Encryption has been in the news recently. A proposal has been made by the European parliamentary committee that could see all forms of digital communications attached to end-to-end encryption.

Photo by Dan Nelson on Unsplash

Indeed, encryption has raised a heated debate recently and has had many people wondering what it is, why it is essential, and how it works. This article explains to you the basics of encryption. 

What is Encryption? 

Encryption is a technique of encoding files, data, or information to only be read or opened by the intended recipient.  It applies algorithmic programs to scramble data into useless gibberish. The only way to convert the encrypted information from the jumble of symbols is by applying the cipher technique to reveal the pattern used in enacting the encryption. 

History of Encryption 

Encryption is not a modern-day invention. Did you know that as early as 1900 B.C., the Egyptians were already applying encryption technology to disguise their messages?

Julius Caesar is also known to have used encryption at length to conceal his messages from the enemy. The military has always used the encryption technique as a war strategy. These examples are just a few of the many that show you that encryption techniques have been used for a long time. 

How Encryption Works

Encryption works by applying algorithmic models to scramble data into ciphertexts. The encrypted data is then transmitted to the recipient, who uses a decryption key to decrypt the encrypted data. 

Types of Encryptions

It will take a whole article to explain the intricate details of different encryption methods and their distinctions. However, we can classify encryption into three categories that are much easier to understand. The following are the types of encryption that you should know about; 

1 – Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric encryption is the most basic level of encryption. Several online services apply it in the protection of customer data against interceptions and unauthorized access. With this kind of encryption, normal data is scrambled using an encryption key to become unreadable. Then, the same key used to encrypt the data will again be used to decrypt it. 

The parties communicating via symmetric encryption must first exchange the secret key, which will then be used to decrypt data. Once the intended party with the decryption key has received the message, the algorithm will reverse its arrangements to return the encrypted text into a meaningful format. 

The secret key that the communicating parties use in encrypting and decrypting data can either be a specific password or a string of numbers or letters generated by a Random Number Generator. 

This type of encryption is widely applied in encrypting large amounts of data. Some of the popular applications of symmetric encryption include; 

  • Encryption of payment applications like credit card transactions where Personal Identifiable Information must be protected from identity thefts and data intrusions
  • Identity confirmation

2 – Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric encryption is different from symmetric encryption in that, whereas symmetric encryption uses one key to encrypt and decrypt data, asymmetric encryption uses two keys. The keys are referred to as the private key and the public key. The keys, when combined, are referred to as the public and private key pair. 

The public key is primarily meant to encrypt data, files, and information, whereas the private key decrypts the message. As such, only the intended recipient will know the details of the private key. 

A cryptographic algorithm is used in generating both the public and the private keys. The private and public keys are mathematically connected.  

Application of Asymmetric Encryption in SSL Certificates 

Reliable SSL certificates issued by trusted CAs such as AlphaSSL, Comodo SSL & Geotrust SSL certificates apply encryption in safeguarding in-transit data and information between web servers and website browsers. There are so many brands available in the SSL industry but make sure you choose the cheapest SSL as it will fit in your budget.

In SSL encryption, when the two parties (web browsers and web servers) meet, they must first validate their public and private keys. To achieve this, they must apply the asymmetric encryption algorithm. Once the validation process is successful and the two parties are sure about who they are communicating with, the data encryption procedure begins. 

Data encryption in SSL certificates happens via asymmetric encryption. The entire process is referred to as the SSL handshake. 

While visiting a website, it is essential to ensure that all your communications and data happens over an encrypted session. You can check the HTTPS status of a website to confirm whether or not the website is secure. 

Websites with an SSL certificate will have a padlock symbol and a URL beginning with HTTPS. On the other hand, websites without an SSL certificate will not have the padlock symbol, and the URL address will start with HTTP. 

3 – Hashing 

With hashing, a special cryptographic transforms a given data set into another set of data, called a hash, which cannot be unscrambled back to its original data. As a result, it is not possible to reconstruct the hashed data back to its original input data even when the hashed function is known.

Hashing is popular with password security. As you might know, when you forget your password, a website cannot tell you what your password was, and you have to create a new password. 

Reasons for Encryption

The following are the reasons why encryption is important.

1 – Data Security

There is no doubt that data breaches have been increasing and an Accenture Report seems to coincide with this fact. As a result, organizations and individuals are faced with the serious hurdle of ensuring that their data is safe from breaches. 

One perfect way of safeguarding data from data breaches is through encryption. Say, for example, an organization’s device is stolen. Still, its hard drive has been encrypted. As a result, the intruders won’t access information on the device because they lack the decryption keys. Similarly, data encryption enables data to move from one point to another without being compromised by intruders. 

2 – Privacy

Encryption ensures that only the intended party can read and decipher a given set of information. As such, intruders will not be able to access and read sensitive information. 

3 – Data Integrity

Data encryption ensures that the intended recipient receives uncompromised data. Through data encryption, what the recipient receives will not be tampered with in any way. 

4 – Authentication

Public key encryption helps to ascertain the identity of the party they are communicating with. 

5 – Regulation and Compliance

Regulatory and compliance standards such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) require encryption of user data. Encryption, therefore, helps to prevent consequences of noncompliance, such as fines and penalties. 

Conclusion

Encryption is a very fundamental concept of technology. Every internet user and website owner should be well conversant with the encryption concept and how it works. This article has explained the basics of encryption. If you are a website owner, ensure you protect your data by encrypting it. 

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