Encryption is the process of converting plain data into code to prevent unauthorized access. It’s a standard security practice that has been in IT since the 1970s and is constantly evolving. Today, there are several encryption types, each with pros and cons. This article will look at the most popular encryption algorithms and explain how they work. First, let’s understand the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption.
Symmetric vs. Asymmetric encryption
Symmetric encryption uses the same key for decryption and encryption. This makes it critical to have a secure way to transfer the key between the sender and recipient.
Asymmetric encryption uses a different key for encryption and decryption. One of the keys encrypts the data – public key, while the other decrypts it – private key. Anyone can access the public key and the ability to encrypt data. However, the private key must be kept secret and only made available to authorized recipients.
An enterprise password manager can help protect critical data like private keys for security-concerned businesses.
Most popular encryption algorithms
Now that you understand the two encryption types and how they work, let’s look at some popular encryption algorithms:
3-DES is a continuation of standard DES, which stands for Data Encryption Standard. At one time, it was the recommended standard for symmetric encryption in the industry. Triple DES uses three encryption keys totaling 168 bits. However, 112 bits in key strength is more accurate.
Triple DES was invented when DES was becoming too weak to handle modern threats. 3-DES provided an easy way to strengthen security by making a composite function from multiple passes of DES.
- Key length, making it difficult to crack
- Compatibility and flexibility – software can easily be set up for Triple DES use
- Small block size that can only encrypt plaintext of up to 64 bits
- No longer recommended for new apps
- It is slow in software, as it was designed for hardware implementation
AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)
AES is the current standard used by the U.S. government and many prominent organizations. AES uses symmetric encryption but does it in multiple rounds. The encryption rounds are what make it so difficult to penetrate. In fact, AES is considered impenetrable, except for brute-force attacks which test all possible combinations. AES can use multiple key lengths, but most modern apps use AES-256.
- Easy to understand encryption process, making it easy to implement
- Fast encryption and decryption times
- Requires fewer resources (memory) than other encryption methods
- You can combine AES with other security protocols and encryption methods
- It’s considered impenetrable
- With advances in technology and computing speeds, AES may become vulnerable to brute-force attacks
- If implemented incorrectly, there may be a gateway for hackers
RSA is a public key asymmetric encryption algorithm. It’s mainly used for encrypting data sent over the internet. As an asymmetric algorithm, RSA uses a public key to encrypt data and a private one to decrypt it. RSA converts plaintext into highly complicated mambo-jumbo that takes hackers a lot of time and processing power to break.
RSA usually works with other encryption schemes, such as OpenSSL, or for digital signatures. It is rarely used to encrypt entire files because it’s less efficient and more resource-heavy than other encryption methods.
- Can be implemented with many different systems and cryptographic libraries
- Allows for safe data exchange online, enabling online banking and other critical services
- Can be bypassed with brute force attacks and is generally less safe than other encryption methods
- Hard to implement properly, resulting in a higher risk of hacking
ECC (Eliptical Curve Cryptography)
ECC is another asymmetric encryption method that has similar use cases to RSA. It’s mostly used for digital signatures in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. ECC uses a mathematical process to merge two distinct keys for the encryption and decryption process. The output is a public key known by anyone and a private key only known by the sender and receiver. ECC requires fewer computing resources to encrypt and decrypt data, which is why it has more use cases, including email and data encryption.
- Requires less computing power, making it more usable
- Encrypts and decrypts fast
- Larger key sizes can be used, which results in better security
- Like RSA, it isn’t easy to implement ECC correctly, which can lead to security risks
- Increases the size of the encrypted message
With rising cyber threats, encryption has become essential for organizations and everyday internet use. Unencrypted messages can be easily intercepted and understood by hackers. Encryption converts these plaintext messages into unintelligible code that can only be decrypted with a decryption key.
There are several encryption algorithms with unique uses. The standard encryption method is AES, used by central governments and organizations.