What is Encryption & How Does It Work

Encryption is a process that encodes a message or file so that it can be only be read by certain people. Encryption is the process of converting human-readable plaintext to incomprehensible text, also known as ciphertext.

In simpler terms Encryption is the process of converting data to an unrecognizable or “encrypted” form.  This cryptographic method protects sensitive data such as credit card numbers by encoding and transforming information into unreadable ciphertext.

Encryption is one of the most important methods for providing data security, especially for end-to-end protection of data transmitted across networks. 

It is the most effective way to achieve data security. To read an encrypted file, you must have access to a secret key or password that enables you to decrypt it. Its key is a collection of algorithms designed to be totally unique.

These are able to scramble and unscramble data, essentially unlocking the information and turning it back to readable data. It is widely used on the internet to protect user-information being sent between a browser and a server.

Usually, the person that is encrypting the data will possess the key that locks the data and will make ‘copies’ and pass them on to relevant people that require access. This process is called public-key cryptography.

It is also used to secure data sent over wireless networks and the Internet. For example, many Wi-Fi networks are secured using WEP or much stronger WPA encryption.

You must enter a password (and sometimes a username) to connect to a secure Wi-Fi network, but once you are connected, all the data sent between your device and the wireless router will be encrypted.

Although encrypted data appears random, encryption proceeds in a logical, predictable way, allowing a party that receives the encrypted data and possesses the right key to decrypt the data, turning it back into plaintext.

Truly secure encryption will use keys complex enough that a third party is highly unlikely to decrypt or break the ciphertext

Types of encryption

1. Symmetric Key encryption

It uses the same cryptographic keys for both encryption and decryption of ciphertext. Symmetric-key systems are simpler and faster, but their main drawback is that the two parties must somehow exchange the key in a secure way.

Symmetric-key cryptography is sometimes called secret-key cryptography. The most popular symmetric-key system is the Data Encryption Standard (DES).

Symmetric-key algorithms can be divided into stream ciphers and block ciphers stream ciphers encrypt the bits of the message one at a time, and block ciphers take a number of bits, often in blocks of 64 bits at a time, and encrypt them as a single unit.

There’s a lot of different algorithms you can choose from—the more popular and well-respected symmetric algorithms include Twofish, Serpent, AES (Rijndael), Blowfish, CAST5, RC4, TDES, and IDEA.

2. Public key encryption

It uses a pair of keys, one of which is a secret key and one of which is public. Different keys are used for encryption and decryption. This is a property that sets this scheme different than the asymmetric scheme.

This type of cryptography often uses prime numbers to create keys since it is computationally difficult to factor large prime numbers and reverse-engineer the encryption.

The Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) encryption algorithm is currently the most widely used public key algorithm.

How encryption works


Encryption uses algorithms to scramble your information. It is then transmitted to the receiving party, who is able to decode the message with a key.

There are many types of algorithms, which all involve different ways of scrambling and then decrypting information.

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a protocol for data encryption created in 2001 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. AES uses a 128-bit block size, and key lengths of 128, 192, and 256 bits.

It is based on the ancient art of cryptography that uses computers and algorithms to turn plain text into unreadable, jumbled code.

To decrypt that ciphertext into plaintext, you need the key, a series of bits that decode the text. The key is something only you or the intended recipient has in their possession.  

This process generates ciphertext that can only be viewed in its original form if decrypted with the correct key.    You might have heard of end-to-end encryption, perhaps you’ve received a notification on WhatsApp saying that they now support this type of encryption.

It refers to the process of encoding and scrambling some information so only the sender and receiver can see it.  With end-to-end encryption, however, only the sender and recipient are able to unlock and read the information.

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