What is Data Encryption?
Data encryption refers to mathematical calculations and algorithmic schemes that transform plaintext into cyphertext, a form that is non-readable to unauthorized parties. The recipient of an encrypted message uses a key which triggers the algorithm mechanism to decrypt the data, transforming it to the original plaintext version.
Before the internet, data encryption was seldom used by the public as it was more of a military security tool. With the prevalence of online shopping, banking and other services, even basic home users are now aware of data encryption.
Today's web browsers automatically encrypt text when making a connection to a secure server. This prevents intruders from listening in on private communications. Even if they are able to capture the message, encryption allows them to only view scrambled text or what many call unreadable gibberish. Upon arrival, the data is decrypted, allowing the intended recipient to view the message in its original form.
Types of Data Encryption
There are many different types of data encryption, but not all are reliable. In the beginning, 64-bit encryption was thought to be strong, but was proven wrong with the introduction of 128-bit solutions. AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the new standard and permits a maximum of 256-bits. In general, the stronger the computer, the better chance it has at breaking a data encryption scheme.
Data encryption schemes generally fall in two categories: symmetric and asymmetric. AES, DES and Blowfish use symmetric key algorithms. Each system uses a key which is shared among the sender and the recipient. This key has the ability to encrypt and decrypt the data. With asymmetric encryption such as Diffie-Hellman and RSA, a pair of keys is created and assigned: a private key and a public key. The public key can be known by anyone and used to encrypt data that will be sent to the owner. Once the message is encrypted, it can only be decrypted by the owner of the private key. Asymmetric encryption is said to be somewhat more secure than symmetric encryption as the private key is not to be shared.
Strong encryption like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) will keep data private, but cannot always ensure security. Websites using this type of data encryption can be verified by checking the digital signature on their certificate, which should be validated by an approved CA (Certificate Authority).
As more users come to understand the internet's open nature and the dangers of web surfing, applying data encryption to common communications such as emailing and instant messaging is likely to become more popular. Without this security mechanism, information transferred over the internet can be easily captured and viewed by anyone listening. This critical data can be compromised in a number of ways, especially when stored in servers that might change hands over the years. When considering how detrimental crimes like are identity theft are on the rise, data encryption is well worth pursuing.
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