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Encryption is a process by which information is accepted and converted into a cryptic or ambiguous form. The information can be only deciphered by an expert, which is generally a programmed computer in today’s world. The process of encryption was started by Egyptians almost 4,000 years ago. This was recorded for the first time in a town called Menet Khufu in Egypt where a student depicted his master’s entire life in the form of a coded language called hieroglyphics. It’s known to be the first attempt at encryption. The information rendered in an easily understandable or readable form is often referred to as plaintext while the encrypted form is called cipher-text.
Encryption is extremely critical for sending and receiving highly confidential information. It has been used in the past when countries were involved in wars. In times of war, it is important to maintain the secrecy of certain information such as the location of a ship, amount of weapons or artillery a country’s army possesses, and so on. In the event that the enemy intercepts the information, it can easily prepare to adequately thwart the military maneuver or operation. If the information is encrypted, it cannot be accessed by the enemy unless they are able to decipher it.
In today’s world, firms often maintain databases that contain important information of employees such as medical records and salary records, which are supposed to be kept confidential. Any breach in security can lead to serious consequences. Firms also keep records of their customers, which are highly confidential so it’s especially important to keep all the information secure, especially in the world of high technology.
Since the world is becoming more dependent on technology, the need for personal security and privacy has never been higher. Encryption is used to protect private information in various industries and applications. Let’s look at some of the uses of encryption in different areas.
There are three fundamental ways of implementing encryption:
Hashing refers to a type of encryption which involves conversion of string of data of different lengths, containing text, into a form of data consisting of numeric values of a fixed length. Hashing is generally used in password verification. It’s used in bank transactions where digital signatures are required.
Symmetric cryptography, also known as private-key cryptography, is a method in which the recipient of the information needs to decrypt the data by a private key. This key is common between the sender and the recipient.
An example of symmetric cryptography is emails which use two types of encryption methods viz. S/MIME and OpenPGP.
To make use of S/MIME, you need to get a certificate from Thawte, Comodo, and Verisign, which are the authorities for providing secure email certificates. After you have obtained the certificate, you can send an encrypted email to anyone and also enter digital signatures while sending your emails. This is usually implemented in highly confidential and legal firms.
Asymmetric cryptography is a method of encryption where the sender key is different than the recipient key. For instance, an ATM card consists of a 3x5 mm chip containing all the information in encrypted algorithms. Unless you enter the password correctly, you will not be able to withdraw any money or perform most operations.
In 1998, the then American President Mr. Bill Clinton agreed on the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)”. According to the act, the production and dissemination or even using certain cryptanalytic methods and techniques would be considered a criminal offence. As more people become more aware of the way encryption works, there is an ever increasing possibility of a security breach, not just at banks but at several other places such as shopping complexes or even government offices. The need of encryption in the modern world cannot be emphasized adequately.