E-commerce is expected to account for 22 percent of all retail transactions by 2023. More than ever, people are using messaging apps to connect online, and many are sending sensitive information on unsecured platforms.
With so much important information traveling online, it’s becoming more important to protect it. Encryption software has become a lucrative business, and learning these methods can help keep you safe in our ever-shifting online landscape. If you become an encryption expert, it might even help you nail a cyber security job interview.
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What Is Encryption?
Encryption is a cryptography method in which data is encoded so that only a person or machine with a specific key can decode the information.
For example, you can safely transmit personal information like your credit card number, social security number, or address to a central source because of encryption. These sites or services scramble the sent information into data that is useless without a key.
Apps like Signal allow users to send secure encrypted messages that can only be decoded by the intended recipient’s corresponding app. If anyone who doesn’t have the proper key tries to intercept the message, they won’t be able to read the data.
Keys are measured by their size in bits. Although it is possible to guess key numbers to break encryption, longer keys have made this more difficult.
Encryption is a key component of cyber security, so if you’re looking to start a career in the cyber security sector, you will likely learn how it works as part of your training. There are also many other uses for encryption across a variety of industries, which we’ll look at below.
What Is Encryption Used For?
Since transmitting sensitive data daily is key to many businesses, lots of companies are seeking to protect against data breaches.
- Cryptocurrency. The lucrative cryptocurrency industry uses blockchain encryption. The blockchain ensures that there’s a record of every new currency unit created, which prevents counterfeiting.
- E-commerce. Sensitive payment information is constantly being transmitted through websites large and small. Trusted websites have an encryption certificate that marks users during their session to ensure the customer’s browsing is invisible to cybercriminals. This digital certificate also lets consumers know which sites can be trusted.
- Communication. As mentioned above, apps like Signal allow people to communicate privately through encrypted messages. Facebook also introduced encrypted secret conversations to Messenger in 2017, though security experts are wary of the Messenger platform’s security. Twitter has been slow to adopt encryption for its direct messaging system and experienced a leak in 2020 because of it.
- Data security. Though most of the focus is on online encryption, tech companies also usually offer encryption for local storage as well. For example, Apple and Android encrypt their devices to protect their users from prying eyes. Windows and Apple also offer encryption for desktop files.
Types of Encryption
Cryptography has been around for centuries, as humans have often found the need to send covert messages. Modern encryption has advanced quite a bit since the time of handwritten ciphers, though much of the technology behind the cryptographic algorithms used remains the same. Below are a few of the most common types of encryption.
Data Encryption Standard (DES)
DES is an encryption standard introduced in 1977 after years of development. It was the first publicly available encryption standard. It was used to protect data at many kinds of companies, from major banks to HBO.
However, DES was criticized soon after its release because of its relatively short, 56-bit key size. By the late 90s, computers were able to decode DES keys in less than a day. As of 2017, DES keys can be decoded in under a minute.
But DES still has its place in encryption. A more modern rendition, Triple DES (or 3DES) is still in use, although it is not widespread.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
When it was introduced in 2001, AES represented the next leap in security by encoding data with key lengths of 128, 192, or 256 bits. AES is still the most widespread encryption tool.
AES differs from DES because it encodes data as blocks of information instead of single bits, which is faster and allows for longer chains of data. The Signal app uses AES, as does probably every other encrypted app or website that you use daily.
Public Key Encryption
Public key encryption, also known as public key cryptography, encrypts data with two keys but makes one of those keys available to the public. The other, private key can be used to encrypt and decrypt data to and from the public key.
This method is used a lot in TLS/SSL security, which is the technology that makes HTTPS secure Web browsing possible. TLS “handshakes” use public key cryptography to make sure that a website and its server are genuine. Then, the two partners exchange data that creates a unique session key to keep the browsing encrypted.
The basics of encryption can take time to grasp. Luckily, there are many resources out there to get you started on the path of becoming an encryption expert.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Encryption?
Your path to learning encryption will differ depending on your goals. If you want to learn the best tools for cyber security and how to employ those tools in your daily Internet use, you should be able to master it in just a few days.
However, if you’re more interested in learning the details of encryption and how to build systems that can read and create encryption keys, you should be prepared for months of study.
How to Learn Encryption: Step-by-Step
There are relatively few steps in the process of learning basic encryption. We have listed the basic process below.
- Enroll in a course. Though you may be able to grasp basic tech processes on your own, encryption can be more complicated to master if you don’t have specific learning examples. It will help to have an instructor walk you through the most important aspects.
- Do the reading. Even though you might feel you are getting the hang of encryption after taking a course, there is still more to learn. Though AES is the dominant mode of encryption, organizations use a few different ciphers to take advantage of AES. After you’ve established a good base of knowledge, you can turn to other resources both on and offline to explore everything encryption has to offer.
- Practice. Even though AES is the most common form of encryption, there are still others in use that are more specialized. Regardless of which type of encryption you choose to study, you’ll need to practice by encrypting and decrypting data, to see how your chosen cipher works.
The Best Encryption Courses and Training
There are plenty of training courses on encryption, and the ways that people in the field can apply it to positions in IT.
Best Online Encryption Courses
Encryption is most commonly used in online services, so it should come as no surprise that there are great courses available on the Internet to help you become a pro in the subject.
- Name: The Absolute Beginners Guide to Cyber Security 2020 – Part 1
- Time: 3.5 hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: $100
This highly-recommended course will give you a foundation in the basic concepts of encryption, phishing, malware, and other cyber security topics that you’ll need to learn to become a professional in the field.
After getting a more generalized view of cyber security, you’ll be able to take the next step to see how encryption can fit into your wider professional skill set.
- Name: Introduction to Encryption – Terminology and Technology
- Time: 1 Hour
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Seven-day free trial / $99 annual membership
This course from an IT professional will give you an overview of the encryption process from a few different angles. The instructor will walk you through how encryption works and how it can affect your daily life while also giving you an idea of how to use it professionally.
Best Free Encryption Courses
You don’t have to get out your wallet to learn the basics of encryption. These free courses below are a great way to get started at no cost.
- Name: Cryptography I
- Time: 23 hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Free
This course will give you an idea of the real-world applications of encryption and cryptography. It uses modern examples to teach you the inner workings of encryption. These classes also include optional programming projects that will give you a chance at learning cryptography first hand.
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Amazon Web Services – EdX
- Name: AWS: Getting Started with Cloud Security
- Time: 4 weeks
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Free
This course from Amazon Web Services (AWS) will teach the process of securing data in the cloud using this system. Though it focuses on data security in AWS, the lessons are largely applicable to any IT application that deals with data.
Best Encryption Books
These books on encryption are great if you want to get a rundown of the modern-day applications of this process and how current encryption methods were developed.
The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography, Simon Singh
This book by Simon Singh was the first to trace the science of cryptography from its humble origins to the important tool it has become today.
Though the text mostly focuses on the history of the science behind cryptography, it can help you get a better understanding of the architecture that makes up modern encryption methods.
Hackable: How to Do Application Security Right, Ted Harrington
In this book, ethical hacker Ted Harrington explains how application security vulnerabilities can turn businesses into targets. Harrington also offers solutions for how companies can eliminate these vulnerabilities and build safer products.
After reading this book, you will have a deeper understanding of the importance of encryption in businesses.
Should You Study Encryption?
Learning about encryption will not only make you a better candidate for a job in cyber security but will teach you how to keep your own information protected in our digital society.
Even if you don’t find employment after becoming an encryption expert, you can rest easier knowing that you know how to keep your own data out of the wrong hands.
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