Encryption is a method used to ensure your data is protected and only allow those you intend to share a message with to do so. A very simple form could be shift each letter to the next, so “Hello” becomes “Ifmmp”. To an outsider the second version looks very much like gibberish and without the right formula used to convert it back it’ll remain that way.
Today we still use a similar technique as above, however it is slightly more advanced and we have a look at some of these below.
When dealing with a website you will find there’s actually two types of encryption.
Symmetric – The key used for encryption is identical for both encryption and decryption.
Asymmetric – This time there is a different key used for encryption and decryption.
A good example of a symmetric key is the instance of a lock where you and a friend have a key each. No one else will have access however one problem remains – how do friends share keys initially? When visiting a website for the first time, this new key has to be sent and is open for any potential hackers to grab. However if the key is sent and received successfully, without intervention, the keys can be used to encrypt and decrypt data and any further use is far less intensive thus faster.
A good analogy for asymmetric use is the use of a public mailbox. Anyone can see it, but if it is locked, only the key holder can access it. Basically the mailbox is locked with the public key nad the data inside can only be accessed through use of the private key. Compared to a symmetric key there’s less of a risk of it being stolen, but these additional steps are more intensive and thus slower.
When looking at the previous two methods you can see a trade off between speed and security, so, which one to pick?
Luckily there is a pretty good alternative and that’s using both. The biggest flaw in symmetric keys is the sharing of the key itself. Therefore most sites will share these keys, using an asymmetric approach and then, once both parties have identical keys, you can continue browsing at a greater rate.
Your hard drive is used to store millions and billions bits, that is ones and zeros. Without a login password these bits are still visible to anyone who can access the hard drive. This is where disk encryption comes into play. When a program is installed or a word document is saved rather than the data directly being stored first it runs through your chosen process, turned into gibberish and then stored.
The process can be hardware or software based.
Under a hardware based encryption system the storage drive it self can automatically encrypt data with no loss in performance. Using its own prebuilt internal keys any external attacks, such as a virus, will be unable to access any files, as these files are encrypted and cannot be deciphered.
As the need for disk encryption grows, more software solutions are released. Microsoft’s BitLocker is a common example of a software based disk encryption. With this method as the data gets saved it will run through the key generated using a 2 step verification method. This is beneficial, in the event your hardware does not have built in encryption safeguards.
Encryption can be a very complicated process to understand and while it is an extremely effective method for protecting data, it can be difficult to successfully implement. The key takeaway is that encryption generally involves the use of a formula, to scramble data, so that if this data is accessed by an unwanted party, it cannot be deciphered. How this data is scrambled and deciphered can depend on where the data is held and where it travels.