How the modern world depends on encryption

How the modern world depends on encryption

The use of encryption is all around us.
Every single keystroke, every email sent or received, and every search on Google requires some form of data encryption to protect our personal information. 

In the business world, encryption is necessary to protect customers’ online purchases and payment details, confidential financial information, emails, and other correspondence, as well as the personal data of employees, vendors, customers, and clients.

As many aspects of the world, including both work and play, move online, encryption of personal data has an even more important and urgent role. 

It is almost impossible to imagine how the modern world, heavily dependent on the digital infrastructure and economy, would continue to function without some form of data encryption. Even if we stretch our imagination to picture a modern world without encryption, it would be a bleak image. A world without encryption means having to disconnect yourself out of fear. Businesses wouldn’t operate online, and employees would not be allowed to work remotely safely.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, once likened encryption to the “sun and the air and the water” when interviewed by Time Magazine regarding the 2016 FBI-Apple encryption dispute. Like the sun, air, and water, we don’t necessarily think about it or notice it every day, but if it doesn’t work correctly in the background, our world, as we know it, would collapse. 

While this may seem like hyperbole, the truth is that it is not.

Encryption is the primary way of keeping our interactions with digital and online systems safe and effective. 

Because encryption remains a vital tool to protect businesses and organizations, it deserves our attention. 

The following is intended to help you stay informed on the basics of encryption and its role in the modern world. 

What is Encryption? 
The concept behind how encryption works is relatively straightforward and easy to understand. Digital encryption is about transforming data into an unreadable form (i.e., gibberish) so that only intended and authorized parties (with the right credentials) can decrypt it and then change it back to something comprehensible. 

This concept is not new. 

Julius Caesar used a form of encryption to send messages unreadable to the Roman Empire’s enemies. 

Another famous example, Alan Turing, famously broke the code of the German encryption machine, Enigma, during World War II, which immensely helped the Allied war effort and hindered Hitler’s fascist ambitions. 

In modern times, encryption is more complex and advanced. More specifically, mathematical algorithms, or formulas, are used to scramble up the data. The altered information or gibberish is termed “ciphertext.” Authorized recipients must use an encryption key to turn the unreadable ciphertext into something comprehensible. These keys are similar to passwords, but they are more complex and almost impossible to decode or “break” without computation resources. Like a physical key, only people with the right access can unlock the data. This way, if data were to end up in the wrong hands, the information itself would remain safe. 

How does Encryption Work?
There are two main methods of encryption algorithms: symmetric and asymmetric encryption. 

  • Symmetric Encryption
    This type of encryption involves securing data using one encryption key. All parties (e.g., senders and recipients) use the one key for encryption and decryption purposes. In this type of encryption, the key is an essential part.

    Encryption algorithms, such as the Data Encryption Standard (DES), the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), or the International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA), are used to scramble the data. 
  • Asymmetric Encryption
    This type of encryption involves a combination of multiple keys that are both public and private.

    The key for encryption is known as a “public key” and is available to all users of the network.

    The key used for decryption is a “private key” and is kept secret and only used privately by the user. Anyone can use the “public key” to scramble the data, but once the message is locked with it, that data can only be opened with a corresponding “private key.” Encryption algorithms for this type of encryption include RSA and Diffie-Hellmen. Compared to symmetric encryption, it is a much more complicated process and a tad slower than symmetric encryption. 

The fundamental difference is that asymmetric encryption requires two different keys, and the private key used to decrypt the data is not shared. With symmetric encryption, the “private key” is shared. The overall process of asymmetric encryption is more secure than symmetric encryption for this reason, but there are applications for both methods depending on the scenario. 

Air is to Human Life as Encryption is to….? The Life of an Organization.

Businesses rely on encryption even though they may not realize its importance to the modern world. Even a single breach can cause significant harm – the loss of money, time, and even your customers’ or clients’ trust. 

The encryption landscape is not easy to navigate. 

Some encryption may be built-in to the software or applications, while others have to be separately acquired or added on as an extra layer of security. 

Some encryption software requires no maintenance, while others require strict security policies and other resources for the technology to be effective and fully utilized. 

Ultimately, data encryption is just one of the many essential tools for cybersecurity. For genuinely comprehensive cybersecurity coverage, other tools and strategies must be employed and enacted in tandem with robust data encryption protocols.

The solutions aren’t always apparent and will require know-how and expertise. 

An Established Managed IT Services can answer all your questions regarding data encryption and network security. They can evaluate your organization’s current encryption solutions and identify risks and vulnerabilities, assess whether you need extra layers of encryption, or suggest alternative software and applications if your existing platform does not provide adequate encryption security. 

About the Author:
Stephen Wright, President, CEO – Wright Business Technologies

Stephen Wright is the founder and CEO of Wright Business Technologies. He is responsible for the overall success of the company, clients, employees, and vendor partners who support the business. Stephen graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in business management and established Wright Business Technologies in 1992. He later earned his MBA, also from Texas Tech and established Wright Business Technologies in 1992. He later earned his MBA, also from Texas Tech University.

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