Written by: Technology

What Is Encryption

What are some of the ways you can safeguard your data in today’s world? Encryption is one way. But what is encryption? Well, encryption is using algorithms to change information from human-readable form to incomprehensible mode. It’s done for security purposes and prevents people from snooping on your data.

encryption
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

If someone succeeds in intercepting your information, their efforts are futile. How’s that possible? Because encryption transforms your text from a simple “Hello” to a complex “@5}^Bh#$“. That’s an example of how the algorithm changes the clear text to ciphertext. You can’t make sense of it until you decrypt it. 

You can encrypt data whether it’s at rest ( in storage) or whether it’s in transit ( moving from one point to another). Your flash drive, for instance, has data at rest. When you send an email, that’s data is in transit. 

There are two main categories of encryption: symmetric and asymmetric encryption. Asymmetric encryption has two keys to encrypt data, while symmetric mode has one key. 

You can use a key to either encrypt or decrypt data. 

Let’s break these encryption methods further. 

Symmetric Encryption 

There’s only one key used in symmetric encryption, which makes the process faster. You only need a single key to encrypt or decrypt the data; this has high-security risks.  

If the key falls into the wrong hands, all your encrypted data gets compromised. So only use symmetric encryption when in a closed network with limited users. 

Examples of symmetric encryption 

Data Encryption System (DES) 

Regarded as the federal standard in 1977, DES has since lost that status. DES is not widely used today due to massive growth in technology as better algorithms have come up. New encryption algorithms, like 3-DES, have emerged based on it. 

Triple DES/ 3-DES 

It runs three times on the original DES algorithm, explaining its triple DES/ 3-DES name. 3 -DES has many iterations. 

Some 3 DES versions use three keys to encrypt data, while others use one key thrice. 

Asymmetric Encryption 

With asymmetric encryption, you have two keys, a public one, and a matching private key. 

In asymmetric encryption, you can only use the public key to encrypt the data. When you want to access the encrypted information, you need to decrypt it. 

This is where your private key comes in. It decrypts the information locked by the matching public key. 

You can share the public key with other users; but, keep the private key to yourself. It protects your data from prohibited access. 

Compared to symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption takes time. 

Examples of asymmetric encryption 

RSA 

RSA derives its name from the surnames of the three scientists who came up with the algorithms. They are Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman. Besides encryption, you can use RSA for authentication. It’s regarded as the first algorithm to get adopted for public use. 

Why Is Encryption Vital? 

Rules 

Keeping certain information private and confidential is a rule in some jurisdictions. It has made many organizations resort to encryption to play by the regulations.

There are legal consequences if found flouting such rules. Here are some laws that require protection of data:

  1. FERPA: The Family Education and Rights Protection Act. FERPA requires schools to protect students’ education records. It has guidelines on how your school handles your student data. Your school can only share your data according to FERPA regulations. 
  2. GDPR: Websites have to conform to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). If you’re a European citizen, GDPR governs how websites’ collect your data. Under GDPR, websites inform you whether they’re tracking you. You’re also given the option to opt-out of targeting cookies. 
  3. HIPAA: In the US, there is the Health Insurance Providers Portability Act, often known as HIPAA. HIPAA tasks health practitioners with protecting their patient’s data online.
  4. FDCPA: Retailers in the US have to contend with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It has a broad reach when it comes to consumer affairs. For instance, FDCPA prevents tenant screening firms from sharing information without following procedures. 

Prevention Measure 

Many hackers have accessed computer networks leaving mayhem in their wake. Some do it for fun, others to steal information, and others hijack systems to demand ransom. 

Hacking happens across both the public and private sectors. Encryption is a necessary prevention measure. 

Some firms aren’t so lucky. Crucial data gets wiped out of their systems or hijacked, crippling their operations. 

Colonial Pipeline had to stop operations after hackers hijacked its systems. Being the largest pipeline in the US, the situation affected oil flow in the Eastern part of America. In the end, the pipeline’s operators had to pay a $ 4.4 million ransom. 

Encryption can help protect your company from such an instance. 

Privacy 

With high e-commerce growth over the decade, more and more people are shopping online. Such firms handle your identifiable information. An example is home address and credit card data. Ensuring your consumer data is confidential is crucial. 

You can also access your bank account from your phone, tablet, laptop, or computer. This exposes you to hacking risks. Amongst other security measures, encryption comes in handy. A secure and encrypted link to banking systems ensures secure transactions. 

Work needs 

In some workplaces, you must use encryption. 

If you work in such an environment, always follow the laid down regulations. When you use an unencrypted webpage, you are exposing your workplace to cybercriminals. 

If possible, take a minute to ensure you’re using a website with secure encryption. If it has a padlock sign at the search bar, you’re in good company. Also, look if it has “HTTPS as its prefix. If it doesn’t have that, you shouldn’t submit any personal details with that site. There’s a high possibility that it’s a fake website that wants to steal your data, also known as phishing. 

Besides encrypting your data, here are some of the ways you can protect yourself when online: 

  • Conduct regular security scans with your anti-virus software to detect and fix threats. Don’t let viruses get comfortable in your devices. Remember to scan any external storage devices when you connect them to your computer. 
  • Avoid opening attachments without a second thought; some are malware. Where possible, use PDF files or cloud file-sharing options. Some attachments need you to enable macro viewing. Please don’t do that. That may be malware and infect many other files on your device. 
  • Always use the latest software on your devices. Every software from the anti-virus system to the Operating System (OS) should be up to date. New software versions have enhanced security, having fixed security and functionality patches. 
  • Always backup your data in a hard drive and the cloud where possible. This enables you to restore crucial data if it happens to get infected with malware. 
  • Always adhere to the information security policy in your workplace. 

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Last modified: August 8, 2021