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What Is Encryption? How Does It Protect Your Data?

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These days, encryption is seemingly everywhere online. When you see ‘HTTPS’ (and not simply ‘HTTP’, without the ‘S’) on a website, such as on your bank website, your webmail or Facebook, it means that the data being transferred between your device and the website is being encrypted. Common messaging apps like WhatsApp offer end-to-end encryption as well.

You may have a rough idea of what encryption is – that it protects you somehow. But many people, don’t understand the process it detail.

By Default, the Internet Is Extremely Unsafe

The internet is far less safe than most people realise. If safeguards and monitoring tools weren’t in place, then hackers could be lurking at every corner, and attackers could be sucking up any data that you transmit. When you send an unencrypted email, or visit a normal HTTP (without the ‘S’ which stands for secure) website, the data can potentially be viewed by anyone.

This is incredibly dangerous, because we send a lot of information over the internet that is either sensitive or valuable. Most people frequently enter their credit card numbers, online banking details, account credentials and other private information when they are online. If this information fell into the wrong hands, it could disrupt our lives and cause us tremendous harm.

How Do We Protect Ourselves Online?

To combat this, we have implemented encryption in many areas of the digital world. It and authentication are some of the many mechanisms that help to keep us safe. Encryption provides the important quality of confidentiality to our data, by making it unreadable.

Essentially, when secure encryption measures are combined with the appropriate authentication mechanisms, only authorised entities can access any given systems or data. It will depend on the situation, but this could mean that you are the only person who can access the data on your hard drive, or only your work team can access certain company resources.

How Does Encryption Keep Your Data Confidential?

Encryption can be complex and there are a range of different types, but we will try to simplify things to give you a decent understanding of how it all works. In one of the most common schemes, which is known as symmetric-key encryption, data is both encrypted and decrypted through the same cipher.

We take some data that we want to protect. Let’s say it’s the following message:

“Hi, how are you?”

When it’s in the unprotected form, like it is above, we refer to it as the plaintext. To make our message (or any other data) confidential and safe from unauthorised access, we put it through an encryption cipher like the Advanced Encrypted Standard (AES).

AES essentially takes the data and puts it through a number of complicated mathematical formulas. It does this alongside a key, which is kind of like a complicated password with a few subtle differences. The cipher and the key essentially manipulate the data in such a complex way, that the original data can only be figured out by a person who has the key.

Let’s say that when we run our message through AES alongside a key, it gives us an output like this, which is known as the ciphertext:

87a67e 0c98e7 08b873 f78972 31b098 0a9814 be9d0c

Note: The above is not actually the encrypted message, it’s just an example of what encrypted data can look like.

Once data has been turned into cipher text, it cannot be turned back into the original message unless it is decrypted with the key. If an attacker tries to intercept the data that is being transmitted to a HTTPS website, or the data that is sent between WhatsApp applications, all that they will be able to access is this ciphertext gibberish.

Only those with access to the key can turn it back into the original format, which keeps the data confidential and only accessible to those that have authorisation

Encryption is one of the most critical components of online security. At Gridware, we make sure that all of our services are encrypted with industry best standards. If you want your business’ security taken seriously, contact us today.

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