While the general public may be unaware of it, cryptography plays an essential role in many aspects of our everyday lives. We rely on cryptography to send confidential messages to loved ones, to conduct business and manage finances, and we trust that it keeps the government and other authorities accountable. Unfortunately, as much as we depend on cryptography and encryption to protect us, most individuals are not well-versed in these subjects. A recent survey showed that only 29% of Americans understand what data encryption is, and that number drops to just 13% when it comes to how cryptography impacts cybersecurity. Understanding Cryptography for C Suite

What is Cryptography?

Encryption is a method of encoding data, often in a mathematical function, so that only those who possess a key can decode it. Cryptology refers to both cryptography and cryptanalysis (the study of decoding encrypted messages without having access to an original method of encryption). Encryption is one method used to keep data safe on computers and network systems; once protected by encryption, information is virtually unreadable by anyone who doesn’t have permission or who doesn’t have their own encryption key.

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The History of Encryption

The e in e-commerce stands for encryption, a vital part of online transactions since their inception. Without it, hackers would be free to steal credit card information and other sensitive data on every e-commerce site. This brings us to cryptography—the art of encoding information so that only authorized users can read it. Encryption has existed in some form since humans first developed language, but experts date its use as a cryptographic tool to ancient Rome during Caesar’s rule.

When Should I Use a Secure Connection?

Although it’s possible to send encrypted messages using simple programs like GPG, using a secure connection is much safer. In general, it’s a good idea to use a secure connection anytime you enter sensitive information online, especially on e-commerce sites.

Understanding Cryptography for C Suite
Understanding Cryptography for C Suite

How Are Messages Encrypted?

There are several ways to encrypt a message. For example, symmetric encryption requires sharing a secret password with your recipient(s) before you can send messages or files securely. Asymmetric encryption does not require a shared secret, but is slower and less efficient than symmetric encryption. With RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman), both you and your recipient must have public/private key pairs that match in order to decrypt messages sent using RSA.

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Popular Uses for Encryption

There are several basic uses for encryption, but it is mostly used to keep information secure from unauthorized users. Here are a few examples of how businesses encrypt data: Computer networking – Encrypting data at rest on hard drives, workstations and servers helps to protect sensitive files and documents. Cloud computing – Encryption helps to keep data secure as it travels over networks and internet connections to remote storage or analysis platforms.

Conclusion – Where to Learn More

Cryptography is a deep, complex and rich subject. There are literally thousands of books, articles and tutorials on cryptography available. We are working to assemble one (or more) good collections of resources that we could share with you in our follow-up post.

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