TrainACE - IT and Cybersecurity Training Blog

What is Encryption & Why is it Important?

[fa icon="calendar"] Nov 7, 2013 9:00:57 AM / by The TrainACE Team


What is Encryption?

Every single time you access the Internet, you send and receive data from a server hundreds or even thousands of miles away. However, that data isn't transmitted directly to the computer you're attempting to communicate with. It first passes through multiple routers owned by different companies and organizations, and you can never really be certain who has access to that data. With data traveling around so much, it seems that your information—much of which may be very sensitive—would be at risk for stealing. Yet thanks to encryption, such is not the case.

Data encryption actually isn't as complicated as it sounds. When you encrypt data, you essentially translate it into another language that only you can read. If you want to communicate with another computer, you first have to teach that computer how to read the data you're sending.

Since the 1970s, computer security experts have devised countless ways to keep your data safe and secure. Encryption training gives these individuals the knowledge necessary to safeguard data at the highest level of protection.  The ultimate goal is to protect your data in such a way that only you and your intended recipient can access the information, and data encryption is the first and last line of defense against unwanted intrusions.

What's in a Bit?

One of the first encryption standards ever used in computers used a 56-bit key. A bit can be either 0 or 1, and every additional bit doubles the number of possible keys. In other words, a 56-bit key has 2 to the power of 56 combinations or about 72 quadrillion possible keys. That sounds like a lot, but modern computers can make billions or even trillions of guesses every second. A basic $400 laptop could crack that 56-bit key in under a day.

However, 56-bit encryption standards haven't been standard for decades. Many computers use 128- or even 256-bit encryption standards, which are far more difficult to crack. The most powerful supercomputers in the world would take billions of years to crack these encryption standards. Hackers can still access the data if they can lay hands on the all-important encryption keys, but their job is far more difficult.

Symmetric- and Public-Key Encryption

In symmetric-key encryption, two different computers use the exact same key to encode and decode data, but how do you establish symmetric encryption over the Internet? It's virtually impossible without setting up the same encryption standard and key on both computers. You couldn't transmit the symmetric-key information over the Internet without the possibility of another computer intercepting the data and using the same private key. You'd basically give everyone the ability to access your private data.

Public-key encryption is a little different. Every single computer has access to public encryption standards like SSL. To establish an encrypted connection, your computer encrypts your symmetric key using the other computer's public key. When you transmit the packet of data to the other computer, only that computer has the ability to decode the symmetric key you just sent. In the blink of an eye, you've just created a symmetric-key connection, which is very secure.

A World of Sensitive Data

Is encryption really that important? Think about all of the information you transmit on a daily basis. If you shop online, you send your credit card information, home address, and phone number over the Internet, which is more than enough for an identity thief to ruin your day. Have you ever typed in your Social Security number? Without encryption, anyone could access that data and open up a new loan in your name.

Encryption is vital for you as an individual, but it's even more important for corporations and other large organizations. The government relies on encryption to keep military secrets classified. Some companies have billions of dollars at stake, and if they lose data, they can lose clients. Without encryption, online retailers would not exist, you wouldn't be able to send emails, and the Internet would be a virtual ghost town. Encryption is the most effective way to achieve data security to ensure that all activities on the Internet are as safe, informative, and enjoyable as possible.

Topics: Cisco, Cybersecurity, encryption

The TrainACE Team

Written by The TrainACE Team

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