What is Encryption
Encryption is the process of encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized parties can read it. Encryption has long been used by militaries and governments to facilitate secret communication. It is now commonly used in protecting information within many kinds of civilian systems.
In simple words, Encryption is the conversion of data into a form, called a ciphertext, that cannot be easily understood by unauthorized people. Decryption is the process of converting encrypted data back into its original form, so it can be understood.
When we send information from one place to another over internet, generally it is sent in plaintext. It means anybody in between could listen on the communication channel and read our every information. He can even change that information for his own use that could lead to disastrous results. Take an example here, I am sending Rs. 10,000 to My friend’s account no. AB123. The attacker can change it to AB124 which is his bank account no!
Let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of information that we don’t want other people to see, such as:
- Credit-card information
- Login information
- Private correspondence
- Personal details
- Sensitive company information
- Bank-account information
To overcome this problem there must be a way to scramble data in such a way that only someone with the secret code/key can read it. Thus encryption was invented.
Encryption can also be used to protect data “at rest”, such as files on computers and storage devices (e.g. USB flash drives). In recent years there have been numerous reports of confidential data such as customers’ personal records being exposed through loss or theft of laptops or backup drives.
when was it invented?
It’s a very old concept. Encryption has been around for thousands of years in various forms. For example in Ancient Greece the story goes that a general wanted to send a secret message back to his city, so he had a soldier’s head shaven and the message written on his scalp. Soon enough his hair grew back enough to hide the message and was sent off running to the city. When the soldier arrived, the city official knew the secret ‘key’ i.e. shave his head to reveal the message.
Why is it important?
Today, encryption is far more sophisticated, but it serves the same purpose – to pass a secret message from one place to another without anyone else being able to read it.
Encryption is extremely important for e-commerce as it allows confidential information such as your credit card details to be sent safely to the online shop you are visiting.
Web browsers are able to encrypt your purchase details using an encryption method called ‘SSL’ (Secure Socket Layer). You know this is switched on when a small padlock appears in the bottom right of the browser. SSL gets switched on when you visit a ‘secure server’ that has an address that starts with HTTPS:// (note the ‘S’).
In my next post I will post about Different kinds of encryption. Stay tuned till then. 😉