Do you think you’ve never used technology so advanced that it needed computer security like encryption? Think again! When you withdraw money from an ATM, use a clicker key to unlock a car, buy something online, or placed a call on a cellphone, you have used encryption technology. Encryption is a security tactic that uses an algorithm to encode plain text into something that would be undecipherable to a malicious hacker trying to intercept data in transit or attempting to access your data at rest. You can do it yourself and save potential time and money in home computer service.
A Quick Encryption Glossary:
Algorithm – A set of rules to instruct a computer to complete a task or solve a problem.
Encoding – The process of converting information into something your computer can understand, coded data.
Plaintext – This is data in the form you are used to. It is viewable because it is not encrypted, or has been decrypted.
Ciphertext – Unreadable encrypted data is referred to as ciphertext. If you encrypt information, it is switched from plaintext to ciphertext. The word cipher refers to Julius Caesar’s encryption scheme to transpose information by shifting certain letters around.
What Is Encryption Used For?
Encryption is used for authentication, non-repudiation and integrity.
Authentication – This helps you to verify the origins of a message you have received. It ensures that any link or piece of information contained in an email, for example, is legitimately from the sender of the message. Clicking on an un-authenticated link may result in the need for adware removal or virus removal by a home computer service.
Non-repudiation – This is a way of ensuring that the sender of the message can’t deny sending it.
The benefits of authentication and non-repudiation might be more appropriate for business computer services, or users who require more security for their data in transit.
Integrity – Making sure your data has not been tampered with.
Most consumers would benefit most by encrypting their data at rest. Examples of devices that contain data at rest include smart phones, computers, or a flash drive or external hard drive. Encryption ensures integrity of your data, and it’s a great way to protect it as well.
Say you are at the pharmacy. You know that a bottle of aspirin has a protective seal around it. If you grab a bottle with a broken seal, you know it might have been tampered with. Encryption is like putting a protective ring around your data. If you need a password, PIN, or a fingerprint to remove it, it’s just like the seal on a medicine bottle.
The History of Encryption
As long ago as 1900 BC, Egyptians re-ordered data (transposition) or replaced specific data with meaningless data (substitution).
In 700 BC, the Spartans wrote important messages on strips of leather wrapped around a stick. Unwound, the characters on the leather tape appeared meaningless. However, using a stick of the exact same diameter will reproduce the message legibly.
To the Spartans, the diameter of the stick was their encryption key. To the Egyptians, re-ordering or replacing data was an encryption algorithm, and data is encrypted with an encryption key and an encryption algorithm.
These days, an encryption algorithm is much more advanced. You use an encryption key like a password, PIN, or fingerprint to decrypt your data. Decryption is simply the reverse of encryption. It reverses the steps it took to encrypt data with an encryption key to turn ciphertext into plaintext.
Microsoft and Apple Make Encryption Easy
If you are new to the world of encryption, don’t worry. Both Microsoft and Apple provide you with simple programs, known as Bitlocker and File Vault 2, that make it easy to encrypt your entire operating system. It’s a home computer service you can do all by yourself.
Make sure you back up everything before encrypting all of your data. Both programs encrypt your data when your computer or laptop shuts down, and then decrypt the data with a password when the OS boots up. They also offer a recovery key in case you lose the password to decrypt your data. Be sure to copy this and store it in a secure location, or you’ll lose your files if you forget your password. Finally, it might be a good idea to encrypt your backup after you have encrypted your computer or laptop. Both Apple and Microsoft allow you to do this.
Bear in mind while your computer or laptop is on, any malicious interceptor can peek at all of your decrypted data. That’s why it’s a smart move to shut down your computer or laptop when you are not using it. It’s also wise to require a password to wake up your computer after it hibernates.
Encryption is a reliable way to protect your sensitive data. Although some encryption schemes may eventually be cracked, a malicious hacker would have to have a significant amount of technical expertise to do so. It is not necessary to have a high level knowledge of encryption to get its benefits. If you’re unsure of how to make encryption work for you, ask a home computer service tech to help.