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Encryption essentials: What it is, how it works, and why you need it now

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By now, “encryption” shouldn’t be an unfamiliar word. Even if you don’t stay hip to the latest tech news, you should have heard the term surface in relation to worldwide events, including malware that encrypts victims’ files and apps that fail to use encryption for protection. But what is encryption, why does everyone say you need it, and how should it impact your website design?

What encryption is

Encryption isn’t new. In fact, encryption predates computers by more than 3,500 years. This is because encryption is any attempt to convert information into a code. Throughout history, many literate cultures devised ways of hiding information in plain sight by replacing letters, words, or phrases with different letters, words, phrases, or symbols. You can encrypt any phrase by hand by creating a cipher, or pattern of disguise. For example, if you replace every letter in the phrase:

Encryption is fun!

with the letter that precedes it in the alphabet, you generate this unreadable code:

Dmbqxosjnmjretm!

Then, you can pass this message to someone who knows your cipher without worrying about others learning your secrets. Through history, cryptographers have developed hundreds of ciphers to protect data – but nothing has come close to the power of computer encryption.

How encryption protects your data

Today, we enable computers to add strength to encryption with nearly uncrackable patterns and substitutions. Instead of merely shifting the alphabet by a letter or two – which is an exceedingly easy cipher to recognize – computers utilize exceedingly complex mathematical formulas to develop their ciphers. Computer encryption is as close to random as a cipher can get.

As a result, it is impossible for any person to crack computer-encrypted data. Instead, when you want to share encrypted data with someone, you furnish them with a unique encryption key. Given enough time and processing power, some super computers might be able to decrypt code without the correct key. However, few machines are capable of this, and few criminals are willing to wastes resources on what might be a fruitless endeavor. Thus, by encrypting your data, you make it nearly impenetrable to prying eyes.

Websites don’t have to be encrypted – but most of them are. While you are browsing the web, you might notice that many websites now begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP. The “S” indicates that the connection between your device and an internet server is secured through encryption. Initially, only websites that sent highly sensitive data, like financial information, bothered with HTTPS because the process was expensive; today, it is much more accessible, and nearly every site uses it.

Why encryption benefits you

Criminals are after your devices and data. It doesn’t matter whether you are a multi-national, billion-dollar corporation or a dude with a smartphone; criminals can profit by stealing your information or controlling your machines.

Encryption is a near-foolproof method of completely protecting your digital assets. With network and endpoint encryption, you can ensure that your data remains safe at all times. Therefore, criminals never have a chance to pilfer your information. Even better, encryption does not alter data in any way, so you can maintain integrity in your data while keeping it secure. Finally, many industries must adhere to regulations that mandate certain levels of encryption. At the very least, by encrypting your data, you are avoiding heavy fines due to non-compliance with these rules.

For website encryption, the benefits are even greater. Not only can you be certain that no eavesdroppers are looking in on what you and your site visitors are doing, but you can ensure that upload and download speeds are dramatically faster. The newest protocol for transferring data over the web, HTTP/2, uses a strategy that allows computers to pull and unpack files more efficiently than previous protocols. However, to use HTTP/2, your website must encrypt its connection with HTTPS. Plus, in 2016, Google announced that it began weighting search rankings based on encryption, so your website will be higher in search results if you encrypt.

When to use encryption

If you care about privacy and security, you should never stop encrypting your data. That said, there are two periods when encryption is key: when data is at rest and when data is moving.

Data stored on your computer (or within your cloud) is considered at rest. Because passwords aren’t infallible methods of protection, encrypting stored data is advisable, especially if you have anything stored that you don’t want found – like confidential business documents, financial information, or personal information. Depending on your encryption service, you might be able to pick and choose which files to encrypt, or you might encrypt your entire hard drive. Because the encryption key is known by your computer, you shouldn’t experience any difference in accessing your encrypted data. However, if a hacker tries to break their way in, they won’t find anything of use.

Meanwhile, whenever you send data to someone else – via email, instant message, social media, etc. – that data is in transit. Few communications providers have encryption built into their systems; in fact, email is easily the least secure method of sharing data. It is your responsibility to protect your moving data with encryption services. You might also consider encrypting your connection to the web, which safeguards data moving around your Wi-Fi connection. This will help secure notoriously insecure endpoints, like any connected devices.

Encryption is a simple way to protect yourself from complex cyber attacks. The sooner you encrypt your devices and data, the better.

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Our women don’t want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best.We believe in pragmatism, having fun, hard-work and sharing inspiration. LinkedIn

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