AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. AES is now one of the most popular methods used for encryption. This method uses a special algorithm to ensure that your online data is stored securely. If you’re looking for a little more information, then stick around as we depict the idiosyncrasies of AES.
What is AES Encryption?
AES was first announced in 1997 as a successor algorithm for the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which was slowly becoming outdated and vulnerable to attacks. Here are the basics of AES and how it all began:
- What it is: AES is an encryption method used for any public, private, commercial or non-commercial use. Based on a design principle known as the substitution-permutation network, AES is used in both hardware and software to protect digital information in various forms. This algorithm may be used with three different key lengths, referred to as “AES-128,” “AES-192,” and “AES-256.” The algorithm used by AES is a symmetric-key algorithm; this means the same key is used for encrypting and decrypting data.
- Background story: Established by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2001, AES was specifically crafted to encrypt electronic data. It was developed by two Belgian cryptographers, Vincent Rijmen and Joan Daemen. AES came to life as a much-needed replacement for the slowly obsolete DES (which was becoming more and more vulnerable to attacks). AES became effective as a federal government standard on May 26, 2002, after being approved by the Secretary of Commerce.
Today, AES encryption is widely supported in both hardware and software. Its cryptographic strengths are commonly used in archive and compression tools, partition encryption, and virtual private networks.
How AES encryption works
Compared to the overall security generated by DES, AES is lightyears ahead. DES desperately needed a replacement as its key size was too small, it was considered vulnerable to exhaustive key size attacks, and it couldn’t pace with modern tech.
That’s where AES stepped in. Its primary role was to fill the voids left open by DES and provide a secure, fast, and unbreachable encryption method. AES is distinguished by the following features.
- AES has three block ciphers: AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256. Each cipher encrypts and decrypts data in blocks of 128-bits using cryptographic keys of 128-, 192-, and 256-bits.
- The AES encryption algorithm defines the number of transformations that are about to be performed on data stored in an array. The first step of the cipher is to place the data into an array. Afterward, the cipher transformations are repeated over a number of encryption rounds.
The 256-bit key is more than enough to withstand any intrusion attempt. However, using a 256-bit key to protect and encrypt your data requires more processing power and will take longer to process. Depending on the key size, AES produces specific rounds of computation. AES encryption consists of:
- 10 rounds of processing for 128-bit keys
- 12 rounds for a 192-bit key
- 14 rounds for a 256-bit key
Longer keys will provide stronger encryptions. However, while longer keys offer better security, they take longer to encrypt.
Understanding the AES encryption process – Glossary of terms
Unless you’re an expert in digital security, you’ll find an explanation of confusing terms (like cipher and bit keys) to be very helpful. By understanding what these terms mean, you will be able to understand their roles in AES encryption better:
- Cipher: A cipher is a series of transformations that converts plaintext to ciphertext by using a Cipher key.
- Cipher key: A Cipher Key is a secret cryptographic key that is used by the Key Expansion routine to generate a set of Round Keys. A Cipher Key can be pictured as a rectangular array of bytes, with four rows of Nk columns.
- Bit: Bit is a binary digit with a value of 0 or 1.
- Blocks: Sequence of binary bits that comprise the input, output, State, and Round Key. The length of a sequence is the number of bits it contains. Blocks are also interpreted as arrays of bytes.
- Key size: Key size or key length is the number of bits in a key used by a cryptographic algorithm.
- Round Key: Round keys are values derived from the Cipher Key using the Key Expansion routine; they are applied to the State in the Cipher and Inverse Cipher.
Basically, the AES cipher is a part of block ciphers, which are algorithms that encrypt data on a per-block basis. The bit numbers (for instance, 256-bit) is a reference to the length of the encryption key—from 2nd to the 256th power. This number represents how many different combinations a hacker would potentially have to take to complete a brute force attack. 256-bit key size is deemed virtually impenetrable.
AES encryption is popular among VPNs
Virtual Private Networks (or VPNs) rely on digital encryption. Their entire existence is based on the premise of protecting the privacy and anonymity of their clients; thus, impenetrable encryption is a must-have feature among all quality VPN providers. Today, almost all VPNs rely on the most advanced encryption method known today—AES:
- What VPNs do: Think of VPNs as your cloak of online invisibility. They hide your IP address, protect your personal data, and also encrypt your traffic. The goal is to prevent anyone from knowing what you do online or access your personal information. You get to access the Internet with increased privacy, making it much harder for anyone access to your personal information.
- How they do it: To encrypt and secure your online data, VPNs use encryption standards like AES. Although there are other encryption types (like RSA and SHA), AES is considered the most popular encryption type worldwide. The VPN acts as an intermediary between you and the Internet. This means that before you reach a certain website, your online information (which consists of your IP address, location, etc.) goes through the VPN server before it reaches the online destination. When your data reaches the VPN, it gets encrypted; the online destination only receives your data in the encrypted form originating from the VPN.
- Why VPNs are important: Online safety is an important aspect of our lives, considering that we keep some highly-sensitive personal information on the Internet, like bank account numbers, credit card numbers, login credentials, where we are, our daily habits, etc. VPNs help guard our online safety, especially when we’re connected to public Internet connections. VPNs are also useful for accessing restricted websites and geo-unblocking when we travel.
Given that AES was adopted by the US government in 2002 and is used by security experts worldwide to protect online data, it’s not surprising that AES is used by VPNs as well. The goal of VPNs is to use AES encryption to encode your data so that only your intended recipient can decrypt that data.
Why VPNs choose AES encryption?
It is clear that AES is a favorite when it comes to online data encryption. There are benefits that come from using AES that other encryption methods simply can’t match:
- The length key sizes for encryption (such as 128, 192, and 256 bits) make AES more robust against hacking. Your personal data is safe against third parties.
- It is one of the most commonly used secure protocols for various applications like wireless communication, e-business, financial transactions, encrypted data storage, etc.
- AES is the preferred encryption standard for governments, banks, and high-security systems around the world. This makes AES one of the strongest encryption models used today.
- The AES encryption standard is free to use. It requires no license fees whatsoever, and it’s not subject to patent restrictions.
Furthermore, AES encryption requires relatively low storage and hardware requirements, making it compatible with most devices. The AES encryption algorithm is elegant in programming, simple to implement, and for the foreseeable future, it is the strongest encryption method.
What AES encryption means for VPN users
Although there are different types of encryption methods that provide security and anonymity, there is a reason why AES is the most popular one. In layman’s terms, here’s how AES encryption helps your VPN connection:
- Prevents governments, ISPs, or advertisers from monitoring your Internet activity.
- Allows you to freely and securely download torrents through P2P networking.
- Keeps advertisers at bay by making it less likely for you to get spammed by personalized ads.
- Allows you to access geo-restricted websites.
- Hides your IP address, location, and other personal data.
Basically, quality VPNs provide everything that you need to safely and privately browse the Internet. AES encryption is the tool they use to do that.
Whether you’d like to browse the Internet anonymously, access restricted websites, or bypass geo-blocked content restrictions, using VPNs that have AES encryption is the right way to go.
Do all VPN providers have AES encryption?
Not quite. While free VPNs may promise to protect your connection by offering encryption, in reality, they don’t secure your data at all. Even if they do include encryption, they usually use a weaker algorithm and a less-secure VPN protocol. Even if they do use AES, it’s still likely that they’re harvesting your data and selling it to ad networks. Free VPNs are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than paid VPNs, and they don’t really keep you private.
The best online protection is provided by paid VPN providers. We have reviewed the best VPN service providers, and the majority of them use AES encryption. If you value your Internet safety, stick with these paid and reputable VPN service providers.
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