Unlocking the Secrets of Encryption: A Guide for the Curious

👤 Diwas Poudel    🕒 03 Dec 2023    📁 TECH

In simple terms, encryption is a process of securing communication channels that helps to ensure information remains confidential and protected from unauthorized access during transmission.

Technically, encryption employs mathematical algorithms and cryptographic keys to encode or scramble data into an unreadable format and then send it to the receiver, who can only decode the messages. Per ExpressVPN’s blog post, encryption in today’s age plays a crucial role in ensuring security on the Internet.

How does encryption work?

Imagine Alice wants to send the message "Hello, World" to Bob. She puts it in a special box and locks it with a padlock. This box uses a unique key (encryption key) to encrypt the message, transforming it into something like "SGVsV29ybGQ=."

Alice then sends this locked box to Bob. Even if someone intercepts this box, they can't open it without a special key. When Bob receives the box, he uses his unique key(decryption key) to unlock it, revealing the decrypted message "SGVsV29ybGQ=."; as "Hello, World" Now, he knows the secret message.


Different Types of Encryption

There are two main types of encryption. Both of these are useful in Key generation. Those encryptions are:

  1. Symmetric Encryption
  2. Asymmetric Encryption

Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric Encryption is also known as public key encryption. Here, the sender and receiver of a message must share the same secret key for both encryption and decryption.

Encryption Steps:

  1. The sender sends plaintext along with a secret key, and it goes through an encryption algorithm.
  2. This Symmetric encryption produces ciphertext, which is unreadable random data.

This message is sent through unsecured channels.

If unknown people are tampered with this data, they can now decrypt it because they do not have a secret key.

Decryption Steps:

  1. The receiver receives this ciphertext, and they use the secret key and decryption algorithm to decrypt the message.
  2. Finally, original plaintext is obtained.

Some of the popular symmetric encryption algorithms are: AES, DES, Blowfish, RC4   

Asymmetric Encryption

This algorithm is also called private key encryption. It involves a pair of public and private keys. The public key can be shared with anyone, but the private key must be kept secret. To encrypt a message, the sender uses the recipient's public key. To decrypt the message, the receiver uses their own private key.

Encryption Steps:

  1. The sender uses the recipient's public key to encrypt the message.
  2. The encrypted message (ciphertext) is sent to the receiver.

Decryption Steps:

  1. The sender uses the recipient's public key to encrypt the message.
  2. The encrypted message (ciphertext) is sent.

Some of the popular asymmetric encryption algorithms are: RSA, DSA.


Applications of Encryption

Encryption is used everywhere to protect sensitive data and ensure its confidentiality.

It is found to be used while making online purchases or transferring money. Encryption protects your credit card and financial data from being intercepted by third parties.

Any email you send using the email service provider is sent in encrypted form.

Storing data in cloud encryption plays a big role in protecting it from unauthorized access or breaches.

Encrypted Passwords are saved in the database so that unauthorized access to the user’s account and the system cannot be made. It is used to authenticate credentials as well.

If you are engaging in private communication on Facebook, the messages sent by the sender are encrypted, and the receiver decrypts the message to read it. This is achieved using a technique called AES encryption.

Importance of Encryption

There are numerous importance of Encryption. Let’s look at a few of them.

  1. Data Security: Security in encryption is crucial for protecting users' sensitive information from unauthorized access, modifications, and destruction. Encryption helps prevent data breaches
  2. Confidentiality: Encryption ensures that only the intended recipients can read encrypted messages, guaranteeing that no one can act as a man in the middle and read the communications
  3. Data Integrity: As data transfers through insecure communication channels that can easily be tampered with by others, they cannot be altered. Thus, the receiver receives exactly the same information sent by the sender, maintaining integrity and reliability
  4. Compliance with Regulations: In simple terms, many industries and places require encryption to follow the rules about keeping information safe and handling it responsibly

Challenges and Vulnerabilities

Let's look at some of the popular challenges and vulnerabilities in the encryption world. 

  1. Key Management Issues: Both the sender and receiver should securely manage the private key. If not managed properly and exposed, it compromises the security of encrypted data. 
  2. Algorithmic Vulnerabilities: There are various algorithms for encrypting data, so it's better to use a strong algorithm to prevent easy exploitation by attackers. 
  3. Quantum Computing Threats: With the advancement of quantum computing, computers are becoming more capable of breaking current encryption algorithms, leading to implications for data security.

Nowadays, Quantum computing has become a threat to encryption as it can factor in larger numbers. The main core logic of encryptions like RSA and Diffie-Hellman lies in the difficulty of factoring large numbers into their prime factors using classical computers. However, with the help of Shor's algorithm, quantum computers can potentially break these encryption methods, enabling attackers to decrypt sensitive data currently protected by RSA and Diffie-Hellman.

Best Practices for Users

  1. Use the Strong Password consisting of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  2. Enable Two Factor Authentication: This adds an additional layer of security to your account.
  3. Acquire Knowledge of Phishing
  4. Always use the transaction through HTTPS only
  5. Review App Permission before using it


In conclusion, encryption is vital for securing data during transmission. Symmetric and asymmetric encryption methods play distinct roles in this process, contributing to the protection of various online interactions, including financial transactions, emails, and cloud storage.

Despite its critical role, encryption faces challenges such as key management issues, algorithmic vulnerabilities, and the emerging threat of quantum computing. As technology advances, users must adopt best practices, including strong passwords, two-factor authentication, awareness of phishing, secure transactions through HTTPS, and careful review of app permissions.

It is clear that the importance of encryption will only grow in the future. Continuous innovation and user vigilance are key to adapting to evolving threats and ensuring a secure digital landscape.