Encryption at its core is a security control measure that uses mathematical algorithms to scramble data so that it isn’t easily read by unauthorized personnel or systems. During the time of massive security breaches and uncertainty in the digital era, encryption is becoming much more important. Encryption allows companies and individuals to make data confidential so that it is only consumed by those it is intended for. Below, the basics of encryption are explained as well as the different methods of encryption that are being used today.
How encryption works
Basically there are three levels that encrypted data goes through. The first level is when the data is in plain text and can be read by anyone. If you then take this data and send it to another individual, it will be encrypted using a key to scramble the information. After this has been done, if a third party attempts to read the data they will only be able to see a scrambled message. This is the second level. The third level of encryption is when the encrypted data reaches its intended user. At this point, they will use the same key that was used to encrypt the data, to decode it and read the message.
Types of encryption
The first type of encryption is called Symmetric. In this form of encryption there is one key that is used to encrypt and read the data. This means that the sender must share the key with the intended recipient. This method is rarely used anymore because there are certain risk factors included when sharing one key across the sender and receiver.
The second type of encryption is called Asymmetric. This type of encryption uses two different keys. One key is shared or made public and the second key is kept secret. Essentially the public key is used to encode the data while the secret key is used to decode the information. This is similar to having two locks on a safe. One lock with a master key and a second lock that only the intended recipient can open. This method of encryption is much more secure than Symmetric.
Further encryption methods
As technology advances encryption methods have become more secure. Some of the newest methods are highlighted below.
Triple DES encryption
This method is so named because there are three phases for sending and receiving the data. It is based on Symmetric encryption, but is more secure because of the steps that the data goes through. Basically from sender to receiver it looks like the following model.
Data encrypted>>>Data decrypted>>>Data encrypted again>>>DATA RECEIVED>>>Data decrypted>>>Data encrypted>>>Data decrypted again
You can see the three stages used on either side of the “DATA RECEIVED”. Because it uses the normal 56-bit key three times, it ends up with a 168-bit encryption key.
AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. This method is also symmetric. It uses fixed sized blocks of 128-bit but can be extended up to 256-bit key length. Using the Rijndael algorithm this is considered one of the most secure encryption methods there is.
RSA is a very strong method based on asymmetric encryption. It uses two keys, a public and a private key and uses 1024-bit keys, extendable to 2048. Because of the larger keys being used this type of encryption is slower.