What Is Encryption?

Are your apps and cloud resources as secure as you think? Learn how encryption works and how it can help prevent phishing attacks within your organization. 

What Is Encryption?

Encryption is the process of scrambling readable text into an unreadable format known as “ciphertext.” This way, when data is transmitted from one source to another, it can only be decrypted with a secret key. Encryption is used to protect all different types of data, whether in transit or at rest. 

Businesses rely on high levels of encryption to keep data secured and prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Encryption helps protect against major damaging cyber attacks such as brute force attacks, identity theft, and malicious emails. 

The average employee receives around 121 emails per day. Workers are also busy with meetings, planning schedules, checking social media, replying to personal text messages, and other forms of distraction where a single malicious email can easily bypass weak email filters and find its way into their inbox. 

This process happens more often than you would think. 94% of all malware is delivered by email. Take into consideration that over three billion phishing emails are sent out daily. Couple that with distractions and you can see how easy it is for someone to fall prey to a phishing attack, especially without email encryption. 

How Does Encryption Work?

Encryption is the process where messages or files are encoded so that they can only be read by the receiver. It uses algorithms to scramble and encrypt the data and then a key is used by the receiver to unscramble and decrypt the data. Encryption keys are generated using random numbers and complex algorithms to add extra layers of security. There are two types of keys, public and private. 

  • Public key – Known as asymmetric cryptography, a public key means that the encryption is available for anyone to use. 
  • Private key – Private key, also known as secret key means that two parties must have the same key in order to encrypt and decrypt information. 

Ciphertext refers to data that is encrypted and unreadable. Encryption and decryption work in tandem in the process of protecting data from outside threats. AES is the Advanced Encryption Standard regarded as the “gold standard” when referring to encryption standards and is even used by the U.S. government to protect classified information. 

Why Is Encryption Important? 

81% of data breaches are due to weak passwords. Even more concerning is that 42% of organizations rely on sticky notes for password management. Weak passwords open the door for brute force attacks and eventually a major data breach. 

Encryption solves this issue by securing passwords in an encrypted format. End-to-end encryption also helps protect files containing confidential details and data as they are sent through the cloud. We rely on end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in our personal and professional lives on a daily basis. A good example of this would be WhatsApp. 

There are over 100 billion messages sent on WhatsApp each day. All messages sent and received on a device are end-to-end encrypted. That means that messages and chats can be backed up using a strong password of choice or a 64-digit encryption key.    

End-to-end encryption enhances the security of communication that goes on between client applications and servers. When data is encrypted, only authorized users may view and share files, documents, emails, and read other forms of text that would otherwise appear as gibberish to a potential hacker, ultimately preventing a costly data breach.  

What Are The Different Types of Encryption?

The different types of encryption include:

  • DES Encryption
  • RSA Encryption
  • AES Encryption
  • PGP Encryption
  • TLS Encryption
  • SSL Encryption

DES Encryption

DES (Data Encryption Standard) encrypts groups consisting of 64 message bits, equaling 16 hexadecimal numbers. In order for the encryption to take place, DES utilizes keys that are also 16 hexadecimal numbers or 64 bits long. 

Triple DES encryption utilizes three instances of DES on the same plain text. It takes three 56-bit keys (K1, K2 & K3) and encrypts first with K1, goes on to decrypt with K2, and again encrypts utilizing K3. 

RSA Encryption

RSA encryption is an encryption technology that utilizes a publi key, which was developed by RSA Data Security. It is the standard encryption method pertaining to all important data, especially data that is sent online. RSA happens to stand for the creators of the actual technique, being Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman.

AES Encryption

AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard and is a symmetric block cipher that has been adopted by the United States government in order to protect information that is classified. AES provides 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit secret key encryption.

AES-256 encryption is an international standard that makes sure that data is encrypted and decrypted following this standard. The U.S government, as well as other intelligence organizations around the world use this high-security encryption standard.   

PGP Encryption

PGP encryption stands for Pretty Good Privacy. It was developed back in 1991 by Phil Zimmerman, and encrypts, decrypts, and authenticates digital files and online communication. OpenPGP is an open-source end-to-end encrypted email communication platform which is widely available to the public and is the most widely used email encryption standard.  

TLS Encryption

TLS stands for Transportation Layer Security. Standard encryption TLS uses a combination of both symmetric and asymmetric cryptography. This combination offers a great compromise between performance, as well as security when data is being transmitted securely. 

TLS is a cryptographic protocol that provides end-to-end security of all the data that is sent between apps over the net. 

SSL Encryption

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It is a security protocol that offers privacy, authentication, as well as integrity with all forms of online communication. SSL evolved into TLS. 

