Decoding “Encryption” – The Basics

Encryption has been a hot topic in cyber security news lately. Strong encryption vs. weak encryption, “back doors” and, sometimes, “front doors,” there’s a lot of jargon to keep track up. And to add an additional layer of complexity, there can sometimes be opposing positions from government and IT support companies. All this chatter may have you wondering if you have the correct opinion about encryption.

Maybe you are wondering if it’s a good idea to use encryption, or maybe you’re wondering if your communications are already encrypted? We are going to take a few minutes to go over the basics of encryption so that, regardless of your opinion on the matter, you can at least join the conversation, or start one with your IT staff!

What Is It?

Encryption is a fundamental method of keeping your data and communications secure in the very open and unsecured space that is the Internet. Encryption basically scrambles your communications online so that it is only readable when it can be deciphered with a key. The idea being that other web browsers, hackers, Internet service providers, and pretty much anyone else who do not have that decipher key will not be able to see or understand your data. The following are some terms often associated with encryption.

  • At Rest: Encryption can be used to protect your data while it is “at rest.” Data stored in files on your computer, on your phone or on your tablet is all considered data at rest. Encrypting that data protects your data from being seen by people that may have access to your devices, or protects your data if these devices are lost or stolen. The “key” in this case often involves a password or passcode to unlock the device.           
  • In Transit: In addition to protecting data at rest, encryption is used to protect data as it moves from one place to another over the internet. Encrypting data in transit is where the deciphering comes into play. Your data will be unreadable in transit, but either side of the path (perhaps your computer and the website you are viewing) exchange the keys to make your data recognizable again. 
  • End to End: The most secure kind of encryption is end-to-end encryption, because only the sender and recipient can decipher the encrypted data; no middleman, hosting site, or other parties can see the information, or spy on your activity. There are multiple levels of this type of encryption, sometimes each message is encrypted so that the previous message is coded to decipher the next. Therefore, if a hacker was able to crack one message, the entire conversation would not be compromised.

How You Currently Use Encryption

With the frequency of digital communication today and the amount of information we send through the internet, encryption is becoming more standard. Most websites use encryption to exchange data with you. You’ve probably noticed the small lock icon in your browser bar, this is an indication that the website you are using is sending and receiving encrypted data. This keeps the information you are sending or receiving, the blog you are reading, your log-in information, or your credit card number that you are entering hidden from hackers.

As mentioned earlier, encryption is a basic method of cyber security and becoming a standard means of keeping your data safe, which in turn keeps a business’s reputation and client base strong.

Using Encryption To Your Advantage

As with all cyber security measures, encryption exists on a spectrum of effectiveness and strengths. There are different algorithms of encryption, some stronger than others, and different internet and data uses call for different degrees of encryption. If you have sensitive data on your computer, perhaps you want to consider encrypting specific files, or depending on your individual situation, perhaps you should be protecting your information by securing your entire server.

If you are exchanging personal information between yourself and clients, you will want to enable your website with the strongest encryption possible that allows you to pass that information to without the threat of being intercepted.

The elephant in the room is this; encryption can be hacked. Maintaining strong digital security requires a constant, watchful eye on your network and data, frequent software updates, and knowledge of newly discovered security weaknesses and threats. Although encryption is becoming a default security measure for most exchanges on the internet, prudent business owners will still want to focus on strong digital and data security, which might entail hiring experts who can dedicate the time and resources to ensuring systems are protected against vulnerabilities.

Your team should know about the latest security threats, implement the strongest security measures for your data, and maintain that security 24/7.