The average internet user probably does not spend a lot of time thinking about encryption, however, it is a fundamental tool that plays a huge role in keeping your data safe online. Data encryption is the process of converting plain text data into so-called “ciphertext” so that it cannot be understood by others. Put simply, it is a way of scrambling data so that only authorized people/computers can understand the information.
This process is done with the help of an algorithm and thus the safety of said encryption is based on the complexity of the algorithm used. The technology comes in many forms with key size and strength generally being the main variable between them.
The first method of encryption is called hashing. It creates a unique fixed-length signature for a message using an algorithm or a hash function. The main difference between hashing and the other encryption methods we will discuss today is that once the data is encrypted, the process is irreversible, meaning it can’t be deciphered. This method is most commonly used to compare sets of data.
Symmetric cryptography, also known as private-key cryptography is one of the oldest, yet still a very secure encryption method. As suggested in the name, there is only one key, and all parties use the same key for encrypting and decrypting messages. Therefore this key must remain secure as anyone who knows it can decipher all of the data.
This method can be used in either a stream cipher or a block cipher, depending on the amount of data that needs to be encrypted or decrypted at a time. A stream cipher encrypts only one character at a time as it is sent, while a block cipher does so with fixed chunks of data.
Some of the most popular symmetric encryption algorithms are: Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Data Encryption Standard (DES), and International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA).
Here’s an example of AES encryption in action:
Plain text: VPN Surf + vpnsurfprivatekey => ad2TzPccMlDI01bMmi0JJw== (ciphertext)
Asymmetric encryption is a newer, potentially more secure encryption method, also called public-key encryption. Unlike the aforementioned method, it uses two keys, a private key and a public key to perform encryption and decryption.
Data encrypted with a private key can only be decrypted with a public key and vice versa. TLS (i.e. Transport Layer Security), more commonly known as SSL (Secure Socket Layer), relies on asymmetric encryption, thus making HTTPS possible. A user will acquire the website’s public key from its TLS (or SSL) certificate and use it to form a secure connection while keeping the private key secret.
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