The art of encryption, a tactic for securing the secrecy of a message, is far from new. It’s likely you rely on encryption regularly but did not even realize it. Today, encrypting data to protect personal information has become more commonplace than ever before. But, the question remains: what is encryption, exactly, and how does it really work?
What is Encryption?
Encrypting data is the most effective way available right now to ensure its security. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, encryption is “the process of encoding a message so that it can be read only by the sender and the intended recipient.”
Are you still wondering, what is encryption? Well, this is an example anyone can relate to. Every time you make a purchase over the Internet, online merchants increase cyber security by encrypting sensitive transaction data, such as credit card and phone numbers, as they process the sale.
How Does it Work?
The encryption process typically uses two keys. The public key, as the name suggests, is publicly visible, but the private key enables only the recipient to decode the data. The public key may be downloaded by anyone, but can only be decrypted with the private key. These two keys used in conjunction with one another are referred to as asymmetric keys.
For example, if you shop online for jeans, your computer’s secure connection uses a public key to send scrambled data to a remote system, which can decode it with a private key. Without the private key, the message appears as gibberish. The encrypted data can only be deciphered by possessing both keys.
Passwords, on the other hand, are symmetric keys. For this older method of security, the user must keep the password secret because this information is all that is necessary to encrypt data.
How Do I Benefit?
With computer hacking at an all-time high, data encryption is as necessary today as it ever has been. Just by scrambling information, encryption protects consumers from identity theft, unauthorized bank account withdrawals and other criminal activities.
But what is encryption good for? Many kinds of personal and business confidential data are protected with encryption.
- Credit card info
- Social Security Numbers
- Private correspondence
- Personal details, like birthdate
- Bank account information
Encryption is also used to prevent fraud, insider trading and espionage.
Types of Encryption
- Transport encryption secures your web browser while you use it. This method is safe but not failsafe. Well-funded hackers have been known to break these encryptions.
- File encryption protects an entire file, such as a Word document, from hacking. This process works regardless of device or mode of transport.
- Database encryption protects not just one file but an entire database.
- Device encryption protects a whole storage device, like a mobile phone. This will protect your private information if the device is lost or stolen. Passwords or passcodes must be used to decrypt the device for its user.
As hackers become more persistent and clever with their malicious attacks, encryption algorithms are growing more complex to keep your data safe. It’s another digital arms race of the future to keep an eye on.