Data in motion is one of three states of digital information flow or transfer from one place to another. It can occur within the same computer, such as when you copy a file from one folder to another. It can also describe the process of transferring files from one computer to another, like sending an email or obtaining a file from a portable flash drive.

Data in motion is also called “data in flight” and “data in transit.” The other states of data are data at rest (i.e., digital information that isn’t accessed or used, such as backup and archived files) and data in use (i.e., data in word processors, spreadsheets, and other Office or database applications).

Read More about Data in Motion

We’ll talk more about data in motion and other relevant concepts below.

What Are the Three States of Data?

Data in motion is one of the three states of data. Below is a rundown of each.

  • Data at rest: Occurs when files aren’t actively used, such as those stored in archives, cloud storage, or portable storage devices.
  • Data in motion: Digital information is transmitted from one location to another.
  • Data in use: Refers to files currently in use, either by a database, an application, or a device.
data in motion vs data at rest vs data in use

What Are Examples of Data in Motion?

Almost all types of digital information go through the data in motion state. For example, when uploading your vacation photos onto social media platforms, those files become data in motion as they flow through the Internet from your phone to Instagram’s or Facebook’s servers.

Even the simple act of copying a Word document from one folder to another changes the state of that file from data in use or data at rest to data in motion.

Other examples of data in motion we see daily include:

  • Sending emails
  • Downloading email attachments
  • Getting weather and traffic status updates that change depending on your location
  • Syncing phone images and videos automatically to iCloud, Google Photos, and other cloud storage applications

Data in motion is critical in several industries. In emergency situations, for instance, an ambulance must transmit medical information to the hospital while in transit to prepare the emergency department.

What Is Data in Motion Security, and Why Is It Important?

Data in motion security is the process of protecting any data transmitted from being accessed and modified by unauthorized people. Malicious actors may find ways to go between two parties and hijack any information they’re exchanging.

In a medical emergency, unprotected data in motion may enable cyber attackers to relay the wrong information to the hospital. That could be detrimental to the patient’s health and life.

Even in nonlife-threatening situations, data in motion security is still essential. There may be sensitive data on your phone that attackers can hijack as it is transmitted to iCloud. Worse, threat actors may be able to see your credit card details as you purchase items from an e-commerce store.

How Do You Secure Data in Motion?

Encryption is the most common way of protecting data in motion. Below are some examples of the methods used to protect data in transit.

  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS): HTTPS is the standard encryption method used to protect communications over the Internet. It is represented by a lock symbol on your browser, which is one of the things to look out for when browsing the Internet. Make sure the e-commerce and bank websites you visit use HTTPS.
  • End-to-end encryption: This method ensures that only the sender and intended recipient can view the data. No one else can decode the encrypted data as it travels from one device to another. WhatsApp, Apple, Google, and other tech companies use this method to protect their users.
  • Virtual private network (VPN): Several Internet users employ VPN services to protect their data while browsing the Internet. That is because VPNs typically use Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), a transit encryption protocol that prevents hackers from seeing the contents of data in motion.

Whether data is at rest, in motion, or in use, securing it is important to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on your information.

Key Takeaways

  • The three states of data are data at rest, data in motion, and data in use.
  • Data in motion happens when the data is transmitted within a computer or from one device to another.
  • Generally, all types of data go through the data in motion state.
  • Examples of data in motion is phone data that’s automatically synced to iCloud, emails sent, files downloaded, and traffic data updated as you travel.
  • Hackers can access and modify data in motion, which is why encryption is critical.
  • Make sure your browser sessions are protected by HTTPS.
  • Most tech companies like Google and Apple use end-to-end encryption to protect the data users transmit.
  • Several people use VPNs to protect their data.