If there is one question we hear often in the VPN industry it is “What is encryption?” This question is being asked more often as people become aware of the fact that encryption can protect them. Given that our specialty is VPNs, and VPNs offer encryption, I think it is fair that people learn a bit more about what encryption is in an online context.
So… What is Encryption then?
The most basic way to explain what encryption is by saying that it is the process of taking information and converting it into something that is unreadable during transportation. The technical name for the text when it’s scrambled is ‘ciphertext.’ This information is then unscrambled once it reaches its destination.
Tech companies: use this time to enable end-to-end encryption everywhere. Your future depends on making pervasive crypto a fait accompli.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 27, 2016
We have been using encrypted messages for as long as we have spoken. In an online context it has come to the light of day that it is important as it impacts so many people. Without encryption, every single piece of information you share online could easily be stolen.
Encryption during storage
Encryption can also be used when data is being stored. This includes storage on memory cards, smartphones, digital cameras, and hard drives. In this instance, time is the transportation method as the information is unlocked when it reaches the time it is needed.
No matter which form of encryption you are looking at, encryption is just the scrambling of information into ciphertext so that it cannot be read by those it is not intended for. Tools which scramble this information can include:
- VPNs which encrypt during transportation from your computer to the intended server.
- Encryption apps which encrypt information while it is being stored.
- HTTPS protocol which protects certain transactions online.
A surprising amount of valuable information is stored on people’s computers. What is encryption going to do to protect it? It is going to scramble the information until it is unlocked by a password.
What makes encryption work?
There are two basic types of encryption that are used online. They are:
- Public key encryption: This is used as direct encryption between a sender and receiver. This is the type of encryption that you receive with the VPN.
- Private key encryption: This is when multiple parties have access to a key which unlocks the data, is not about sending encrypted information but about going to encrypted information.
The whole point of encryption is that only those that need access to the information have the digital key to unlock it.
Organize. Compartmentalize to limit compromise. Encrypt everything, from calls to texts (use Signal as a first step) https://t.co/f28KscdfM7
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 13, 2015
Tools which use of both public and private key encryption include:
These are what is known as end-to-end encryption tools. Not only are messaging apps like those above starting to use this, but so are many other types of online platforms and apps. Their goal is to protect your information, and their information.
What is encryption good for?
Most of the time, you are going to be using websites that have encryption when they need it. While it is nice to have this protection, wouldn’t you rather have some protection of your own? Taking personal responsibility for your own encryption involves using a VPN service. They use public key encryption so that all communications between your computer and the server you are contacting are encrypted. The most important places to use this include:
- Wireless hotspots: Wireless hotspots are a haven for hackers. It has been found that an absolutely unacceptable number of them feature absolutely no encryption. This means that if you are on a public wireless hotspot hackers will be free to read your banking details, communications, and passwords in plain text. A VPN, such as the well reviewed IPVanishVPN, encrypts this information for you when the wireless hotspot fails you.
- ISP spying: With the recent signing into law of legislation which allows your ISP to collect data about all the websites you visit and sell it, wouldn’t you rather keep that private? A VPN is capable of encrypting things so that not even your ISP can steal the information from you. They don’t need to know what you look at on a Friday night…
- HTTP websites: Many websites use HTTPS protocol. That ‘S’ basically stands for ‘secure.’ It has its own encryption standard. Websites which do not use it, and are referred to as HTTP, do not have this encryption. A VPN solves this problem for you.
As you can see, there are many instances where encryption will help you. These are not small things, your life is online. Your banking is online. Your private communications with your friends are online. If you have to ask yourself what is encryption used for again, those are your answers.