Obfuscation of the contents of sensitive communications has been around for centuries. Even Caesar with his cipher, understood the risk of sending information “in the clear.” Military and political plans could fall into enemy and opponent’s hands leading to defeats on the battlefield and in the forum.
One of the most famous examples of encryption and decryption
was the capture and subsequent “cracking” of the German Enigma machine in WWII by the British at Bletchley Park. Oft overlooked, the British had a head start based on work performed by the Poles prior to the invasion of their country in 1939. With the Enigma machine broken, the Allies had an enormous advantage that served them well for the rest of the conflict.
Bletchley Park can rightly be noted as the foundation of modern cryptography. And, with the advent of sophisticated, high speed computers and software, encryption has evolved into an intricate and complex combination of technology, mathematics, and art.
So, what is encryption? en·cryp·tion, [inˈkripSH(ə)n, enˈkripSH(ə)n], noun: “The process of converting information or data into a code, especially to prevent unauthorized access.” In other words, messages and data have their letters and numbers rearranged mathematically so that anyone who is not in possession of the decoding information cannot simply read or process what they see.
Pretty basic, right? Maybe as a kid you had a secret encoder ring or more recently, an app. Well, as laborious as it is for humans to crunch through an encrypted message, even a simple form, today’s computers make short work of it. The basic approach is like the brute force method used to find your computer’s password, it simply tries every possible combination of keys until intelligible words and data emerge.
Modern encryption techniques involve creation of “keys” that are shared between the sender and the recipient. In the process of creating the keys, the data is encrypted making it unintelligible. Once encrypted, the message is sent and the recipient uses their key to “unlock” the message.
End-to-end encryption is the safest method of all. The message or data remains encrypted from start to finish. Nowhere along the path of communication is anything decrypted and no one along the line has the keys needed to do so. From start to finish, it remains encrypted until the intended recipient unlocks it. Should everyday people and businesses concern themselves about encryption of their data? Yes! And here’s why, you will receive varying levels of protection against:
- Electronic eavesdropping.
- Device loss and subsequent data theft.
- Spoofing and hijacking.
- Data leakage from file transfer.
- Malware received from others and online activities.
Keep in mind that encryption doesn’t prevent interception, it protects against decryption. So if people are snooping around, sending out malware to collect personal information, or simply find your device and decide to see what you have been doing, encryption makes their efforts a lot harder. Maybe hard enough they give up on you and look for easier targets.
Locking your communications today makes as much sense as it did for Caesar and everyone since then even if world conquest or political domination is not on you agenda.