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What is Encryption and How to Use It for Data Protection

Encryption is a means of securing digital data using one or more mathematical techniques alongside a password or a key that is used to decrypt the information. The encryption process translates information using an algorithm that makes the original information unreadable. Encryption is an important way for individuals and companies to protect their sensitive and personal information or data from hacking.

There are two main types of encryption; symmetric and asymmetric, where symmetric encryption involves a single cryptographic key for both encryption and decryption, in contrast, systematic encryption requires two keys to encode and decode information.

The Guide to using Encryption

Modern data encryption is a form of cryptography, an ancient technique of hiding information by substituting one character for another. In other words, encryption means “hiding”. Encryption works by means of a complex mathematical algorithm known as a data encryption cipher. The cipher algorithm transforms normalized data into a sequence of ostensibly random, unrecognizable characters known as “ciphertext” which is unreadable. Decoding information from ciphertext to plaintext which is readable is known as decryption and involves the same algorithmic “key” that was used to encrypt the data.

File encryption helps protect your data by encrypting it, only authorized personnel, the one with the right encryption key i.e. password can decrypt it. The following are the steps one can use to encrypt files:

  1. Right-click or press and hold the file or folder you want to encrypt and then select properties
  2. Select the advanced button and select the encrypted content to secure the data check box.
  3. Select ok to close the advanced attribute windows then select apply and then select ok.

We should note that file encryption is not available in windows 10 home.

Data Encryption

There are two basic types of encryption solutions: those for data at rest and for data in transit.

Data at rest is information that is stored such as on servers or in a computer hard drive while data in transit means that it is being transmitted whether with email or internal system-to-system messages that carry data around your network. The data being carried around might be emailed, but they could also be internal, system-to-system messages that carry data around your network.

Separation solutions are available for data at rest versus data in transit. Systematically, each one of them has its own impact. For data rest, you have to configure any application that needs access to encrypted data with the means to decrypt it, there are a few data security solutions for this such as Bitlocker which is for windows.

When we come to data in transit, you have to arrange for both the sender and receiver to have to encrypt/decrypt capabilities, this is a type of encryption which is known as end-to-end encryption. These requirements create administrative burdens and things can quickly become quite complex when you are sending encrypted messages outside your organization and so forth.

Everyone who wants to keep their data safe should use encryption, you might even be using encryption without even knowing it, nowadays many technology services encrypt and decrypt your data so that it will be safe when you want to use it. As for businesses they should encrypt the data that could damage their financial results if they were breached while for individuals, they should encrypt sensitive personal data so that no unauthorized personnel can access it.

Encryption methods in use

There are two most widely used methods for data encryption, the first one is known as a public key which is also known as asymmetric encryption, and the second one is known as a private key which is also known as symmetric encryption. Both of them rely on key pairs, but they differ in the way the sending and receiving parties share the keys and handle the encrypt or decrypt process.

Public key Encryption

With public-key also known as asymmetric encryption, the sender uses a publicly known key to encrypt the entire data where the receiver has the private key that forms the other half of the public or private key pair. Using the private key in combination with the public key, the receiver can encrypt the data provided.

Private key Encryption

In a private key also known as symmetric encryption, both the sender and the receiver have the same, secret key according to the data being used. There is a lot of management involved in storing and transmitting secret keys.

Different encryption algorithms are used by companies, encryption products, and government agencies. There are four different types of encryption algorithms, they include:

  • Triple DES (3DES)- this is a modernization of the older, but highly influential Digital Encryption Standard (DES). 3DES takes DES’ 56-bit key size up to 168-bit, making it harder to crack though it is also more compute-intensive to handle if one doesnt have the required knowledge.
  •  RSA- this is one of the first and most widely adopted modes of asymmetric cryptography for data in transit . RSA works through a public key based on two large prime numbers, along with an additional value used to encrypt the data.
  • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)- A symmetric cipher is based on the Rijandael block cipher. It is used in the US federal government as well as in consumer technologies like the Apple Macintosh computer.
  • Elliptic curve cryptography (ECC)- this a powerful, not-well understood form of data encryption. It is faster than the other comparable algorithms which means that it is favored by government agencies like the NSA.

Reasons Encryption is important and what it does

Encryption is important for a lot of reasons, here are some of the reasons:

  1. Internet privacy concerns are real

Encryption helps protect your online privacy by turning personal information into the “for your eyes only” messages intended for the parties that need them and are authorized and no unauthorized personnel can access them, for assured safety you should make sure that your emails are being sent over an encrypted connection or that you are encrypting each and every message.

  1. Hacking or cyber crime

Cybercrime is a global crime business, often run by multinational outfits. Many of the large-scale data breaches demonstrate that cybercriminals are often out to steal information for financial gain. If you go ahead and encrypt such information it won’t be easy for them to steal it.

  1. Regulations demand it

Encryption helps businesses stay compliant with regulatory requirements and standards. It also helps protect the valuable data of their customers. For example, the Health Insurance and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare providers to implement security features that help protect patients’ sensitive information online.

Benefits of a Secure Data Encryption

In summary, here are some of the benefits of secure data encryption:

  • Promotes data integrity- when your data is encrypted it can prevent accidental or malicious modification of sensitive data.
  • Protects data transit- whenever your data is transferred between two systems, there are risks to the integrity and confidentiality of the data. Encryption of data transit, most commonly implemented by the Transport Layer Security protocol, guards against the risks.
  • Supports compliance-encryption is required by many regulations and industry standards. Having a strong encryption in place can help demonstrate that sensitive data is protected.

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