Modern SSL VPN encryption utilizes TLS for the encryption of streams of network data that is sent between processes. The TLS protocol allows encryption, as well as authentication of all the connections between programs.  

256 bit SSL encryption encrypts and decrypts data transferred via the browser of the user and the website server with a 256-bit long encryption key. The encryption key it uses is symmetric which means that it is a shared key that is able to both encrypt and decrypt a message. SSL encryption is incredibly reliable in preventing phishing attacks and is almost synonymous with all e-commerce platforms. 

How Does VPN Encryption Work?

A Virtual Private Networks (VPN) utilizes public-key encryption for the protection of AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) keys. The server uses the VPN client’s public VPN encryption key to encrypt data and then send it to the client. 

The client program on the device will then decrypt that data using its own private key. VPNs use asymmetric, AES, and public-key encryption, as well as TLS.  

How Does Public Key Encryption Work?

Public key encryption, or asymmetric encryption, uses both a public and a private encryption key. Public keys are also used in digital signatures and can only be decrypted with the private key. 

What is Digital Signature Encryption?

Digital signatures are a major part of day-to-day business transactions and help build trust between customers, partners, and suppliers. 

Digital signatures are used for all types of documents. These include: 

  • Shipping documents 
  • Legal contracts
  • Purchase orders 
  • Vendor/supplier agreements
  • Non-disclosure agreements 
  • Banking transactions
  • Healthcare forms 
  • Government documents

The digital signature process includes:

  • Hash function – A hash function is a mathematical algorithm that shortens large numerical values and transforms data of any size into a fixed-size output. The hash is unique to the messages or documents created. 
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI) – A PKI is a set of policies, roles, systems, and procedures that support the distribution of public keys with digital certificates and a Certificate Authority (CA) to validate the identity. 
  • Private/Public keys – Both keys work in tandem to encrypt the hash value (private key) and encrypt the data (public key). The result is the encrypted digital signature. 

This process ensures that the end content remains fully encrypted and secured. So each time you open an email or a document, you can feel a bit more at ease. 

How Does Email Encryption Work?

Millions of emails are sent every day. 2.4 billion emails to be exact, are sent every single second, and 74 trillion emails are sent every year. But these emails are not naturally encrypted as you would think. 

Cyber criminals use this weakness to their advantage and set up malicious attacks such as phishing, spear phishing, and other sneaky tactics in the hope of reeling in another unsuspecting victim. 

Email encryption can mean the difference between another person safely receiving the intended message or a major data breach. But how exactly does the process of email encryption work?  

There are two main protocols for encrypting emails:

  • Transport Layer Security (TLS) – The process of encrypting emails while in transit as they transfer from sender to recipient. The drawback to TLS is that the emails only remain secure while in transit but are vulnerable to certain types of attacks where a hacker eavesdrops on a conversation, more commonly known as a man-in-the-middle attack. 
  • End-to-end email encryption – As the name implies, end-to-end encryption secures each message from the time it is sent out to the time it is received. Each message is encrypted by the sender and decrypted by the recipient, ensuring a superior level of security. E2EE is the preferred method of encryption for all types of businesses for this precise reason.  

End-to-end encryption is particularly important when dealing with sensitive and confidential data such as medical records, banking transactions, and customer credit cards. A secure business VPN can also make this process easier as sensitive files are safely passed through various cloud environments with end-to-end encryption.  

Encrypting emails can help protect against data breaches. The two main types of email encryption protocols are:

  • S/MIME – S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is mostly used in digital signatures to verify the identity of the sender of an email message and is based on asymmetric cryptography. It is also built into email service providers such as Outlook, Gmail, and Apple messages.  
  • PGP/MIME – PGP/MIME (Pretty Good Privacy/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is used to encrypt and decrypt emails and authenticate email messages through digital signatures. The drawback is that it requires a third-party encryption tool.  

What Are Encryption Algorithms?

Encryption algorithms are used to prevent data breaches by using advanced mathematics and ciphering to safeguard data. 

There are many different types of encryption algorithms which include symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption, and other advanced encryption algorithms. 

Symmetric Encryption Algorithms

Symmetric encryption uses symmetric-key algorithms, known as secret-key algorithms. These algorithms utilize a single cryptographic key for the purposes of both encryption and decryption. When they convert data, the data remains encrypted and cannot be decrypted without the key.

These keys are created and distributed to both the sender and receiver and no other entity. However, should a symmetric-key algorithm be used by more than just a single receiver, then the key must be shared with all entities.

