What is Encryption? (Basic Concepts, Process, and Types)

Encryption is the procedure of converting data into a secret code that hides the real meaning of the data. Cryptography is the field of encrypting and decrypting information.

Encryption has long been a popular method of safeguarding sensitive data. Historically, military and governments have employed it. Encryption is used to safeguard data on computers and storage devices, as well as data in transit via networks, in modern times.

  • Unencrypted data is referred to as plaintext in computing, whereas encrypted data is referred to as ciphertext.

  • Encryption algorithms, often known as ciphers, are formulae that are used to encode and decode communications.

  • A cipher must include a variable as part of its algorithm to be effective. The variable, known as a key, is what distinguishes a cipher's output.

  • When an unauthorized party intercepts an encrypted message, the intruder must figure out the cipher the sender used to encrypt the message and whose keys were used as variables. Encryption is a crucial security technique because of the time and complexity of guessing this information.

How Does Encryption Work?

Something as basic as "Hello, world!" might be considered original information or plain text. As an encrypted text, this may seem like something perplexing like 7*#0+gvU2x—something apparently unconnected to the plaintext

Encryption, on the other hand, is a logical process in which the person receiving the encrypted data – but not the key – can simply decode it and return it to plaintext.

For decades, attackers have attempted to decipher such keys via brute force, that is, by attempting over and over again. Cybercriminals are gradually gaining access to more powerful computational power, allowing them to obtain access to systems even when flaws exist.

When data is maintained, such as in a database, it must be encrypted "at rest," and when it is accessed or sent between parties, it must be encrypted "in transit."

Encryption Algorithm

A mathematical technique for converting plaintext (data) to ciphertext is known as an encryption algorithm. The key will be used by an algorithm to modify the data in a predictable manner. Even though the encrypted data appears to be random, the key may be used to convert it back to plaintext.

Blowfish, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Rivest Cipher 4 (RC4), RC5, RC6, Data Encryption Standard (DES), and Twofish are some of the most regularly used encryption algorithms. Encryption has progressed throughout time, from a system used primarily by governments for topsecret activities to a must-have for enterprises seeking to protect their data's security and privacy.

Different Types of Encryption

There are several forms of encryption, each with its own set of advantages and applications.

Symmetric Encryption

Only one secret key is needed to encode and decipher information in this simple encryption method. While it is the oldest and the most well-known encryption method, it has the disadvantage of requiring both parties to have access to the key used to encrypt the data before they can decode it.

AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256 are symmetric encryption methods. Symmetric encryption is the recommended approach for transferring data in bulk as it is less difficult and also runs faster.

Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric encryption, often known as public-key cryptography, is a relatively recent method for encrypting and decrypting data that employs two separate but related keys. One key is private, while the other is public.

Encryption is done with the public key, while decryption is done with the private key (and vice versa). The public key does not require security because it is public and may be shared via the internet.

Asymmetric encryption is a far more powerful alternative for safeguarding the security of data delivered over the internet. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates are used to protect websites. A request to a web server returns a copy of the digital certificate, from which a public key may be retrieved while the private key remains private.

Data Encryption Standard (DES)

DES is a deprecated symmetric key encryption technique. Because DES encrypts and decrypts messages using the same key, both the sender and the receiver must have access to the same private key. The more secure AES algorithm has supplanted DES.

In 1977, the United States government approved it as an official standard for the encryption of federal computer data. DES is widely regarded as the catalyst for the contemporary cryptography and encryption industries.

Triple Data Encryption Standard (3DES)

The Triple Data Encryption Standard (TDES) is a method of encrypting (3DES). It requires three distinct keys and three runs of the DES algorithm. 3DES was primarily considered as a temporary solution since the single DES algorithm was becoming to be seen as too weak to withstand brute force attacks, while the more powerful AES was still being tested.

Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA)

RSA is a cryptosystem, a collection of cryptographic algorithms used for certain security services or purposes. It allows public-key encryption and is commonly used by browsers and virtual private networks to connect to websites (VPNs).

