A Short Guide to Cryptography
Cryptography is a critical part of online security. But why do you need to know about it? Shouldn’t you just leave this to computer programmers and security experts?
The truth is, every time you go online your personal information and data is in danger of being stolen. The more you can educate yourself about cryptography and security, the better off you’ll be.
Below is a quick guide to help introduce you to the topic and teach you the fundamentals of cryptography.
What is Cryptography?
Cryptography is a term that describes a number of different techniques used to protect and encode communications in order to prevent them from being intercepted and interpreted by third parties.
It is made up of two steps: encryption and decryption. Encryption is the process of applying a cipher to plaintext (regular text) in order to turn it into ciphertext (coded text). Decryption is the process of using that same cipher to turn the ciphertext back into plaintext.
Although cryptography may seem like a recent development, it’s actually been around for a long time. People have been finding ways to keep their communications secret for hundreds of years. For example, military generals would often send coded messages to their officers in case the message was intercepted by the enemy.
Why Should You Care About Cryptography?
Cryptography may seem like it’s not important for you. But with the rise of the internet, virtually all of your communications and information are available to governments and hackers. They can spy on your activity, they can intercept your communications and they can even steal your personal information.
There are a number of technologies that are now available to protect you from these sorts of threats. But without a fundamental understanding of cryptography, it’s hard to understand what products are worth purchasing and which products are not as secure as they seem.
By understanding cryptography, you’ll be better able to protect yourself from a wide range of online threats.
How Does Cryptography Work?
Cryptography is based on ciphers. A cipher is essentially a code used to disguise communications so they can’t be understood by a third party who might be trying to intercept the message.
A simple example of a cipher is what’s known as the Caesar Cipher. This is the first well-known cipher, used by Julius Caesar around 58 BC. When passing along military commands, he would shift the letters in his messages up or down the alphabet a certain number of spaces in order to encrypt his communications. His officers would then receive the message and shift the letters back to decrypt the message.
This is an incredibly simple example of a cipher, and one that is extremely easy for even a novice cryptographer to crack. But it’s an excellent example of how cryptography is used and works.
Today, there are four main forms of cryptography that are used to encrypt important information.
- Symmetric Cryptography: This is perhaps the simplest form of cryptography. This is where a single key is used to encrypt and decrypt messages. In the case of the Caesar Cipher, the key would be the number of spots in the alphabet each letter has been shifted. The main challenge of symmetric cryptography is securely transmitting the key for decryption. This type of encryption is still used today. A system known as Advanced Encryption Standards, or AES, is now the industry standard.
- Asymmetric Cryptography: This form of encryption is similar to symmetric cryptography, except it uses two different keys. One key is used to encrypt a message, while another is used to decrypt a message. This type of encryption is commonly used for emails and digital signatures.
- Hashing: This is the process of using a mathematical function to convert a message into random value or string of text. This is a very effective way to encrypt information. However, if the mathematical equation used to encrypt the information is even slightly off during the decryption process (due to corruption or tampering by a third party) the message will be lost. At the moment, the most advanced hashing algorithm is SHA-256.
- Key Exchange Algorithms: As mentioned earlier, one of the main issues with cryptography is finding a way to securely exchange encryptions keys. That’s where key exchange algorithms come in. These are complex algorithms used to securely transmit cipher keys from one person to another.
How is Cryptography Used Today?
Cryptography is used in a number of different ways, but it’s most important use is for encrypting your personal information.
Any time you buy something with your credit card, sign-up for a service or enter your personal information anywhere online, cryptography is used to make sure that only you and the person or organization you’re sending the information to, has access to it.
While most of the time this security is enough, there are still a number of ways that your information can fall into the wrong hands.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
If you would like to add another layer of security to your internet connections and ensure that all of your personal information and data is encrypted, then you should purchase a VPN.
VPNs ensure that all the information you transfer over the internet is encrypted using the most sophisticated security measures. This means governments and hackers can’t gain access to your name, location, browsing history, banking information, and other important details.
Not all VPNs are created equal. There are a number of quality services available, but if you’re interested in trying a VPN we recommend one of the following:
All of these VPNs have proven to be extremely reliable and do an excellent job of keeping your identity and personal information safe while you’re online.