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News broadcasts, TV dramas, and even science fiction shows often discuss encryption. With all of that hype, you might be a little intimidated by the whole idea. Encryption isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, and it can play a vital role in protecting your information while you’re online.
Encryption takes real information and turns it into nonsense. The only way to retrieve the real information from the jumble of symbols that result is to use a cipher, which reveals that pattern that was used to enact the encryption in the first place.
Sometimes the cipher is incredibly simple. For example, in the sentence “I like apples,” you can replace each letter with a number. The number 1 represents A, 2 represents B, and so on. Ultimately the sentence becomes “9 1291115 1161612519.”
Most computer-based encryption is much more sophisticated. The cipher could be a complex alphanumeric algorithm that would take a genius — or a whole team of geniuses — to unravel if they didn’t have the cipher on hand.
Types of Encryption
While it would take endless time to delve into all the intricate details of the different encryption methods and their nuances, there are three basic types of encryption that are easy to understand.
This is the most basic type of encryption, and many online services use it to protect their customers’ information. With symmetric encryption, data is scrambled at one end of a communication. To decrypt the data, the person or computer that receives the communication uses the same key that was used to scramble it in the first place. Symmetric encryption is usually secure if the cipher remains protected from hackers.
With asymmetric encryption, one party uses a widely known and published key to encrypt the information. However, the recipient cannot decrypt the data unless the recipient has a different, private key.
The primary drawback to this type of encryption is that in order to use it you must be able to trust the source of the public key. Asymmetric encryption is vulnerable to many in the middle cyberattacks.
With hashing, cryptography creates a hash out of the data. The same data always creates the same hash, but it isn’t possible to unscramble the data. This is often used to protect passwords, and it’s probably why when you forget a password, the website can’t tell you what your password was. Instead, it can just reset the password for you.
While each type of encryption has drawbacks, companies are always working hard to strengthen their encryption methods. For example, some companies use end-to-end encryption, which means that only the sender and receiver can look at the data. It’s impossible even for the company that’s hosting the service to spy on the data.
Why Encryption Is Important
Recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the news about encryption, since some look down on encryption as a tool for terrorists. While it’s true that encryption, like any other form of technology, can be misused, that doesn’t mean strong encryption should be done away with.
Hackers are continually getting smarter, which means that the safeguards that stop them should also evolve. Without the proper protection, sensitive consumer data becomes vulnerable to theft.
Recently, the FBI tried to pressure Apple into creating a new version of iOS, or a version with a “back door” that would allow the FBI to access the data on a terror suspect’s phone. Apple resisted because as CEO Tim Cook put it, “You can’t have a back door that’s only for the good guys.” Indeed, the search to protect people should not compromise their security in the process. Weakening encryption for the sake of catching the bad guys is simply exchanging one problem for another one.
How to Take Advantage of Encryption
Many websites use encryption to protect your sensitive data from hackers, but that might not be enough. To keep your information safe from hackers, you should take extra steps to protect yourself. One way to do this is through the use of a virtual private network (VPN) that encrypts your data, thereby hiding it from prying eyes. Hotspot Shield VPN has been advocating consumer privacy rights for more than a decade.
Encryption isn’t some mystical tech tool that only the bad guys can use. In fact, when encryption is used properly, it’s an essential force for good in the cyber universe. Encryption has the potential to keep your data secure and contribute to your peace of mind.