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Encryption: what it is and how it works

The encryption it is the basis of many services that we use every day, although the term refers to the James Bond films: but what is it and how exactly does it work?

Encryption: what it is and how it works

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Encryption is a modern form of encryption which allows you to hide information from others. Encryption uses an algorithm called a cipher, which transforms plain text into a series of seemingly random charactersnotice how ciphertext.

In other words, from the regular text we end up with texts unreadable without a special key to decrypt them. Only those who possess the key will be able to read the plaintext again, rather than a string of random characters. This way the data remain protected from the eyes of all, except the recipient.

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There are two main encryption methods: the one with public key (or asymmetric) and the one with private key (symmetric). The difference lies in how to handle the encryption and decryption steps.

Public key encryption

Public-key, or asymmetric, cryptography uses the recipient’s public key and a mathematically matching private key.

The public key allows encrypt messages or information, but not read them once encrypted. Instead, the private key allows the plaintext to be viewed or removed, although it cannot insert new messages. To do this, you need new public and private keys.

Private key encryption: how it works

Private-key, or symmetric, cryptography differs from public-key cryptography in the purpose of the keys. There are still two keys needed to communicate, but each of these keys is now essentially the same. In other words, you can encrypt a message and decrypt it with the same key, which is yours alone.

There are many sites and online services that use both public and private key cryptography, depending on the goal to be achieved.

More and more sophisticated keys

Modern encryption technology uses more sophisticated algorithms and larger key sizes to hide data. The larger the size (in bits) of the key, the more combinations are possible. So a brute force attack, which tries all possible combinations to decipher your message, will take much longer.

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For example, a 56-bit key and a 64-bit key, although numerically close, are very different: the 64-bit one is 256 times more difficult to crack. Most modern ciphers use at least a 128-bit key, some even 256-bit or higher. A 128-bit key delivers nicely 339,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible key combinations.

The types of algorithms used in cryptography

There are several encryption algorithms, with different names such as DES, RSA or AES. Usually these names are followed by the bit size of the encryption: for example AES-256. They work like this:

  • Il Data Encryption Standard (DES), standard created by the US government, it was once considered indestructible. Now 56-bit encryption is rather obsolete
  • RSA is one of the first public key cryptographic algorithms, used in many protocols, including SSH, OpenPGP, S/MIME e SSL/TLS. i use it browser to connect to unsafe networks, for example. They are usually 1024 or 2048 bits, so far they have remained impossible to crack: however, some experts think that hackers are close to doing it for 1024
  • L’Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) they are the encryption standard for governments too: when you read “military-grade encryption”, they are talking about AES. It is a symmetric key algorithm capable of generating keys in three different dimensions: 128, 192 o 256 bit. It offers different encryption cycles for each key size. For 128 bit, there are ten rounds, 192 bit has 12, and 256 bit has 14. Currently, they are the most secure form of private key encryption.

Is encryption secure?

The amount of time, energy consumption and computational cost to decrypt cryptographic messages make virtually impossible to break the encryption without the key. With brute force, they cannot be overcome.

However there are some vulnerabilities. As the backdoor: parts of the code that allow the offerer of the encryption software to access the plaintext. There are some governments that require companies to enter these backdoors for purposes such as counter-terrorism. But once that a backdoor exists, the risk for the data is there – not just for criminals but for everyone who uses the service. In Europe this does not happen, but remember that not all software is born in Europe.

Furthermore, the fact remains that human error is still the main factor in most security problems. A mistake in handling a private key could expose it to outside parties, rendering encryption useless.

Finally, there is the risk of an increase in the computational power. AES-256 is thought to be resistant even to quantum computers – but that may not be the case in the future.

For now, however, encryption protects your encrypted WhatsApp or Telegram messages, the sites you connect to, and how companies protect your data on their servers. We hope this information has helped you understand how encryption works and can help you choose the services that offer the best safety standards.

Walker Ronnie is a tech writer who keeps you informed on the latest developments in the world of technology. With a keen interest in all things tech-related, Walker shares insights and updates on new gadgets, innovative advancements, and digital trends. Stay connected with Walker to stay ahead in the ever-evolving world of technology.