The main objectives of symmetric key algorithms are to:

  1. Secure confidentiality – encryption and decryption occur with one key
  2. Achieve integrity and source authentication – MAC (Message Authentication Codes) is created and validated by the same key
  3. Generate pseudorandom numbers

Examples of symmetric encryption algorithms include:

  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)
  • IDEA (International Data Encryption Algorithm)
  • DES (Data Encryption Standard)

Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms

Asymmetric encryption algorithms are where public key algorithms are used. They utilize both public and private keys, where one is used for encryption, and the other, decryption. These two keys combine to form what is referred to as a “key pair.”  The private key is known only by the owner, whereas the public key is available for anyone to use. 

The main objectives of asymmetric key algorithms are to:

  • Create digital signatures
  • Establish and distribute session keys, such as where TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol is used 

AES Encryption Algorithms

First known as Rijndael, AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the most popular symmetric algorithm used around the world. This standard was set in 2001 by the NIST for the purpose of encrypting electronic data. 

It replaced DES (Data Encryption Standard) which was created in the ‘70s. Under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the cipher of AES contains a block size of 128 bits, however, it can have three different lengths, such as AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256.

The main objectives of AES encryption algorithms are to:

  • Protect wireless security
  • Encrypt files
  • Secure processors

What is Homomorphic Encryption?

Homomorphic encryption converts data into ciphertext that is able to be both analyzed and worked upon. It allows complex mathematical operations to be performed on data that is encrypted without compromising the encryption. It is able to be used for privacy-preserving outsourced storage and computation. 

With it, data can be encrypted and out-sourced to cloud environments of a commercial nature for processing, all while being encrypted. It also uses a public key to encrypt data. 

Password Encryption

Password-based encryption (PBE) allows users to create strong and secure secret keys. Passwords or encryption keys are required in the process of encryption.

The key bytes produced are meant to be as random as possible. The algorithms used by PBE utilize the password of a user in tandem with certain additional input parameters. 

Password encryption uses a technique called salting which is the process of adding a series of random characters to a password before going through the hashing function. This helps protect passwords in transit and at rest. 

Encryption in Healthcare

Healthcare data is exceptionally sensitive and needs to be kept private. In 2020, data breaches affected over 25 million records in the U.S. which cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars. As far as encryption is concerned, encrypting healthcare data is a number one priority.

Best Practices for Healthcare Data Encryption

  • All electronic Private Healthcare Information (ePHI) must be encrypted, especially on work devices as per HIPAA requirements
  • Document where PHI enters the healthcare environment, what happens to it, and how it exits 
  • Encrypt data on mobile devices
  • Encrypt email messages
  • Strong passwords must be used and the use of multi-factor authentication must be implemented
  • Every user must have their own unique account
  • Each user must be provided with the minimum ePHI access required to work
  • Record all ePHI changes 

5 Benefits of Using Encryption Software

  1. A highly encrypted VPN  ensures strong security measures where data is unreadable to potential attackers
  1. Implementing encryption software can help keep regulatory fines at bay
  1. Having a company that implements encryption software increases consumer trust, especially where PCI is involved
  1. Encrypton protects WFH employees and third parties (contractors, partners)
  1. Data integrity increases with the use of encrypted software

How Hackers Are Bypassing Encryption Tactics

Malicious attackers target people’s devices with ransomware by encrypting their files and personal data. Victims of such attacks have to pay a certain amount to receive a key that decrypts the information that has been encrypted. 92% of ransomware victims who pay the ransom fee never get their data back. 

Ransomware criminals use sophisticated techniques such as military grade (AES-256 encryption) algorithms that make it extremely difficult to distinguish which files have been affected. You will then receive a ransom note within a given timeframe, typically 96 hours to pay the fee or risk the consequences. You should avoid paying the ransom and instead have a backup plan of action ready such as disaster recovery. 

Having end-to-end encryption and a secure business VPN can help eliminate that threat. 

Perimeter 81 Raises The Bar in Data Security & Encryption

Businesses rely on end-to-end encryption to keep confidential company information such as passwords, billing details, research data, and contract agreements away from malicious parties. 

Perimeter 81’s Business VPN encrypts connections between company networks and remote users regardless of where they are or which device they log on from. Perimeter 81 enforces strict cybersecurity encryption methods such as 256-bit bank-level encryption and a Zero Trust framework. 
Give your IT the extra layer of remote access security with Perimeter 81’s advanced security features.

 Encryption FAQ

What is encryption?
Encryption is the process of encoding data from incomprehensible text to human-readable.
How does encryption work?
Encryption works by using a complex cipher algorithm to unscramble incomprehensible messages into text humans can read. 
What are the two types of encryption?
The two main types of encryption are symmetric and asymmetric encryption.
What is end-to-end encrypted data?
End-to-end encryption (E2EE) prevents data from being accessed and read by third parties.
What is encryption at rest?
Encryption at rest is designed to prevent attackers from accessing private data. Think of it as a “data vault”. 

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