An Intro to Data Encryption

Mohammed Emran /
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It’s safe to assume that we live in a world that’s almost entirely online. Our lives are mostly remote and most things are available to use with the touch of a finger on a device. 

The obvious pros to this are the fact that information is available at all times; access to accounts is not an issue, purchases are faster than ever with online checkouts that save our credit card information automatically, and we can pay bills all at once through our banks. 

We assume that most of our data is encrypted because it’s protected by the websites we use. For example, the bank encrypts customer information, which allows us to safely bank online without worries. 

Encryption is not exclusive to IT departments and major institutions. Online users can also learn how to encrypt their own data to add an extra layer of security to their personal information online. 

There are different types of encryption and different ways of achieving it. Any type of encryption has the same goal in mind, which is to scramble information enough so that only allowed users have access to it. 

Keep in mind that encryption does not guarantee that someone will not be able to break into your personal online safe. Hackers are incredibly savvy with technology and they still find ways to break into data at major corporations. 

However, trust that encrypting your own information will give you peace of mind knowing that you know how to protect yourself in case of cyber-attacks. 

It never hurts to learn new ways of protection online, especially since our entire lives form part of the Internet.

What Is Data Encryption?

Before attempting to learn how to better protect data through encryption, it’s important to understand exactly what data encryption can do for you and your private information.

Encryption refers to the act of scrambling data so that only authorized users or parties can understand and have access to it. Basically, it’s a way of taking human-readable text into a type of incomprehensible text that is called ciphertext. 

In doing this, you’re ensuring that your information is indecipherable to anyone else outside of your protected circle of users. To anyone else, your data will be so scrambled that it will look like random characters without meaning. 

In order to ensure that your data is decipherable to you, though, you have to implement the use of a cryptographic key. A cryptographic key is a set of mathematical values that both the sender and receiver have to agree on in order to understand the encrypted message. 

For example, you might send a message that says “hello” in plaintext but will look something like “SNifgNi+Uk0=” once it’s been encrypted by the sender. 

Think of encryption as a language that helps secure information when it’s traveling online. 

Data encryption allows users to encrypt data while it’s safely stored somewhere in the computer, at rest, or when it’s traveling through online channels from point A to point B. 

Benefits of Data Encryption

Data encryption is an integral part of the security protocols that are currently in place at many organizations and companies. In fact, almost all of your dealings online will involve some type of encryption that you’re probably not aware of. 

If you own a small business, encryption can help ensure that your customers’ information is secure when making purchases online and that their banking information remains completely confidential. 

Some other benefits of data encryption are:

  • Customer Trust
    It is a known fact that most customers will not do business with companies that have suffered large data breaches. That is because once their information has been exposed, they feel as though the company did not take the proper precautions to ensure that privileged information would remain confidential and away from malware and hackers.
    Of course, data breaches and the exposure of private information can happen at any time. The company that suffers from a data breach might not be entirely at fault. However, those types of instances affect the trust the customers have for the company and damage their reputation. Using data encryption can help prevent breaches and ensure that customers’ trust in your business remains intact.
  • Data Protection
    It’s obvious that a major benefit of data encryption is its ability to protect personal data. Although there are several ways a company can protect data, encryption remains one of the most effective ways to ensure we do not expose private information online for everyone to see.
    Data breaches can create a lot of unexpected costs for businesses. Encryption can allow them to have peace of mind knowing that the information of customers is safe in their hands with a tiny chance of it ever being exposed inappropriately.
  • Compliance
    One big reason it’s important to implement encryption to protect private information is compliance. In case you’re not aware of this, there are a set of regulations that must be followed, put in place by various agencies such as HIPAA and FDA, that push businesses to have a set of security protocols in place to ensure that the information of their customers is not unprotected.
    By encrypting their data, businesses can make sure that a third party will not compromise their data. Encryption also emphasizes the fact that all the proper precautions were set in place in order to ensure this. 

What Are the Different Types of Encryption? 

In order to ensure absolute protection of your data, there are two types of encryption that can be helpful to you: symmetric encryption and asymmetric encryption. 

  • Symmetric Encryption
    This type of encryption involves only one key, which means that all the communicating parties are using the same “decoder” to understand and decipher the meaning of the encrypted text. This key will be good for both the sender and receiver to encrypt and decrypt the information that is transmitted from one point to another.
    Basically, symmetric encryption is like holding the same key to the safe. Another cool fact about this type of encryption is that it’s the oldest way of encrypting information. It’s also one of the most commonly used ways to protect website security.
    When you look closely, you notice that if you’re using a secure website, you’ll see a padlock next to the URL bar. This padlock means that the website you’re using implemented an encrypted connection to send data.
  • Asymmetric Encryption
    Another name for this type of encryption is “public key” because there are two different keys to encrypt and decrypt data. Here, the decryption key (the one that will allow you to view the contents of the data transmitted) is private, while the encrypting key is public, which means anyone can use it.
    In this type of encryption, the public key that you would use to encrypt data can be used by anyone to encrypt whatever they want. The only catch is that the receiver would have to have access to the private key in order to view the information.
    Asymmetric encryption is commonly used to verify third parties that are unknown to you. With asymmetric encryption, you will authenticate parties, verify data integrity, and exchange symmetric keys. This type of encryption is also used for bulk amounts of data. 

A Guide to Simple Encryption

Now that you understand the basics of encryption, you can try to encrypt data by following the steps below.

  1. Create a plaintext message or a message that’s not encrypted and you can easily read. 
  2. Take this text and run it through a hashing algorithm. This will give you a set of 0s and 1s that will form a “digest,” or, in simpler terms, a set of data that represents the plaintext message. 
  3. Exchange public keys between sender and receiver.
  4. Using symmetric encryption, you will then generate the session key and encrypt the message that you’re planning on sending out. 
  5. Encrypt the session key by using the public key. Use the private key to encrypt the plaintext message. 
  6. You can now send yourself the encrypted message, along with the encrypted session key and the encrypted digest.
  7. The encrypted digest will be decrypted with the public key, which will be a good way to verify the identity of the party opening the encrypted message. 
  8. The private key will decrypt the session message and then you can use the session key to decrypt the actual message.
  9. Once you’ve completed these steps, you can run the decrypted message through another hashing algorithm which will generate a second digest.
  10. Compare the two digests to make sure they match and that the integrity of the message has not been compromised. 
  11. Finally, read the message. 

Following these steps is a good way to double-check that the communication will remain secure while it travels from one point to another. You can now engage in the transmission of data without added worries about the data potentially being exposed. 

Always keep in mind that with anything online, there’s always a risk that a third party will hack or compromise data. These are not perfect sciences, but they’re there to facilitate the communication process and transfer of information. 

The more you understand data encryption, the easier it will become to implement and the more you will apply it in both your personal and professional life. Information gives you the knowledge that will lead you to have better control over your private matters.