What is encryption?

We’re answering your security question, “What is encryption?”

It comes from the Greek word “kryptos,” which means “hidden, concealed, secret.”

You encrypt — or scramble — your data to keep it hidden from others.

For example, if you encrypt the word “password,” you might end up with something like “bM8i-91hJ*x.”

During World War II, each side used formulas to come up with secret codes for communicating sensitive military information.

Now, encryption is much more advanced, using algorithms and random numbers to create encrypted messages that are harder and harder to crack.

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Keeping Secrets

You’re already using encryption, for example, at the ATM.

You put in your card — with your account number — and type in your PIN.

The machine scrambles your data as it travels to the bank so no one can eavesdrop and steal your money. The bank has the key to unscramble the data if needed.

You want to do the same when you’re working from home: use encryption with your own computer or phone, so cyber criminals don’t make off with your passwords and data.

These days, criminals are looking for access to businesses, just like they want access to banks, and encryption can help keep them out.

Working From Home

How do you do it when you’re working from home?

With a virtual private network — or VPN — a program that lets you send your stuff encrypted.

Your work may have already provided you with a VPN. If not, there are both free and paid versions you can download onto your computer and phone.

Keep the crooks out of that VPN by using multi-factor authentication.

That adds in an extra step, like trying in a code from your phone or using a physical key, to get into your accounts.


There are battles going on over encryption.

Some in government and law enforcement say criminals use encryption to hide their messages and get away with crimes, so they want a back door —  a way to decode the encryption.

But some security experts say if you give law enforcement a back door, the crooks will find it, too.

So your trip to the ATM, with the crucial stuff scrambled — or any other encrypted messaging, from hospitals to businesses to power plants — could still end in a digital heist.

Encryption as a Weapon

For cyber criminals, encryption is one of the most popular tools for attack.

They may send phishing emails to trick you into clicking on links. Then they download ransomware, which encrypts the data on your computer and as many others as they can.

Pay up and you may get the key to unscramble.

No key?  No usable data.

Cities slow down, companies can’t process orders, hospitals have trouble giving care, factories grind to a halt, gas pipelines shut down, and ships are stuck in port.

The person who controls the encryption controls the data.

Make backups of your data in a safe place so you can replace the encrypted data if necessary.


See also:

What is a botnet?

What is Mimikatz?

What is RDP?

What is SIS?

What is encryption?

What is an air gap?

What is a PLC?


Main image: Computers keys in bowl. Image: Tookitook/iStock

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