The Basics of Encryption

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In today’s world, the word ‘encryption’ has sipped into our daily conversation, often appearing on the internet and even making news headlines. Albeit its undeniable presence, the details of encryption can still be a very foreign concept for non-mathematicians or engineers due to the complicated algorithms behind it. Here are some key concepts of encryption that may make the understanding of the system easier. This post will discuss what encryption is, and why encryption is necessary for a secure IT system.

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The concept of encryption is about keeping information a secret from unintended recipients. There are several keywords in the field when encryption is discussed:

Encryption, Encipherment, and Cryptographic Processing

These three terms are superficially the same, but their meanings emphasize different points of information security. Encipherment emphasizes only “Confidentiality”, but Cryptographic Processing emphasizes “Confidentiality”, “Integrity”, and, “Authentication” (the three factors of security). Encryption involves both Encipherment and Cryptographic Processing – the difference is in the level of encryption. When the level is small, ‘Encipherment’ is used. When the level is large, ‘Cryptographic Processing’ is used.

Encryption is based on Claude Elwood Shannons’ communication system model. Shannons’ communication system model is simply the process of data flow through a channel. The sender must change the original analog data to digital data (encoding) and the receiver, then changes this digital data back to its analog state in order to read the message (decoding). However, since this digital data is vulnerable to any interceptor, Shannon created a system for the content of data – the origin of encryption.

The basis of an encryption system is changing a message to a secret code using its algorithm and key. A specific algorithm is used to encrypt before sending the message and the key is used to decrypt the code back into a readable message when the message is received. This process is the foundation of modern encryption methods.

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