In a world where cybercriminals are a constant threat to information technology, data security is crucial for every organization. Many organizations are keen on teaching their staff about preventing a data security breach. However, it is not enough to teach people how to keep their devices and account passwords protected if unauthorized parties can access this information over networks on the internet.
Data encryption is the most common security method for protecting a company’s information. So, what exactly is data encryption? Encryption is a security method that involves hiding information in a code so that only an authorized user can read it. Therefore, data encryption is an information security method where sensitive or confidential information is encoded. Only a user with the corrected encryption key can access or decrypt this information.
In computer technology, encrypted data is known as ciphertext, while unencrypted data is called plaintext. Encryption software is responsible for converting a large amount of data into cryptic text or numbers using specific algorithms.
How Does Data Encryption Work?
Before we dive into the different encryption techniques, let us first understand how encryption works. Suppose you want to send a message to another network, and you do not want others to understand its format; encryption scrambles that data in your message. This action makes the data unreadable or gibberish in the eyes of an unintended reader. There are programs that use different algorithms for encryption.
When you send your message via these programs, the recipient will receive it in an encrypted format. They will only understand its contents if they have a decryption key or a secret passcode. The software uses a random number generator for the initial combination of secret keys to create complex keys. Anyone else without the decryption key will not access the information.
Hackers struggle to read the encrypted message because the time it takes to keep guessing the -passcode or the key’s algorithm is long. Some encryption algorithms are so complex that no guessing will reveal the codes.
Types of Encryption Techniques
There are several data encryption methods available in the computing industry. However, the most common are broken down into three types: Symmetric Key Encryption, Asymmetric/Public key encryption, and Hashing.
1. Symmetric Encryption
It is also known as secret key encryption. It uses a single key shared between the computing sender and all other entities authorized to decrypt the message. For this technique, the recipient should have the key before a message is sent to decrypt the message.
Symmetric key encryption is much faster than the other type because of single-key usage. It works best in closed systems where there is less risk of third-party access. On the downside, all the parties responsible for the key must ensure it is safely secure and can only be made available to the software that requires it.
2. Asymmetric Encryption
Asymmetric key encryption, also called public-key encryption, uses two different keys. However, these keys, a public, and a private key, are logically linked and are often created from prime numbers. This encryption technique operates to encrypt a message with one of the keys and uses the other to decrypt. There is no order of choice for the keys as long as the one picked for encryption is not used for decryption.
Under the names, the public keys are available to anyone in the organization. In contrast, private keys only remain with the intended recipients. Asymmetrical keys are large numbers that are paired using a random number generator.
In data security terms, hashing is a form of encryption that generates unpredictable hash values. The unique hash code ensures any small changes to the generated content are traceable. The difference between hashing and the other two encryption techniques is that there is no key used in the former.
There is a unique signature of fixed length for each data set or message in hashing. Because of this function, hashing is not used for data encryption since users cannot reverse the original data back with decryption.
Hashing is best suited for data verification. This unique distinction as a data verifying technique would make most data security experts disregard hashing as a form of data encryption. The truth is, it is still an effective way of showing nobody has tampered with data in transit.
Data encryption uses specific algorithms to encode data and hide sensitive information from prying eyes. There are several algorithms for the encryption techniques we have discussed based on the types of keys used, length of keys, and size of encrypted data blocks. The most common algorithms are as below:
4. Advanced Encryption Standard
AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is an algorithm trusted by the United States Government that encrypts 128-bit blocks of data at a time. Although it is very efficient in the 128-bit form, ASE can also use 192- and 256-bit keys for very demanding encryption processes.
AES has ten rounds for 128 keys, 12 for 192-bit keys, and 14 rounds for 256-bit keys. It uses symmetric encryption techniques, where a single key is used for both encryption and decryption of data. AES encryption algorithms are the most trusted data encryption standards today, for both data at rest and in transit.
5. Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA)
RSA is a public-key encryption algorithm based on the product’s factorization of two prime numbers. It is the standard encryption for information sent over the internet. The key sizes are quite large, up to 1024 or 2048 bits long; this size increases the encryption’s complexity and strength.
RSA is standard in digital signatures, and since it’s not patented, anyone can use it. The downside is it can get slow when performing large encryptions.
6. Triple DES
It was created to replace the original Data Encryption Standard algorithm after hackers found a way of getting past the encryption. Triple DES provides a simple way to increase the key size of DES to a 56-bit key and applies the DES algorithm three times to every data block. It is commonly used to encrypt ATM PINS and UNIX passwords.
Blowfish is another algorithm developed to replace DES that breaks messages into 64-bit blocks for individual encryption. Blowfish is a symmetric encryption tool known for its speed and flexibility. Being free, it is common in public domains and commonly used in e-commerce platforms, password management tools, and secreting payments. It is not recommended for encrypting files larger than 4GB because of its small 64-bit block size.
As a successor to Blowfish, Twofish goes up to 256 bits in length and encrypts data in 16 rounds no matter the key size with remarkable speed. It is a free symmetric encryption tool ideal for both hardware and software environments. You will find it in file and folder encryption software solutions like GPG, PhotEncrypt, and TrueCrypt.