Every second of the day sensitive information, from credit card numbers to health records to military secrets, is transmitted through the Internet. Thanks to encryption, it can all be done securely. Encryption allows confidential data to move from one network to another without being compromised. When data is encrypted, it cannot be accessed and exploited by unauthorized users.
Passwords, server locks, firewalls and removable storage are all adequate means of securing data, but encryption is the most widely used method. Encryption converts text messages, emails, and data uploads into ciphertext, which renders them unreadable by humans.
The encryption process uses algorithms that convert data into codes so complex that the most powerful computers would take years to break them. Only a person or computer who has the correct key can quickly decrypt the information, or put it back into its original form. The decryption key is another algorithm that reverses the process of the encryption algorithm.
In symmetric key encryption, the same key is installed on both computers that transmit and receive the encrypted information. Public key encryption uses two different keys simultaneously: a private key, which is known only by Computer A; and a public key, which is provided to any computer that needs to communicate with Computer A. Decrypting the information requires both the public key provided by Computer A and the computer’s own private key.
A popular Internet security protocol that uses public key encryption is the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). SSL is commonly used by browsers and Internet servers when transmitting confidential data. When implementing SSL protocols, a browser will indicate the URL with “https” instead of “http,” and, depending on the browser, a padlock icon appears either to the left of the URL or at the bottom of the page.
A digital signature is used to confirm the authenticity of the sender of a message. It will also verify that the information has not changed. If anything in the document is changed after the digital signature has been attached, the signature becomes invalid. Digital signatures can be used with or without encryption. Digital signatures utilize private keys, and can be verified by anyone with a public key, while originators of encrypted messages use a public key to send to recipients who use private keys to decrypt the message or information.
The ancient Greeks were the first to utilize codes, called ciphers, to transpose or replace letters and numbers. And for centuries, the science of cryptology was widely used to securely transmit military secrets. Today’s digital encryption has its roots in these proven systems, but now, computers do all the heavy lifting.
Because of the risk of exploitation by hackers and cyber criminals around the globe, it’s clear that professionals who undergo proper cybersecurity training will continue to be valued by any entity that processes sensitive data. Financial firms, credit card companies, government and military agencies, and private companies of all sizes need the skills of cybersecurity professionals to keep their networks hacker-proof.