RSA is asymmetric, meaning it encrypts with two separate keys: one public and one private. If the public key is used for decryption, the private key is used for encryption, and vice versa.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a standard and the most secure type of encryption. AES uses “symmetric” key encryption. Advanced Encryption Standard is a symmetric encryption algorithm that encrypts fixed blocks of data (of 128 bits) at a time.

Why is it Important to Encrypt the Data?

Encryption is essential for many technologies, but it is especially critical for making HTTP requests and answers safe, as well as authenticating website origin servers. HTTPS is the protocol that is accountable for this (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). A website delivered using HTTPS rather than HTTP has a URL that starts with https:// rather than http://, which is commonly indicated by a secure lock in the address bar.

Transport Layer Security (TLS) is the encryption mechanism used by HTTPS (TLS). Previously, the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption protocol was the industry standard, however, TLS has now supplanted SSL. A TLS certificate will be deployed on the origin server of a website that uses HTTPS. TLS and HTTPS are two terms that you should be familiar with.

The primary goal of Encryption is to safeguard the privacy of digital data kept on computers or communicated over the internet or any other computer network.

In addition to security, the necessity to comply with legislation is frequently a driving force for the adoption of encryption. To prevent unwanted third parties or threat actors from accessing sensitive data, a number of organizations and standard bodies either suggest or enforce encryption. The Credit Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), for example, mandates that merchants encrypt their customers' payment card data when it is held at rest and sent over public networks.

Key Management System

While encryption is intended to prevent unauthorized entities from understanding the data they have obtained, it can also prevent the data's owner from accessing the data in specific circumstances. Because the keys to decrypt the encrypted text must be kept someplace in the environment, and attackers often know where to look, key management is one of the most difficult aspects of developing an enterprise encryption strategy.

There is a slew of recommended practices for managing encryption keys. It's only that key management adds to the backup and restore process's complexity. If a big disaster occurs, the procedure of obtaining the keys and transferring them to a new backup server may lengthen the time it takes to begin the recovery process.

It's not enough to have a key management system in place. Administrators must devise a thorough security strategy to safeguard the key management system. This usually entails backing it up independently from everything else and keeping the backups in a method that allows you to quickly recover the keys in the case of a large-scale disaster.

How Do Attackers Crack the Encrypted Data?

Cybercriminals, hackers, and attackers employ various methods to crack the encrypted data and get access to sensitive data. Following are some of the popular methods to get unauthorized access to encrypted data −

Brute Force Attack

When an attacker doesn't know the decryption key, they try millions or billions of guesses to figure it out. This is known as Brute Force Attack.

The most fundamental form of attack for any cipher is the Brute Force— attempting each key until the appropriate one is found. The number of viable keys is determined by the length of the key, indicating the attack's viability. The strength of encryption is proportional to the key size, but as the key size grows, so does the resources required to conduct the computation.

With today's computers, brute force assaults are substantially faster. Hence, encryption must be very strong and complicated. Most contemporary encryption systems, when combined with strong passwords, are immune to brute force assaults. Yet, as computers get more powerful, they may become vulnerable to such attacks in the future. Brute-force attacks can still be used against weak passwords.

Side-Channel Attack

Side-channel attacks, which attack the physical side effects of the cipher's implementation rather than the cipher itself, are an alternative means of cracking encryptions. Such assaults can be made successful if there is a flaw in the system's design or execution.


Attackers may also try cryptanalysis to break a targeted cypher. It is the act of looking for a flaw in the cypher that may be exploited with a lower level of complexity than a brute-force assault. When a cypher is already weak, the task of effectively attacking it becomes easy.

The DES algorithm, for example, has been suspected of being damaged by meddling from the National Security Agency (NSA). Many believe the NSA tried to undermine alternative cryptography standards and degrade encryption products after the revelations of former NSA analyst and contractor Edward Snowden.