Data Masking vs Encryption: What’s the Difference?

There are many intricacies behind data and cyber security and many different methods available to keep your data safe. If you’ve been considering the options for protecting your critical data, there are likely a few terms you’ve come across in that search, which is why we’d like to help you understand the differences. Let us take a look at two of these: data masking and encryption – specifically what they are, how they protect your data, and how they’re different.

There is a common belief that encryption is a form of data masking, but we assure you that masking and encryption are two distinct solutions. While these two methods do share similarities, their differences are substantial.


Encryption as a principle dates back thousands of years, but when we’re talking about it in the cryptography context, we’re talking about the process of encoding information: converting the original information (known as plaintext) into an alternative form (called cybertext) using an encryption algorithm. In order to decipher the data, a decryption key is needed to convert the data back to its original plaintext; some keys are more complex than others. Only then can the data be retrieved. Data encryption is useful for data that is considered “at rest” or in motion where real-time usability is not needed.


Also known as de-identification, data masking also uses an algorithm to disguise data. Unlike encryption, though, the masking algorithm replaces real data with similar values to figuratively “mask” sensitive information including names, credit card numbers, social security numbers, addresses, emails, phone numbers, etc. The data can be retained for testing and analytics, but cannot be re-identified nor leaked by bad actors.

DataData Masking and Encryption are two different methods for protecting your data from bad actors.

The original data is masked and the results can be made permanent when there is no need to reverse the masking. Data masking is a fine-grained security approach to protecting data. Unlike in the case of encryption, where the whole point is for the data to be decrypted for later use, data masking is a more permanent solution to data protection.

In the data privacy world, data encryption and data masking are widely considered standards for the most effective and powerful methods to guard against unauthorized access and nefarious use of sensitive data, such as personal information regulated under GDPR, CCPA, and other data privacy protection laws.

While there are some similarities between encryption and data masking, application of either can highlight their distinct differences. Should you need help with your data security, the SIMBA Chain team can help; we look forward to working with you.