August 20, 2020
Antivirus software, VPNs, firewalls, strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and other cybersecurity protections are just a few of the measures we take to protect our personal information from malicious cyber thieves. Another security option is encryption, which is when data is converted to an indecipherable code as it travels through the internet. It may travel in code, but it doesn’t usually stay that way.
What Are Encryption Keys?
Data and messages are both encrypted and decrypted with the help of unique “keys.” These keys are strings of randomized numbers that either lock/encrypt the information to scramble it (into what’s known as ciphertext) or unlock/decrypt the information, turning it back into the message’s original, readable form (called plaintext).
Think of encryption keys like combinations to a lock. The sender (be it a third-party software or the service they’re using) creates the combination to lock the message then sends it on. Only the right combination of numbers can open the file, message, release the data, etc., to who is authorized to see it. Here’s a great video for a more in-depth explanation of encryption keys.
What Is End-to-End Encryption?
Just like there is more than one type of encryption key, there is also more than one type of encryption. Recently, you may have heard the term end-to-end encryption floating around with the increase in popularity of messaging apps like Signal and video conferencing services like Zoom. End-to-End Encryption (or E2EE) scrambles the message before it’s sent off rather than in transit like basic encryption.
Still, only the users participating in the communication can read it. So that way, the communication is encrypted when it leaves, encrypted in transit, and encrypted when it’s delivered to the recipient’s device, which is safer than standard encryption. It reduces the chance that a third party (like the service you’re sending the message through) has access to any of the decryption keys.
Overall, encryption is no longer just a tool for decoder rings, secret spies, militaries, or royalty. When you use encryption to protect your information, you’re also prioritizing your internet privacy. And that’s the real key to staying safe on the internet.
Read more about encryption in my other blog, and be sure to check out the Library’s resources for even more information about this topic!
Consumer Technology Specialist
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