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Understanding the types of encryption is important for data security. In a world where an incomprehensible amount of information is created, stored, and shared digitally, the need for security is at an all-time high.
Keeping a close watch on information on your hard drive isn’t enough – whenever you send out a file, receive a file, or even connect to any type of network – you’re facing some level of risk.
How risky can these situations be?
It depends – but the worst-case scenarios are ones no one wants to experience. From simply losing data to becoming a victim of identity theft, there are many fates that can befall someone whose cyber-privacy is compromised.
To get around this growing threat, more people are turning to encryption. This tactic has been around for a long time, and it’s becoming more popular as the digital landscape becomes more important to daily life.
From instant messaging platforms to any website with a payment portal, encryption is everywhere. In order to make sensitive data inaccessible to unauthorized parties, users may choose to encrypt it, or scramble it, and make it illegible without the key.
That’s the basics of encryption – but let’s explore the concept in a little more detail, understand how it is used, then look at the three main types of encryption.
What Exactly is Encryption? Why is it Useful?
Encryption is a term used to describe the process of encoding data. As the name suggests, this changes how the data into code, or more importantly, how it appears when accessed. By scrambling the information, a person adds a degree of protection to it.
It’s a similar principle to hiding valuables out of sight. This doesn’t mean just keeping them in your home or car – it means keeping them away from windows, especially when you aren’t around to guard them. The bottom line is that thieves, even of the cyber variety, are less likely to pursue something if it isn’t readily accessible to them.
Even the savviest data thieves who know the best tricks out there can be caught off guard by encrypted data. Even when they find files or folders containing something they want, they may be put off by the scrambled results and thus give up their attempt altogether. It’s possible to encrypt entire folders and directories if you wish – giving you unlimited protection and keeping wandering eyes off your private information.
The process of encryption is fundamentally tied to the encryption key. The key can be copied and saved as its own file and passed around to other authorized parties. This ensures only those with the key can access the data. This process is known as public-key cryptography.
Cryptography has been around since the days of World War 2, with military forces and intelligence groups from countries trying to crack the others’ codes. Now the process is used to protect everything from payment information on major shopping sites to private files saved on an individual’s cloud account.
While encryption is useful in that it helps turn data into a code and makes the original file impossible to access, how exactly does it work?
Understanding the Process of Encryption
What’s the benefit to understanding encryption? For the average user, it’s handy – but for big companies or any organization that provides a service for others to use online, it is vital.
Encryption is something most people use on a regular basis even if they don’t realize it. That’s because many apps, programs, and digital services use encryption as a fundamental part of their design. If they didn’t, it’d be much easier for data theft to affect their users – meaning encryption is vital for much of the technology people depend on.
Here’s an example. A messaging app using encrypted service would take a message that is sent and wrap it in code – scrambling it and making it illegible to unauthorized parties. The app also creates an encryption key here, which is only available to the message’s intended recipient. They unlock it automatically upon receiving a message.
Encryption is a very complex process. This is what makes it effective, and it allows for improved security whether a person is communicating with others or making a purchase. Encryption has become so thorough, new encryption algorithms are created every time two users begin communicating on smartphones.
But not all encryption is equal – there are several types of encryption, each offering its own benefits. Here’s a bit about the different options you have to choose from when you want to encode your data for maximum protection.
What Are the Different Types of Encryption?
Here’s an overview of the different types of encryption.
While there is a great amount of detail to each type and a wealth of information about what makes them distinct, we’ll cover the fundamentals here and go deep enough to showcase their differences.
As the name suggests, symmetric encryption utilizes a system that seems the same type of key used for the encryption and decryption processes. Just as a message can be scrambled and turned to code, it must also be transformed back into its normal form once the proper key is used.
This process requires the sender and receiver to have the same key. This can make things a bit simpler in some cases, but a bit trickier in others. For example, a person may be required to send a key to someone else. The trick is making sure that key isn’t accessed by anyone else, and is only used for the intended program.
When is symmetric encryption preferable? It’s best used in situations where the same user who encrypts the data will decrypt it. Examples include cloud storage services – while the data may be sent from a cloud storage computer, it will ultimately be accessed on the device of the user paying for the cloud service.
Symmetric encryption can create a secure link between two endpoints on a similar network, provided there is a way to transfer the key. It is also very useful for single-device needs, such as storing passwords.
This style of encryption is sometimes referred to as public key cryptography. This system uses a pair of different keys. Either can be used to encrypt the data, but the opposite must be used to decrypt the data. The set of mismatched keys are both numbers, but are different – hence the name of the style.
The keys are different in the sense that one is public and one is private.
The public key can be shared with everyone, with the only issue being that users need to be certain it is from authorized parties. Asymmetric encryption is important for various protocols including S/MIME, OpenPGP, SSL/TLS, and SSH.
Asymmetric encryption is commonly used in website certificates, which can validate whether a connection is secure and from a reputable source. This is true whether the site is trying to save cookies on the user’s computer, or the user is trying to send information through the site. Asymmetric encryption is also useful for digital signatures.
Hashing is a type of encryption, but it is used only for the purpose of data verification. For this type, the same input will always produce the same output. It’s also impossible to revert back to the original data.
The basic nature of a hash function and its one-way design means its useful for checking source integrity. Verifying message senders’ identities, verifying digital signatures, and other similar functions are all used in conjunction with hashing.
Since hashing isn’t a two-way process, it’s technically different from encryption. But it also falls under the same umbrella, as it does work in the same way as encoding. This just shows how complex the field of encryption is, and how many different options can work to meet many different types of user needs.
Why Encryption Matters So Much Moving Forward
With technology becoming a bigger part of communication, education, shopping, news reporting, and business – there’s a bigger focus on data protection.
There are many horror stories about data being accessed by unauthorized parties, with a lot of financial and reputational damage that followed. Stopping this type of issue before it begins can save a person a lot of headaches. This requires them to understand a bit about the types of encryption and what they’re used for.
Sending data from one party to another is a complicated process. It’s done so often, and usually, so seamlessly, many people think little of it. But improvements to the encryption process over the years have helped thwart data thieves at many turns.
From the strength of the encryption to key to the way said the key is managed, many different factors influence how reliable an encryption process is. But while there are differences between them, encrypted connections are always better than the alternative – unless a person wants their private data available for anyone to access.
From symmetric, asymmetric, to hash in nature – the various types of encryption can all be useful in their own way. Protecting data is a tough job, but the process of encoding makes it much easier.