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What is Encryption?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Encryption refers to algorithmic schemes that encode plain text into non-readable form or cyphertext, providing privacy. The receiver of the encrypted text uses a "key" to decrypt the message, returning it to its original plain text form. The key is the trigger mechanism to the algorithm.

Until the advent of the Internet, encryption was rarely used by the public, but was largely a military tool. Today, with online marketing, banking, healthcare and other services, even the average householder is much more aware of it.

Web browsers will encrypt text automatically when connected to a secure server, evidenced by an address beginning with https. The server decrypts the text upon its arrival, but as the information travels between computers, interception of the transmission will not be fruitful to anyone "listening in." They would only see unreadable gibberish.

There are many types of encryption and not all of them are reliable. The same computer power that yields strong encryption can be used to break weak schemes. Initially, 64-bit encryption was thought to be quite strong, but today 128-bit is the standard, and this will undoubtedly change again in the future.

Though browsers automatically encrypt information when connected to a secure website, many people choose to use encryption in their email correspondence as well. This can easily be accomplished with programs that feature plug-ins or interfaces for popular email clients. The most longstanding of these is called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), a humble name for very strong military-grade encryption program. PGP allows one to not only encrypt email messages, but personal files and folders as well.

Encryption can also be applied to an entire volume or drive. To use the drive, it is "mounted" using a special decryption key. In this state the drive can be used and read normally. When finished, the drive is dismounted and returns to an encrypted state, unreadable by interlopers, Trojan horses, spyware or snoops. Some people choose to keep financial programs or other sensitive data on encrypted drives.

Encryption schemes are categorized as being symmetric or asymmetric. Symmetric key algorithms such as Blowfish, AES and DES, work with a single, prearranged key that is shared between sender and receiver. This key both encrypts and decrypts text. In asymmetric encryption schemes, such as RSA and Diffie-Hellman, the scheme creates a "key pair" for the user: a public key and a private key. The public key can be published online for senders to use to encrypt text that will be sent to the owner of the public key. Once encrypted, the cyphertext cannot be decrypted except by the one who holds the private key of that key pair. This algorithm is based around the two keys working in conjunction with each other. Asymmetric encryption is considered one step more secure than symmetric encryption, because the decryption key can be kept private.

Strong encryption makes data private, but not necessarily secure. To be secure, the recipient of the data — often a server — must be positively identified as being the approved party. This is usually accomplished online using digital signatures or certificates.

As more people realize the open nature of the Internet, email and instant messaging, encryption will undoubtedly become more popular. Without it, information passed on the Internet is not only available for virtually anyone to snag and read, but is often stored for years on servers that can change hands or become compromised in any number of ways. For all of these reasons, it is a goal worth pursuing.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon298190 — On Oct 18, 2012

What is the advantage of encryption?

By anon240448 — On Jan 14, 2012

Encryption is used most commonly in e-mails, private websites, and generally any online network that needs security and hold personal information.

By anon240444 — On Jan 14, 2012

What are some of the most secure types of encryption and what sort of methods can be used to decrypt them?

By anon231152 — On Nov 23, 2011

What is the difference between 64-bit, 128-bit and 256-bit data cryptography?

By anon106310 — On Aug 25, 2010

Can I use encryption on my password to get into my computer?

By anon100175 — On Jul 28, 2010

what is the correct meaning of encryption?

By anon89442 — On Jun 10, 2010

Cryptography is a wide term which encapsulates both encryption and decryption of data. Cryptography, i.e. encryption and decryption, are done by using the cryptographic algorithms which are mathematics based. Cryptography algorithms require a key for the encryption and decryption of data.

By anon84168 — On May 14, 2010

what is encryption and online privacy?

I know the meaning of encryption but I don't know the meaning of online privacy.

By anon82184 — On May 04, 2010

What is encryption key and how it is used for encryption?

By anon78764 — On Apr 20, 2010

What is Encryption? Explain characteristics advantages and disadvantages and users.

By anon71286 — On Mar 18, 2010

i want ieee projects on AES. from where can i get those ieee papers?

By anon64535 — On Feb 08, 2010

what is meant by encryption and explain it?

By anon48637 — On Oct 14, 2009

how can i write a cryptography algorithm?

By anon29387 — On Apr 01, 2009

What is 128 Bit encryption?

By princekasok — On Dec 27, 2008

what is secure and fast encryption algoritham[SAFER]

By manan — On Dec 23, 2008

what is an encryption key and how it is used for encryption?

By Manikandan — On Nov 01, 2007

Cryptography is the field of study that stands for the methods and principles that are used to transform data and hide its contents. Apart from this, cryptography is also used to establish authenticity, prevent unauthorized access and/or modification of data. It uses mathematical algorithms to transform data into an unreadable format. The main purpose of cryptography comes into play when information is transmitted, when it is more susceptible to be eavesdropped. This transformation of plain text into an unreadable format is called “encryption” and the process of reversing it back to a readable form is called “decryption”.

By anon2297 — On Jul 06, 2007

What is the difference between Encryption and Cryptography?

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