The word “encryption” invokes images of clandestine operations and World War code breakers feverishly working to decipher enemy messages. Encryption is a priceless security tool, and can easily be used to keep sensitive information confidential and safe from prying eyes.

There’s a whole lot of information that we don’t want other people to see, such as:

  • Credit-card information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Private correspondence
  • Personal details
  • Sensitive company information
  • Bank-account information ­
  • Etc.

Many businesses fail to take advantage of encryption technology, fearing that it’s too complex and difficult to use on a routine basis. In reality, encrypting vital data isn’t much more difficult than running a virus scanner or a data-backup program.

Computer encryption systems generally belong in one of two categories:

  • Public-key encryption
  • Symmetric-key encryption

The first major symmetric algorithm developed for computers in the United States was the Data Encryption Standard (DES), approved for use in the 1970s. The DES uses a 56-bit key. DES has since been replaced by the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which uses 128-, 192- or 256-bit keys. A 128-bit key, for instance, can have more than 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 key combinations.

One approach is to use asymmetric PKI (public-key infrastructure) encryption. PKI cryptography is based on a pair of cryptographic keys: One is private and known only to the user, while the other is public and known to the opposite party in any exchange. The key in public-key encryption is based on a hash value. This is a value that is computed from a base input number using a hashing algorithm. A 128-bit number has a possible 2128, or 3,402,823,669,209,384,634,633,746,074,300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different combinations

The other method of encrypting data is symmetric key protection, also known as “secret-key” encryption. Generally speedier yet less secure than PKI, symmetric encryption uses the same key to both encrypt and decrypt messages. Symmetric technology works best when key distribution is restricted to a limited number of trusted individuals. Since symmetric encryption can be fairly easy to break, it’s primarily used for safeguarding relatively unimportant information or material that only has to be protected for a short period of time.

A digital certificate is basically a unique piece of code or a large number that says that the Web server is trusted by an independent source known as a certificate authority


Alexander Ólafsson






This entry was posted in IT Security, Week 14. Bookmark the permalink.

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