Subtitle: Everything you wanted to know about encryption but didn’t know who to ask
The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I have written several times about the need to encrypt all computerized information that you wish to keep private. This week, I will tell you how to encrypt information stored on your computer, stored on a jump drive in your pocket, or being sent across a network connection.
Encryption is the one thing that allows computer users, financial services, and even governments to securely move information around the Internet and to store that information safely, away from prying eyes.
Wikipedia provides the following definition:
“In cryptography, encryption is the process of encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized parties can read it. Encryption does not of itself prevent interception, but denies the message content to the interceptor. In an encryption scheme, the intended communication information or message, referred to as plaintext, is encrypted using an encryption algorithm, generating ciphertext that can only be read if decrypted.”
A bit later, Wikipedia also states:
“The purpose of encryption is to ensure that only somebody who is authorized to access data (e.g. a text message or a file), will be able to read it, using the decryption key. Somebody who is not authorized can be excluded, because he or she does not have the required key, without which it is impossible to read the encrypted information.”
In short, encryption is a way of converting information into a form that is unreadable to anyone who does not have the special key.
An encryption key is a combination of letters, numbers, and other characters, similar to (but not the same as) a password. In most cases of encryption that I will describe in this article, the special key is created by the person who encrypts the information. He or she may keep that key secret, known only to that one person. However, he or she may also decide to share that key with one or more other people in order to let them decrypt the information and then read the information themselves. Anyone who does not possess the encryption key cannot read the original text. In short, the person who creates the key and also performs the encryption is always in control: he or she controls who has access to the information.
Please note that encryption experts will insist that encryption keys are not the same as passwords. Indeed, they are correct. However, both encryption keys and passwords look the same and are used in more or less the same manner.
For more information about encryption keys, read Footnote #4.
Is encryption safe and secure? The U.S. Military, the FBI, NSA, the Federal Reserve System, banks, stock brokers, credit card companies, and others all seem to think that it is. Of course, that depends upon using encryption properly. Luckily, that is easy to do.
If done properly, encryption is very secure. In fact, the U.S. Government and other governments use encryption to store and to send the most sensitive information imaginable: military plans, intelligence information, tax payment records, financial information, and more. Financial institutions, such as banks and stock brokers, use encryption to safely send billions of dollars across the Internet every day, information that is safe from prying eyes. Drug dealers and terrorists do the same: send information that is essentially impossible for law enforcement agencies to read.
If encryption meets the needs of all these governments, organizations, and individuals, I would suggest that encryption also meets your needs and mine.
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