tokenization is to swap out sensitive data—typically payment card or bank account numbers—with a randomized number in the same format but with no intrinsic value of its own. This differs from encryption, where a number is mathematically changed, but its original pattern is still stored within the new code—known as format-preserving encryption.
Tokenization is the process of removing sensitive data from your business systems by replacing it with an undecipherable token and storing the original data in a secure cloud data vault. Encrypted numbers can be decrypted with the appropriate key. Tokens, however, cannot be reversed, because there is no mathematical relationship between the token and its original number.
Detokenization is the reverse process, exchanging the token for the original number. Detokenization can be done only by the original tokenization system. There is no other way to obtain the original number from just the token.
Tokens can be single-use (low-value) for operations such as one-time debit card transactions that don't need to be retained, or they can be persistent (high-value) for items such as a repeat customer's credit card number that needs to be stored in a database for recurring transactions.
If a breach of a tokenized environment occurs, the exposed data is worthless to cybercriminals, virtually eliminating the risk of data theft.
Encryption is a process during which sensitive data is mathematically changed, but its original pattern is still present within the new code. This means encrypted numbers can be decrypted with the appropriate key, through either brute computing force or a hacked/stolen key.
The goal of a tokenization platform is to remove any original sensitive payment or personal data from your business systems, replace each data set with an undecipherable token, and store the original data in a secure cloud environment, separate from your business systems.
For example, tokenization in banking protects cardholder data. When you process a payment using the token stored in your systems, only the original tokenization system can swap the token with the corresponding primary account number (PAN) and send it to the payment processor for authorization. Your systems never record, transmit, or store the PAN—only the token.
Although no technology can guarantee the prevention of a data breach, a properly built cloud tokenization platform can prevent the exposure of sensitive data, stopping attackers from capturing any type of usable information—financial or personal.
“Usable information” is the key here. Tokenization is not a security system that stops hackers from penetrating your networks and information systems. There are many other security technologies designed for that purpose.
However, no defense has proven to be impenetrable. Whether through human error, malware, phishing emails, or brute force, cybercriminals have many ways to prey on vulnerable organizations. In many cases, it’s a matter of when—not if—an attack will succeed. The advantage to cloud tokenization is there is no information to steal when the inevitable breach happens. Because of this, it virtually eliminates the risk of data theft.
For maximum security and compliance, tokenization allows you to outsource the handling and storage of sensitive data to a secure third party. Using the TokenEx platform, you can ensure your environment remains free of sensitive data to significantly reduce risk in the event of a breach.
The TokenEx platform is uniquely designed to accept and tokenize any sensitive data set, resulting in a comprehensive security and compliance solution that provides unparalleled flexibility for security professionals in insurance, e-commerce, healthcare, retail, and more.