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Meaning Of Encryption - Simple Explanation & Definition

Sending or storing sensitive information requires protecting it from unauthorized persons.


This means the need to find a system that allows two parties to communicate with each other while protecting messages from interceptors, thus creating the need for encrypting information.  


What Is The Meaning Of Encrypting? 


In ancient civilizations, people would pass coded messages to prevent unauthorized persons from understanding the message.


They would swap out letters for numbers to make the message harder to decipher for a person without knowledge of the code used.  

This is a simple form of encryption.  


At its simplest, the meaning of encrypting is encoding information. In cryptography, encryption involves converting intelligible plaintext into ciphertext. Encryption relies on encryption algorithms to scramble readable data into unreadable formats.  


Encryption algorithms are mathematical calculations or formulas used to encrypt data at the source and decrypt it at the recipient’s end.  

Ideally, encrypted information would pass from the sender to the intended recipient, without the chance of being understood in case another party intercepts the information.  


In history, encryption has been used primarily in military settings. Different groups developed various encryption algorithms of ciphers to promote secret communication.  


The growth of the internet and technology has led to the constant evolution of encryption for security and commerce.  


Encryption in the internet age relies on keys to encrypt and decrypt messages. Keys are variable parts of encryption algorithms that make ciphers unique.  


The common types of keys used in the world of cryptography include: 


Symmetric Key 

Symmetric key encryption schemes use the same encryption and decryption keys. This means that the parties communicating must have the same key to understand each other. Symmetric algorithm encryption is ideal for bulk data encryption. 


Public Key (Asymmetrical)


Asymmetric keys are separate but mathematically connected. In asymmetric algorithm encryption, the public key is used for encrypting data and the private key is used to decrypt that data.  



READ MORE: Seven tips for SMBs adopting encryption



Why Is Encryption Important  

Now that we've covered the meaning of encrypting, let's look at why encryption is important. 


To understand the importance of encryption, we need to understand how the practice helps in security. Encryption works by making it hard for an intruder or interceptor to understand the message unless they understand the language used to encrypt that data.  


In computing, for instance, a computer that uses 128-bit encryption requires an interceptor to come up with 2128 different combinations for them to break the encryption key. This requires massive computational power, which is out of reach even for today’s most powerful computers.  


The strength of an encryption system lies in its ability to prevent a person without the decryption key from accessing or understanding certain data.  


Data encryption is a popular practice for several reasons: 

  1. Data encryption promotes data confidentiality, especially when data is in transit, where it is at its most vulnerable.  
  2. Data encryption protects sensitive data from misuse in case the device carrying the data is lost, stolen, or misplaced. Encryption is possible for data on USB drives, mobile devices, hard drives, etc.  

Due to the reliability of encryption, it has been adopted in both the public and private sectors. Today, it is hard to find data or applications that do not use a form of encryption to secure data.


Here are the common uses of encryption: 


  1. Securing Databases

    As more businesses deal with increasing amounts of data, they have to secure their databases to protect them from unauthorized access. Database encryption works by converting data in the database from readable to scrambled characters. Database encryption provides an additional layer of security to businesses that already use passwords and antivirus software or firewalls to protect their data. 

  2. Compliance

    As more organizations collect data, governments have set various compliance standards to protect people’s data. Businesses dealing with personally identifiable information, financial records, and protected health information must also adhere to the set privacy regulations.  

The common regulations that call for encryption include HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD. The GDPR, for instance, requires any business that interacts with the EU to comply with GDPR.


GDPR requires businesses to: 

  1. Encrypt personal data 
  2. Ensure ongoing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of processing systems 
  3. Restoring the availability and accessibility of personal data promptly.

HIPAA regulations apply to healthcare data. Any entities interacting with patient information must implement measures to secure protected health information. While the Act does not mandate encryption, organizations that do not encrypt such data must find an alternative that provides similar security.  
Organizations that adopt encryption as a means for compliance by reducing the risks that the information they have remains protected, even if a data breach occurs. That way, they can avoid the fines associated with data breaches.


4 Sectors Where Encryption Is A Must Have 


Although encryption is important in all sectors, some sectors are more sensitive. These sectors include finance and banking, legal services, real estate, and healthcare.  


Financial Services  


Financial service providers such as accountancy firms, banks, and insurers are some of the heavy users of sensitive personally identifiable information. We are talking account numbers, social security numbers, birthdates, names, and other sensitive information.  


As such, they need robust security measures which usually include encryption. Financial service providers must encrypt data within their databases, data internal transfer, and when serving customers.  


Financial and banking institutions in the US for instance are expected to adhere to the requirements of The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This act aims to ensure the confidentiality, and security of customer records including protecting them from known threats and unauthorized access.  



The healthcare sector on top of dealing with sensitive data such as payment information also deals with protected health information.


With privacy regulations such as HIPAA in place, healthcare facilities and the whole sector must implement reliable healthcare data encryption standards to ensure computer systems and patient information remains protected from unauthorized parties in or outside the healthcare facility.  


Legal Services  

Law firms and other legal services providers deal with sensitive information about their clients. As such, they are expected to protect their client’s personal data and intellectual data, thus raising the need for encryption.  


In addition, as law firms and other legal service providers digitize their services and records, they must deal with the challenge that comes with cloud systems and online services.  


Real Estate 

The real estate sector also deals with sensitive client information ranging from income tax returns, social security numbers, bank account data, and salary information. If such data is exposed in a data breach, it could mean loss of customer loyalty and the risk of exposing the clients to identity fraud and financial losses.  


Stakeholders in real estate, financial legal, and legal services must invest in different forms of encryption to protect the data they deal with. Some of these forms of encryption include: 

  • Email encryption  
  • Server encryption  
  • Encrypting internet connections 
  • Using encrypted cloud storage solutions 
  • Encrypting devices, applications, folders, and hard drives that contain sensitive information

Key Takeaways  

The meaning of encrypting is converting plaintext into ciphertext to help businesses, governments, and individuals to protect the data they have or the messages they send. Encryption has become a go-to tool for protecting privacy, authenticating parties, and protecting sensitive information across different industries.  






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