Encryption! What Is It? Why Is It Important?
Bytes: What is data encryption? How does data encryption work? How can I encrypt my data? All these are asked by curious minds like you and today I am going to break it all down for you.
For starters, data encryption is the process of transforming electronic information into a scrambled form that can only be read by someone who knows how to translate the code. Basically, it’s like making your information unreadable by others. This helps if someone gains unauthorized access to your device since they won’t be able to access your data. This is in fact the easiest and most practical method of protecting data that is stored, processed or transmitted electronically.
Today, there are mainly two types of encryption methods in use and these include asymmetric encryption also known as public-key encryption and symmetric encryption. These can play a huge in protecting your data
1: Symmetric encryption
Symmetric encryption, for example, takes readable data (plain text) and scrambles it to make it unreadable (as its being stored on a disk or being transmitted over a network) and then unscramble it again when need be. In symmetric encryption, both the encrypter and decrypter need the same key in order to access the data. In this case, a key for symmetric encryption, is a string of data that is fed to the encrypter in order to scramble the data and make it encrypted. The problematic part about using symmetric encryption is how to store the key and make it available only to the software that needs it.
Symmetric encryption is used by service providers that store encrypted data on behalf of a user (cloud backup services) when those services leave the decryption key in the hands of the user. It is also used to encrypt computer or device storage.
It has great use in securing channel between two network endpoints, provided there is a separate scheme for securely exchanging the key. What to be aware of is that the key needs to be protected even while it’s being shared among the different parties that need it.
2. Asymmetric encryption
On the other hand Asymmetric encryption also referred to as public-key encryption takes the readable data, scrambles it and unscrambles it again on the other end. However, a different key is used for each end. Encrypters use a public key to scramble the data and the decrypters use the matching private keys or secret key on the other end to unscramble the data. Asymmetric encryption is widely used on the internet. It’s used with TLS (SSL) to secure connections between browser and website as well as other network services.
It’s also used with SSH to secure login sessions to remote servers as well as authorize (through signing) users without using passwords.
Also when updating softwares on our devices, it is used to sign software updates so the computers and devices can know that they are getting code from a trusted party.
In this world we live in today, there are rampant attacks by hackers on organizations and even individuals. Our very own governments and security agencies also spy on us everyday and with the right knowledge of data encryption, you can at least try to protect your private data from malicious people who want to access it and also stop your life from being preyed upon. Data encryption becomes a big deal under these circumstances. Because of encryption, you can securely transact or do your banking online, send secured emails or text messages and share more sensitive and valuable information without worrying much that it will be intercepted by someone.
There are data encryption solutions that you can use to safeguard your data. The best known data encryption program is called RSA. It was developed in the 1970s by three graduates of MIT and by 2000, there were over 300 million copies of the RSA encryption program installed on computer systems worldwide. RSA scrambles the data based on products of two prime numbers each of which are 100 digits long. RSA is a public key encryption system therefore many people can use it to encrypt information. However, it’s only the person with the key (or the one who knows the value of the two prime numbers) who can decrypt it again. RSA has been largely utilized by many organizations and even companies like Windows, Lotus, Quicken etc have embedded it into their software. RSA is also available as a free download from the web.
Apart from RSA, there are still many data encryption programs that are used widely as well. Such include Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) which is among the easiest to use. There is also the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) which is widely used by companies that do online transactions like accepting credit card orders and others that also offer services on the World Wide Web and also Data Encryption Standard which was invented by IBM in the 1970s and eventually became U.S government standard. Most preferably PGP would be quite good for an individual considering it is quite easy to use.
In order for you to safeguard your information and secure all your data, you must have a good knowledge of how data encryption works and how best you can utilize it. I know it seems and looks like a very complicated process, but remember that you don’t have to do this on your own because there is already data loss prevention software that does the task reliably every time and all you have to do is choose a good data loss prevention software that provides data encryption with the device, email and even application control. Much as data encryption is a great solution to safeguard your information, don’t just stop with data encryption. Incorporate any possible ways of preventing others from accessing your data on your devices for example, avoid sharing your devices that hold your sensitive information. For information is only as safe as the device that holds it. I hope this increases your data security awareness and helps you secure your data better.