The encryption story began long before computers and the internet, considering that people needed to protect their communication since the beginning of time. Encryption has been a crucial part of securing privacy, from Romans and Turing’s Enigma to today’s sophisticated and automated mechanisms.
IBM released research on data breaches, which suggests that in 2020 data breach cost amounted to 3.86 million dollars across the globe. The more alarming fact is that it takes 280 days on average to identify and contain the breach. Hence, encryption is becoming an essential part of securing users’ online activities and the sensitive data stored on their devices.
What Is Data Encryption?
Modern-day data encryption refers to alternating readable text or plaintext into a coded format or ciphertext. The sender and the receiver of the message agree upon a set of “rules” – a cryptographic key that they share to turn the scrambled data into a readable format.
According to the number of the cryptographic keys they use, there are two encryption methods – symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption is one of the basic encryption techniques, and it uses the same key for encryption and decryption. Since it’s less complex and relatively fast, symmetric encryption tends to be the most frequently applied technique when transferring big pieces of data. Asymmetric encryption is a more recent technique that is primarily used to encrypt everyday communication on the internet. It includes two keys – one is always private, and the second one is public and available to everyone.
Considering that not all data is created equal, there are two types of data encryption – at-rest and in-transit encryption. Encryption at-rest ciphers the data stored on a hard drive and makes it unreadable to any third side. On the other hand, in-transit encryption is protecting the data in traffic.
Where Is Data Encryption Used?
As the fight for privacy becomes more serious, an increasing number of apps and service providers use encryption to secure sensitive data and ensure more privacy.
1. Built-In Encryption Programs On Devices
Almost all devices nowadays implement some type of encryption. Mac users have the opportunity to encrypt their data by enabling FileVault – Mac’s built-in encryption program that’ll cipher everything on the disk. If the device falls into the wrong hands, it has an additional feature allowing users to wipe away everything from the disk.
Windows users can choose between BitLocker encryption and Device encryption. Device encryption works only when the user is signed in with the Windows account, and it won’t encrypt removable disks, while BitLocker does full-disk encryption. Also, BitLocker is not available on the Home edition.
2. A VPN Service
One of the most common applications of in-transit encryption is in VPN service. VPN services have a variety of encryption protocols in their arsenals, each with its strengths. Depending on their codebase, some of them are pretty fast, while others ensure better security.
When choosing a VPN service, it is crucial to check which encryption protocols they use since it will affect the safety and overall user experience. VPN encryption works by creating a safe tunnel between the user’s device and the VPN server, protecting the data in traffic from hackers, government agencies, and other parties that could access sensitive data.
3. Password Managers
Passwords are the most crucial unit that must be protected utmost. Since memorizing tends to be quite a risky technique of storing sensitive data, more and more users switch to password managers to handle their accounts’ credentials.
Password manager encrypts the data and keeps it in encrypted form, which means that possible malicious third parties won’t be able to read it. Users need to come up with a strong master password which will become a key for entering all of the accounts. Consequently, if the master password gets compromised, it will result in losing access to multiple accounts.
4. Email And Messaging Apps
As a consequence of more frequent data breaches, people are switching to safer apps and tools that most often include encryption.
Signal is a simple to use messenger app that includes end-to-end encryption, which means that only the persons involved in the conversation can read the messages since it’s encrypted for anyone else who tries to peek in.
Another great tool that could help in securing privacy is ProtonMail. ProtonMail uses client-side encryption, which means that all of the data will be encrypted before being sent to the server. It’s developed by MIT and CERN scientists, and it’s becoming the go-to email provider among all of those interested in cybersecurity.
Just a few decades ago, encryption was reserved for militaries and governments, given that they’ve dealt with the data of the utmost secrecy. Now, with the numerous encryption algorithms designed to tackle the greatest security obstacles, encryption has become the backbone of the cybersecurity world.
On account of that, it will be interesting to see how these security mechanisms will evolve and what is the future of encryption protocol development. Until then, it’s crucial to focus on educating users about the importance of securing their data and implementing the essential encryption methods in their security plan.