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What Is Encryption, and How Does It Work?

Encryption is a method of encoding data (messages or files) so that it can only be read or accessed by authorized parties. Encryption software scrambles the data being sent using complex algorithms. Once received, the data can be decrypted using a key provided by the message’s originator. The strength of the algorithm, the length of the key, and the appropriateness of the encryption system chosen determine the effectiveness of encryption technology.

Because encryption makes information unreadable to unauthorized parties, it remains private and confidential whether transmitted or stored on a system. Unauthorized parties will only see an unorganized swarm of bytes. Furthermore, encryption technology can ensure data integrity because some algorithms protect against forgery and tampering. The ability of technology to safeguard information necessitates the proper management of encryption and decryption keys by authorized parties.

To get a sense of how you can use data encryption within your organization, first, answer the question “what is data encryption?” and then learn about the different types of encryption available to you and your organization.

How does it work?

Encryption is critical in protecting sensitive data transmitted over the Internet or stored in computer systems at rest. It not only keeps the data private, but it can also authenticate its origin, ensure that the data has not changed since it was sent, and prevent senders from denying sending an encrypted message (also known as nonrepudiation).

Encryption is frequently required to uphold compliance regulations established by multiple organizations or standards and provide strong data privacy protection. For example, the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are a set of data security standards that must be followed by U.S. government agencies or contractors following the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014. (FISMA 2014). FIPS 140-2, one of these standards, requires the secure design and implementation of a cryptographic module.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is another example (PCI DSS). These regulations require merchants to encrypt customer card data both at rest and when it is transmitted over public networks. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 are two other essential regulations that many businesses must follow (CCPA).

Different Types Of Encryption

The two main types of encryption are symmetric and asymmetric.

  • Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric Key Encryption, also known as private-key cryptography, encrypts and decrypts data with a single key. To achieve secure communications, the sender and recipient must share the same key. By using the same key for encryption and decryption keys, the key provides an unbroken layer of encryption from beginning to end. The single key could be a password, a code, or a string of randomly generated numbers. AES, DES, and Triple DES are popular symmetric encryption algorithms.

  • Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric encryption, also known as public key encryption, employs two separate but mathematically linked keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is typically shared publicly and accessible to anyone, whereas the private key is kept secure and accessible only to the key owner. The data is sometimes encrypted twice: once with the sender’s private key and once with the recipient’s public key, ensuring that only the intended recipient can decrypt it and that the sender is who they say they are. Because the public key(s) can be easily shared, asymmetric encryption is more flexible for some use cases; however, it requires more computing resources than symmetric encryption, and these resources increase with the length of data protection.

As a result, a hybrid approach is common: a symmetric encryption key is generated and used to protect a large amount of data. The recipient’s public key is then used to encrypt the symmetric key, which is then packaged with the symmetrically encrypted payload. The recipient uses asymmetric encryption to decrypt the relatively short key before using symmetric encryption to decrypt the actual data.

Why Is Encryption Important?

What is the significance of encryption? Here are three of them:

  • Legitimate concerns about internet privacy.

Encryption protects your online privacy by converting personal information into “for your eyes only” messages intended only for the parties who require them — and no one else.

You should ensure that your emails are sent over an encrypted connection or that each message is encrypted.

Most email clients include an encryption option in their Settings menu. If you use a web browser to check your email, make sure SSL encryption is enabled.

  • Hacking is a lucrative business.

Cybercrime is a global business that is frequently run by multinational corporations.

Many of the large-scale data breaches that you may have heard about in the news show that cybercriminals are frequently out to steal personal information for monetary gain.

  • Required by law.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare providers to implement security features that help protect patient’s sensitive health information when it is transmitted over the internet.

Under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), higher education institutions must take similar steps to protect student records.

Retailers must comply with the Fair Credit Practices Act (FCPA) and other consumer-protection laws.

Encryption assists businesses in meeting regulatory requirements and standards. It also aids in the protection of their customer’s sensitive data.

What Are the Consequences?

Encryption, like most things in the world, has some drawbacks. The good news is that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Before you encrypt any data, keep in mind that while encrypting all of your data may make it more secure, it will have an impact on operations and performance. For example, it will be nearly impossible for employees to gain seamless access to data to complete their work.

In today’s highly collaborative digital environments, employees will generate and share oceans of data by the minute. However, if encryption is added at this point, it can quickly become impossible to manage.

Encryption is also a tool that hackers use in ransomware attacks. When threat actors identify a vulnerability or a vulnerable endpoint, they will breach enterprise networks, install malware, and hold your data hostage for ransom.

As a result, relying solely on encryption should never be your cybersecurity strategy. Instead, it should be an essential component of your overall cybersecurity and data protection strategy. It is also critical to implement a strong key management solution to ensure that enterprise data is always accessible.

Sun IT Solutions provides top-tier Toronto IT Solutions and Managed IT Services to Toronto businesses. Schedule a no-obligation consultation with us today. Managed IT Services, Managed Security Services, Cloud Services, Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR), Cyber Security Training and Dark Web Monitoring, IT Support Services, IT Consulting, IT Outsourcing Services, and Remote IT Support are some of the services we provide. For over ten years and counting, we have been Toronto’s leading managed IT service and IT support team.