What Is Encryption and How It Strengthens Your Online Security?

What Is Encryption and How It Strengthens Your Online Security?

Nowadays, encryption is universally used with the purpose of data protection and it's essential for online security.

You've probably heard about the term encryption in different contexts when going through content related to technology.

Nowadays, encryption makes it possible for our personal data to be secured when, for example, we shop online or use the internet for banking.

Still, encryption is not a new process. Through history, people have used encryption so they could send secret messages only certain people were able to read. In the modern world, computers are able to automatically perform the encryption process and it's used beyond sending secret messages.

Encryption is the best technology for protecting our personal data from hackers and cybercriminals that would try to steal and misuse it for fraudulent activities.

To better understand how essential encryption is for online security, we'll go more in-depth through what encryption is, how it works, and what are its usages in the modern world.


A brief history of encryption

Encryption is believed to date back in antiquity when Spartans used to code their messages during battles. They used a device called scytale which consisted of a parchment strip wrapped around a wooden cylinder. When the parchment was unwrapped, the message was unreadable as it was just a nonsense sequence of letters. To decipher the message, the parchment needed to be wrapped around another cylinder of the same size.

Later on, another type of encryption was developed by Hebrew by reversing the alphabet ("A" becomes "Z", "B" becomes "Y"). The Romans, during Julius Caesar, also used a similar tactic but, instead of reversing the alphabet, they swapped the letters of the alphabet by three places ("A" becomes "D", "B" becomes "E").

Wars have led to cryptographic innovations as it was highly important for the information to stay out of enemies hands.

Thinking back to your school days, you probably created your own alphabet so you could exchange messages on pieces of paper with a couple of classmates without the rest of the class being able to read your conversations. If you did this, then you've used encryption in its basic form.

Nowadays, your devices and tools utilize a more advanced form of encryption so your messages and personal data can be safe in the digital world.


What is encryption?

Encryption is the process of encoding a message so only specific people are able to read it. The purpose is for the information to be hidden from others and it works by converting plain text into random ciphertext, impossible to read without decoding the data.

Encryption does not prevent someone from interfering with the information, but it makes it impossible for someone to find out the content even if it's right in front of him.


How encryption works

When it comes to encryption, there are two terms you should know about first hand - Plaintext and chiper text.

The plaintext is the unencrypted text, data that is readable (such as an email sent to your friend).

The ciphertext is the encrypted data, containing both the original and encrypted plaintext and it's unreadable to both humans and computers.

Through the encryption process, the plain readable text is converted into incomprehensible information.

So how is the receiver able to read the data if it's unreadable when it reaches the destination?

Well, here's where encryption keys come into place.

To encode and decode the data, an encryption key must be used. It is one of a kind and it's created by using different and complex algorithms.

The encryption key scrambles the data into unreadable characters and it's also the only one who's able to revert the unreadable text back to plaintext. This situation where one encryption key can do both the coding and decoding applies for symmetric encryption, which we'll talk about in the types of encryption chapter.


Types of encryption

There are two types of encryption - symmetric and asymmetric key algorithms.

Symmetric key algorithms

The symmetric key algorithms are also known as public-key cryptography.

Symmetric key algorithms use the same key for both encrypting the plaintext and decrypting the ciphertext. With this type of encryption, the two parties that exchange information only need to share the key once and it will remain the same.

While symmetric key algorithms are easier to use because there is only one key, it is also less secure as if someone manages to obtain the key, he'll be able to decrypt the information.

Asymmetric key algorithm

Unlike symmetric key algorithms, asymmetric key algorithms use two different keys - one for encrypting the plaintext and one for decrypting the ciphertext.

This type of encryption uses a private key and a public key. The private key is used to encrypt the message and it's not shared with the receiver, while the public key can be shared with anyone but only allows access to a limited piece of information.

When you send an encrypted email to your friend that used asymmetric encryption, you send the public key to your friend. He'll be required to authenticate to verify that the message is sent by the private key holder. If someone manages to obtain the public key, he will only be able to read the one email, but he won't be able to get access to the rest of the emails.

Using asymmetric encryption highly diminishes the chances of getting hacked, but its disadvantage is it cannot be used for computing huge amount of data because the algorithm is way more complex and the process of encrypting is much slower.


The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

AES is a secure encryption standard also known as Rijndael symmetric block cipher that's now used worldwide to protect and encrypt sensitive data.

It is a type of symmetric encryption in which the plaintext is separated into blocks. The block size of AES is 128-bits. The initial block is taken through a certain amount of rounds where new keys are added, bytes are substituted, rows are shifted, and columns are mixed.

AES has three different key lengths and the difference between them is in the number of rounds that the data goes in the encryption process.

  • 128-bit AES - 10 rounds
  • 192-bit AES - 12 rounds
  • 256-bit AES - 14 rounds

Basically, 256-bit provides a greater security margin than 128-bit. For most practical purposes, 128-bit AES is used, but highly sensitive data is processed with 256-bit.


What's encryption used for?

Back in the days, encryption was heavily used in war times so militaries were able to exchange messages without enemies being able to intercept the secrets.

Nowadays, encryption is universally used with the purpose of data protection.

You might've noticed when browsing online the HTTPS in the address bar. The S comes from secured and it means that the website is using a Secure Sockets (SSL) protocol which is an encryption method that secures the connection between the web server and your browser.

Some of the most important examples where encryption plays an essential role are in e-commerce, banking, online payment, cryptocurrency, users data storage. WiFi routers, SIM cards also use encryption algorithms to protect the user's private data.

Encryption also makes it possible for information that's being exchanged between two parties to remain safe and protected. One example would be when you provide your credit card details when you're purchasing something online.

Another example of encryption usage is by chat services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. Their software is designed to convert any plaintext message into a ciphertext that can only be decrypted by the recipient. This process when only the sender and the receiver are able to read the message is known as end-to-end encryption. Some email providers also use this type of encryption to strengthen their user's security.

Even if third-parties are able to obtain the data that's being sent, it will be unreadable hence, worthless for hackers or cybercriminals.


Improving online security by encrypting your traffic

What you do online, your internet browsing and history, are exposed to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), the government, or to whoever manages to hack into your device and get access to your network.

They can see every website you visit, the files you download, and any interaction you have in the online world.

This gives hackers the chance of collecting private data about you that they can further use to harm you through different types of fraudulent activities.

Fortunately, there are tools designed to protect your personal information when you're browsing online by encrypting your internet traffic.

These services are called VPNs.

With a VPN, the data you send and receive when connected to the internet is encrypted.

When you connect to the internet through a VPN server, the requests are not made through your LAN but through the VPN connection. The VPN client encrypts your data and it will only be decrypted when it reaches the VPN server and it's forward sent to the website you want to access. This way, not even your ISP will be able to see what you're doing online, they'll only see you're connected to the VPN.

Moreover, the VPN changes your IP address, o the websites you visit won't be able to see your real location and IP, they'll see the requests as coming from the VPN server's IP address.

Because VPNs encrypt your data and keep your information private and secure, they are one of the most important tools for online security.

The DrSoft VPN aims to provide its users with a safe online experience by encrypting the data with 256-bit encryption.

Besides making you anonymous online and protecting your personal information, you'll also get other perks by using our VPN such as:

  • Being able to access any content online even if it's usually restricted in your country (e.g. Netflix).
  • Downloading torrents anonymously.
  • Finding the best deals when shopping online.
  • Securing your connection on public WiFis.
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