Many of us may have come across the message “your data has been encrypted end-to-end” while using messaging apps on our smartphones. Have you ever thought about what it means?
On Day 2 of Data Privacy Week, let’s learn about data encryption and its applications.1,2,3,4,5,6,7
Many organizations use data encryption today as one of the most popular and effective methods for protecting data. Data encryption involves converting data into a code that can only be read by those with a secret key (or decryption key) or password. This helps to protect the data from unauthorized access, ensuring that only those with the secret key or password can access the data. It also helps to protect the data in case it is lost or stolen, as it cannot be read without the decryption key or password. For instance, encryption might be used on sensitive data such as payment information and passwords to help prevent unauthorized access and ensure that data is not compromised in the event of a breach.
Any data in readable format is known as plaintext, while data that has been encrypted and rendered unreadable is known as ciphertext. During the encryption process, plaintext is converted into ciphertext using an algorithm. This algorithm is called a cipher, and it is designed to scramble the data in a way that makes it unreadable to anyone without the corresponding decryption key. The decryption key is then used to turn the ciphertext back into plaintext, allowing the original data to be read.
Types of Data Encryption
Data encryption can be classified into three types:
- Symmetric Encryption: This type of encryption is used to secure data by using a single key to both encrypt and decrypt data. This means that anyone with access to the key can access the data. It is used in a variety of applications, from secure web browsing to secure file storage. For example, the password to a website is usually encrypted using symmetric encryption, so that someone who knows the password can access the website.
- Asymmetric Encryption: This type of encryption uses two different keys, one to encrypt data and one to decrypt it. This means that the sender can encrypt the data with one key, and the recipient can use the other key to decrypt it. This makes the data secure and ensures that only the recipient can access it. For example, when sending a confidential message through email, the sender would encrypt it with the encryption key and the recipient would use the decryption key to decrypt the message and read it.
- Hybrid or Contemporary Encryption: This type of encryption offers the best of both worlds—it is considered to be more secure than either of the individual encryption methods on their own, as the recipient must use both keys to decrypt the data. This makes it more difficult for persons other than the intended recipient to gain access to the data, as both keys must be obtained in order to decrypt it. For example, if you want to send an encrypted file to your friend using this method, you can encrypt it with your public key and your friend’s public key and send it to them. Your friend can then use both of the keys to decrypt the file and read it.
Data Encryption – Use Cases
We can see applications of data encryption in our day-to-day online communication. Some of them may include:
- E-mail communication—for example, a user can encrypt their emails using a public key, ensuring that only the intended recipient can decrypt and read the email.
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)-based encrypted connections—for instance, they are used to securely connect two devices on different networks, such as a home computer and a work laptop.
- Safe and secure browsing—for example, a browser can use encryption to protect your information while you are shopping online, so that your credit card information remains secure and private.
- Encryption for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls or chats in messengers—for instance, VoIP encryption can be used in a business setting to ensure that private conversations remain secure and confidential.
- Cloud storage—for example, encryption can be used to protect data stored in the cloud, as well as data sent over the network, ensuring that only authorized people can access it.
So, the next time you see the message “your data has been encrypted end-to-end” on your messaging app, you now have an understanding of what data encryption means.
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- De Groot. J, (2022). What Is Data Encryption? Definition, Best Practices & More. Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-data-encryption
- What is encryption? | Types of encryption | Cloudflare. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.cloudflare.com/en-gb/learning/ssl/what-is-encryption/
- What is Hybrid Encryption? – Definition from Techopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/1779/hybrid-encryption
- Olufohunsi, T. (2019) DATA ENCRYPTION . Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337889039_DATA_ENCRYPTION_Olufohunsi_T
- What types of encryption are there? | ICO. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/encryption/what-types-of-encryption-are-there/
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- Reddy, P. (2019)Real Life Applications of CRYPTOGRAPHY, Medium. Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://medium.com/@prashanthreddyt1234/real-life-applications-of-cryptography-162ddf2e917d