What is Encryption and How Does it Work? An Easy-To-Understand Guide

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You're probably familiar with the term “encryption”, whether you understand how it works or not. WhatsApps, Gmail, and even your Google searches are all encrypted. But encryption goes beyond protecting the data itself— it is one of the best ways to protect yourself from hackers and other threats! But how does it work? Who does encryption help? Is it something you need to worry about? What is end-to-end encryption? Which encryption does WhatsApp use? Which encryption is used in HTTPS?

Here is an easy-to-understand guide on all things encryption

What is encryption?

Encryption is a way to protect information from being seen by unwanted parties, by using a special code to create something called “ciphertext,” which is the encrypted version of your data. Anyone who has access to your ciphertext can't read it without first decrypting it using the correct key. To do this, they must have access to both you and your encryption software/hardware device—or at least some other method for decrypting data on-the-fly (more on that later).

How does encryption work?

Encryption works in such a way that only authorised parties can access information, ensuring that any data you send to others is safe from unauthorised access. Using algorithms and mathematical formulas, encryption transforms plain into ciphertext (encrypted data) and back again. The key used for encryption is kept secret, ensuring that only authorised parties can encrypt and decrypt messages or information in order to keep them private.

Does encryption protect against hackers?

Nobody else can access your data if it's encrypted which means that encryption is one of the best ways to protect yourself from hackers and other threats! It also protects against identity theft, your email, and other communications, as well as all the data stored on your computer or other devices such as smartphones.

Does encryption protect my privacy?

Yes, most of the time. Encryption protects your data's privacy, which keeps third parties from accessing or tampering with information. It can't be accessed even if they have access to the data. However, encryption does not provide anonymity—a broader concept that refers to keeping your identity hidden from others. Nor does it prevent governments from monitoring what you do online and tracking down where you go.

What is end-to-end encryption?

In end-to-end encryption, only the sender and receiver can read messages sent from one person to another. The message is encrypted on the sender's device, sent through a secure connection, and decrypted on the receiver's device. The message is never decrypted anywhere else along its path to its recipient—not even in transit from one server to another—and no one other than those involved in this transaction has access to it at any point during transmission.

Which encryption does WhatsApp use?

WhatsApp uses the Signal Protocol for end-to-end encryption. It supports multiple platforms, including Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

The Signal Protocol is an open source and has been audited by security researchers. The protocol works by generating unique fingerprints for each message and sending them with each transmission. If a hacker tries to intercept your messages or use a man-in-the-middle attack, these unique fingerprints will be different and alert you about the problem so that you can act  quickly. 

Which encryption is used in HTTPS?

You've probably seen the green lock icon that appears in your browser when you visit a website that uses HTTPS. This is referred to as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption and is an industry standard for securing information sent over the Internet. Very simply, the Secure Socket Layer encrypts data that is transferred between client and server by using the RSA algorithm an asymmetric encryption technology.

When you’re browsing the web, your browser gives the server its public key, and the server uses this key to encrypt data to be sent to your browser, which then uses its private key to decrypt. This means that all data transmitted to and from the server over HTTPS is encrypted—and encrypted well. Typical SSL implementations use 128 or 256 digits for their keys. To break this, you need a truly vast amount of computing resources.

We hope this article has helped you understand how encryption works. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make smart choices entailing your digital privacy and security.

ESET offers Full Disk Encryption on our business products to increase data security for an organization. This powerful tool can be easily managed through the remote management console. Encryption is an additional layer of security which can protect against loss or theft of important data. Read more here