A Description of Encryption – From the Ground Up

obrBy Victoria Kazz04 Nov'14 2014-11-03T20:57:41+00:00Google+

The word encryption just sounds complicated, doesn’t it? The more cloud breaches there are, the more interest there is in encrypting documents and data that are stored in the cloud. So let’s take a closer, more in-depth and easy to understand look into encryption.

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Encryption 101

Security breaches have been all over the news, throughout the world, in the past year. Documents, information and photos have been hacked and leaked leading to a distrust of the cloud computing industry. But these events have also turned the spotlight on data encryption, which many consumers view as the solution.

But this leaves many of us asking, what the heck even is data encryption, how does it work, do I need it and how would I even encrypt something if I wanted to? Well, don’t worry. We’re going to answer all of those questions for you in the easiest way possible, with as little tech jargon as possible. 

So where do we being? Well at the beginning of course – with a definition. Data encryption is the calculations and algorithms that change plain text into cyphertext. Cyphertext is a form of text that cannot be read by any unauthorized user.

In simpler terms, encrypting a document is like translating the words of the document into code, or a foreign language that can only be decoded or understood by authorized personnel with a corresponding key. That key triggers a separate mechanism to decrypt the data, which turns it back to plaintext for easy reading.

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A Brief History

The method of encryption has been around, well since humans have been around basically. The first proof of encryption was seen in 500BC when our ancestors rearranged the letters in a word to encode it from others. In the 1400’s the polyalphabetic substitution cipher was created, taking the mixing of letters even farther. The cipher was made of two metal discs and two alphabets; upon rotation decoders could figure out what coded letter stood for what real letter.

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The Jefferson wheel was the cipher improved, with 26 spinning alphabets. Most frequently used by the US army in the 1940’s this device scrambled and unscrambled coded messages. In 1961, the first computer password was invented. A few data breaches later, a universal encryption standard was created. Each level of encryption requires a different amount and size of keys. A 64-bit encryption, the first industry standard however, proved too easy to crack. Today’s data can be encrypted with a maximum of 256-bits. Strong encryption like this will keep stored data safe because a strong computer and hacker are needed to get into the information and decode it.

The Importance of Encryption

Encryption, as complicated as it many sound, enables individuals and companies to secure their information without just utilizing passwords. Even corporate passwords can be easy to guess and are often memorized and utilized by disgruntled employees. Encryption is another layer of security past that. Guessing the password does no good if you cannot decode the encrypted data. Before decoded, information simply looks like foreign characters and numbers in no reasonable order

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This method of safely storing data is also important because it doesn’t just apply to digital documents or audio files. Any type of data can be encrypted. E-mails, text messages, credit cards numbers and tax information can all be stored in the cloud safely if it goes through the encryption process.

How to Encrypt

So maybe you’re considering encrypting the information you store in the cloud, but also might be thinking, how do I possibly encrypt data manually? Well that’s the good news – you don’t have to. There are plenty of programs and software systems out there that will code for you.

Depending on what type of encryption (64-bits through 256-bits) you want, you can use either free software or a paid program. This also depending on the type of information you’re digitally storing and how frequently you will be adding to the cloud. Individuals can take advantage of services that are free of charge, but corporations should look into more secure, long-term software options.

Free services available to consumers include:

  • Encryptfree.com
  • Bitlocker
  • Challenger
  • Cloudfogger
  • AxCrypt

Paid programs for consumers storing especially sensitive information or corporations putting business material in the cloud should consider:

  • Symantec
  • Folder Lock
  • SafeBit
  • CryptoForge
  • SecureIT

In Closing 

Each year more and more consumers are storing content on the cloud. To make sure that none of your information gets out, whether its sensitive or not, encryption is the key. When it comes to keeping data in the cloud, it’s better to be safe and encrypt it than be sorry if there is a data breach or leak. The Internet’s more prevalent use has also increased cases of identity theft because digital information can easily be captured. Protect yourself and your data by at least considering encryption.

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