ELI5: data at rest

Dealing with data is a huge undertaking. You need to know the data lifecycle, how to safeguard your data, how to integrate data flows across your tech stack, plus manage and convert data in its different formats and states.

One state of data is data at rest. And in recent years, thanks to tighter legislation and ever-smarter cyberattacks, the need to protect data at rest has grown.

But what is data at rest, and what does it mean to protect it? Here’s an ‘explain like I’m 5’ overview.

What is data at rest?

Data at rest is data that is stored on something like a hard drive, a USB device, a mobile device, etc. It’s any digital data that you have, regardless of format, that is not being accessed, moved, or used.

Data at rest involves both structured and unstructured data.

Because data at rest can take various formats and storage options, it can require transformation and integration to put it to use.

The states of digital data

Data at rest is one of three states of digital data. The other two are data in transit/motion, and data in use.

Data in transit/data in motion is data that is digitally travelling. That is, it’s being transmitted between applications or computers, sent through live chat or email, for instance.

💡 You can think of the difference here as data at rest is information that’s ‘staying at home’, while data in transit is out on a journey somewhere.

Data in use is data that is currently being opened/accessed and applied to an application, users, or another method of consuming information.

💡 You can think of this difference as data in use being data that’s gotten where it needs to be and is now taking part in the party.


Data at rest does bring with it a few potential concerns.

The first of these is that data in storage (that is, at rest) is data not delivering on its value. While it’s necessary to store data in order to use it, data that’s left at rest can end up trapped in siloes. It takes integration and tools like automation/middleware services to unlock such repositories of information.

There are also the costs of storing data to consider.

While the benefits justify the costs of storage for some data, other data that gets outdated or stored without reason increases costs without providing value.

The biggest issue with data at rest, however, is that of privacy and security. Traditionally, the spotlight of data protection and encryption rested on data in transit. Because of this, data at rest can present a liability for owners — and an opportunity for bad actors.

For instance, the physical device that’s holding the data at rest could get misplaced or stolen. Because it has less protection than data in transit, it could be a lucrative target for cyber thieves that manage to break onto your network.

And the longer you keep data at rest, the more likely it could fall into the wrong hands.

Protection and encryption

With today’s increased focus on data privacy and security, more attention and expectation has fallen onto protecting data at rest.

This has led to the creation of the terms DARP (data at rest protection) and DARE (data at rest encryption).

Securing data at rest is about making sure that the systems it’s resting on are secure. Robust cybersecurity measures must be in place. When you encrypt your data at rest, (and not just your data in transit), you create an extra level of protection for the data in your databases, sitting as backups and so on.

Data at rest

TL;DR: Data at rest is the name for the data you’re storing. It’s data that you’ve collected, but you aren’t sending, using, or manipulating in any way. It has recently gained attention as a potential security weakness.

So, all you need to know about data at rest is that it’s data in storage that needs more attention paid to protecting it.

Useful links

Using ThinkAutomation as an ETL tool

The importance of system integration: does your software play well with others?

Using automation for cyber protection