What Is Encryption?
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What Is Encryption?

5 Min.

Digital data can be secured through encryption, which involves encoding it mathematically using cryptography. Only individuals with the correct key or password can decrypt and read the data. Digital encryption utilizes an algorithm that renders the original information unreadable. In today's digitally connected world, encryption plays a vital role in maintaining the security of private information, messages, and financial transactions.

Basics

Cryptography, a set of mathematical techniques, serves as the foundation for securing digital data through encryption. By employing an algorithm, encryption transforms the original text, or plaintext, into an incomprehensible form known as ciphertext.
When authorized individuals require access to the data, decryption utilizing a binary key or password is employed. This process reverts the ciphertext to plaintext, enabling users to retrieve the original information.
Encryption plays a vital role in safeguarding sensitive data against cyber threats for both individuals and organizations. To illustrate, websites that handle credit card and bank account numbers encrypt such information to counter identity theft and fraudulent activities.

How Does Encryption Functionate?

Encryption, a fundamental aspect of digital security, operates on the principle that its strength is contingent upon the length of the encryption security key employed. In earlier times, web developers relied on 40-bit or 56-bit encryption keys, offering a finite number of permutations for security.
However, as the late 20th century progressed, hackers succeeded in breaching these encryption keys. Consequently, a new standard emerged: the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Established in 2001 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the AES introduced 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit encryption key lengths.
Today, the implementation of 256-bit encryption has become the norm for entities like banks, militaries, and governments, ensuring heightened security and resilience against potential threats.

Encryption Types

Asymmetric Encryption: Prioritizing Security and Identity Verification

Asymmetric cryptography is the favored option when maximum security and identity verification are necessary. It finds utility in digital signatures for online document signing and transaction authorization in blockchain-based cryptocurrency systems.
Asymmetric-key algorithms employ distinct keys for encryption and decryption processes. Prominent examples of asymmetric encryption are RSA and PKI. RSA facilitates secure data transmission by encrypting data with a public key and decrypting it with a corresponding private key. Public key infrastructure (PKI) oversees encryption keys by issuing and managing digital certificates.

Symmetric Encryption: Emphasizing Speed

When speed takes precedence over heightened security, symmetric encryption assumes significance. This method utilizes a single secret symmetric key to encrypt the plaintext and decrypt the ciphertext. Symmetric encryption finds extensive application in credit card transactions.
Symmetric encryption encompasses notable methods such as Data Encryption Standards (DES), which employs a 64-bit block cipher algorithm to convert plain text into ciphertext using 48-bit keys. Another widely adopted encryption standard is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), globally recognized as the gold standard for data encryption and endorsed by the U.S. government.

The Advantages of Encryption

In the digital realm, encryption emerges as a crucial tool for preserving the confidentiality of computer-stored data and secure transmission over the internet. As organizations increasingly embrace hybrid and multi-cloud environments, concerns arise regarding public cloud security and data protection within complex infrastructures.
While cloud service providers bear responsibility for cloud security, customers must prioritize safeguarding data within the cloud, particularly sensitive information. Implementing robust encryption measures becomes essential, complemented by effective encryption key management, access control, and comprehensive audit logging capabilities.
Encryption significantly benefits businesses and consumers, offering security across file, database, and application levels for both on-premise and cloud data. Compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) mandates the encryption of customers' payment card data during storage and transmission across public networks, further enhancing security for merchants.

Public Key vs. Private Key

In asymmetric encryption cryptography, there is a significant difference between the public key and the private key. These keys serve the purpose of encrypting and decrypting data. While the public key can be openly shared, the private key remains confidential and accessible only to the owner.
Utilizing this approach, an individual can encrypt a message by employing the recipient's public key. However, the encrypted message can only be decrypted using the recipient's private key. This ensures that only the intended recipient can access and decipher the encrypted information.

The Role of Hashing in Cryptography

Hashing is vital in cybersecurity and various cryptocurrency protocols, including Bitcoin. This cryptographic technique involves transforming data into a unique text string. It is a mathematical operation that is easily executed but challenging to reverse.
In everyday scenarios, individuals encounter hashing in the realm of passwords. For instance, when creating an email account, the email provider does not store the actual password. Instead, it undergoes a hashing algorithm, and the resulting hash is saved. During subsequent sign-ins, the entered password is hashed and compared to the stored hash. Access to the email account is granted only when the two hashes match, ensuring secure authentication.

Cryptographic Failures

Cryptographic failures refer to security weaknesses that expose sensitive data, including passwords, patient health records, business secrets, credit card information, email addresses, and other personal user information. These failures often stem from inadequate or non-existent cryptographic algorithms.
A notable example occurred in 2013 when Target Corporation experienced a cyberattack. The hackers successfully compromised the data of approximately 40 million credit cards. Despite encryption measures in place, the hackers' advanced techniques managed to breach the encryption, resulting in one of the largest security breaches in U.S. history. The incident prompted investigations by the U.S. Secret Service and the Justice Department.

Conclusion

In the current digital landscape, it is essential to use encryption to safeguard private information, messages, and financial transactions. By ensuring the confidentiality of digital data, encryption plays a pivotal role in protecting sensitive information stored on computer systems or transmitted over the internet.
There are various encryption techniques, but the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is considered the most reliable for data encryption. Widely adopted globally and endorsed by the U.S. government, AES stands as a testament to the efficacy and reliability of encryption in the digital realm.

Encryption
Hashing
Cryptographic Keys
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