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What is Encryption?

30th of October, 2015

To properly understand online privacy and how users can protect themselves, it is necessary to have a proper understanding of what encryption is and how your data is secured when encrypted. Encryption forms the base of our online privacy by preventing third-parties from reading our communications or personal information as it travels from our computer to its intended destinations. Attacks on your data that interrupt this process is commonly referred to as a “man in the middle” attack.


Our investigation of encryption will be two fold: first, we will get a brief overview of the simple idea of encryption and what it has grown into. Then we will briefly investigate the math involved in today’s internet encryption. Of course, to aid our readers we have included video material that elaborates on these areas.


What is Encryption?


To our first question: what is encryption? The video below fromTechquickie does an amazing job of articulating a succinct explanation of internet encryption — no surprise, given the title of the video: Encryption as Fast as Possible.

In the video, we see the basic importance of encryption and that the notion of concealing our private information or communication has existed long before the creation of the Internet. Today, thanks to the application of complex mathematics, we are able to use public key encryption to encrypt much of our day-to-day internet use. For a more thorough understanding of encryption, let’s take a brief look at the phenomenal math that works behind the scenes.  


The Math


I make no claim to be a brilliant mathematical mind. For that reason, I leave much of the explanation of the math behind encryption in the hands of Numberphile and their video on the huge numbers behind encryption.

It may be that my inner nerd is showing, but I am immensely fascinated by the use of large prime numbers to create encryption keys. Perhaps even more interesting is that what prevents our data and communication from being available to outside parties is the length of time it would take to factor the product of our two primes. In future encryption articles, we will dive into these numbers again to discuss how quantum computing will change encryption as it exists today.


With a solid understanding of encryption, you are now better equipped to understand how your online privacy is maintained and how privacy tools attempt to accomplish better privacy with their encryption technologies. Take a moment to have a look at Privacy Shell’s new encryption product TopSecret. TopSecret is your complete solution to private online communication: by setting a self destruct on your conversation, users can feel assured that their communication remains private.

About Ryan Jeethan

Ryan is a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program. 

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