Encryption is a term used when data in plain text is converted into another form called cipher text. The converted text is then referred to as encrypted data and one needs to decrypt the data to see it in a readable format again.
Encryptions have been in use long before electronic devices came into existence. Historically, messages were sent with characters rearranged or replaced with other characters.
However, many people may not be aware that message encryption is a large part of their daily lives, and it’s estimated that 70% of all internet traffic is encrypted.
WhatApp, the most widely used free messaging service, applies end to end encryption to all messages sent and received. A third party is, therefore, unable to intercept the conversation. The messages stored on Facebook’s servers (since Facebook owns WhatsApp) are encrypted, so even if malicious entities are able to get their hands on them they would only see jumbled letters, numbers and special characters.
Encryption is playing a large role in the ways users interact with the internet. Google recently revealed that 77 percent of its online traffic is encrypted.
Over the years, several algorithms have been introduced that follow different encryption techniques. Some of these algorithms are listed below.
Types of Encryption Algorithms
EFS stands for Encrypting File System and was introduced with the Windows 2000 operating system as a component of the NTFS file system. The versions before Windows 2000 did not have EFS as it used the FAT or FAT32 file system.
Although it is not enabled by default, users have the option of enabling it on a per file, per directory basis or on a pen drive. EFS uses a combination of symmetric and asymmetric cryptography, which makes decryption nearly impossible.
However, the end user’s account password is used to protect these keys which unfortunately means that a hacker would be able to crack the encrypted data if they were able to successfully crack the user account password.
DES is short for Data Encryption Standard, first introduced in 1975 and using a 56-bit key length. Although it was 64-bit key, 8 of the 64 bits were not used as their only function was to check parity, so DES only worked using 56-bit keys.
DES used the same key for the encryption and decryption of messages, which was known to both sender and receiver. Owing to the limitations to its key bit length, DES can be quickly cracked these days using brute force attacks.
DES became outdated and was succeeded by Triple DES or 3DES.
Triple DES is a successor to the above-mentioned DES encryption algorithm and is also referred to as 3DES. It was originally meant to replace DES as a stronger algorithm.
Triple DES was designed similarly to DES, except it applied the 56-bit cipher algorithm three times. Microsoft still uses Triple DES encryption for some of its applications like OneNote.
AES was introduced as DES encryptions were becoming vulnerable to brute force attacks. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard and it was developed by two Belgian cryptographers, Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen.
AES uses 128, 192 and 256-bit key lengths for its encryption methodology and uses symmetric cryptography. It is one of the most trusted algorithms, even used by the U.S government to encrypt sensitive and classified information.
Have a look at the calculation on how long a supercomputer can take to crack a password protected by AES using brute force attack. Hint: be prepared to be blown away.
RSA was first publicly described in 1977 by its developers Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman. It uses asymmetric cryptography, meaning it uses different keys for encryption and decryption purposes. Asymmetric cryptography is also referred to as public key cryptography.
RSA is the most widely used asymmetric encryption algorithm. An RSA signature is the most trusted digital signature assuring users they are using a secure connection. RSA uses a 128-bit block cipher.
Blowfish was designed by Bruce Schneier in 1993 and uses symmetric encryption. It has a variable key length from 32 bits to 448 bits and uses a 64-bit block cipher.
Although it still remains widely in use, AES is treated as the standard encryption method. It is also unpatented and royalty free and hence available for all users.
Since it uses a 64-bit block cipher, it is not recommended to use Blowfish encryption on file sizes larger than 4gb. In fact, Schneier himself recommends using Twofish encryption instead.
Bruce Schneier, who created Blowfish, later created a successor named Twofish along with several people on his team. It was first published in 1998. Twofish uses stronger encryption methods than Blowfish.
It is an asymmetric algorithm and improves upon the block cipher of 128 bits instead of 64 bits used by Blowfish. Key lengths of 128,192 and 256 bits are used for Twofish encryption.
And similar to Blowfish, Twofish also remains unpatented and copyright free and available for all users.
Encryption is a not a foolproof security mechanism. However, not using an encryption algorithm means providing convenient access to hackers since decryption usually takes time. Its success ultimately depends on the strength of the password and the type of decryption. The more complicated passwords are, more time and resources they take to crack. This puts off many hackers, if not all.