Encryption refers to the process of coding information with the goal of making it inaccessible or indecipherable to unauthorized viewers. Pretty fancy stuff, right? Have you ever seen movies where the hero has to crack some sort of overly complicated, impossible-to-comprehend code to stop a missile from launching or to save New York City? I know I have. Well, luckily enough for us in the real world, encryptions aren’t that easy to decode, and because of that, we can protect sensitive information with encryption.
Let’s talk about how encryption works. Thankfully, it’s a wildly complicated process. If the process of encryption were easy to break down and talk about step-by-step, it would be super easy to reverse-engineer, making it utterly useless. However, we can talk about the big picture without getting lost in the weeds. The process of encryption usually starts with an algorithm that “scrambles up” the data you want to encrypt and presents it in a form that offers a very low probability of being decrypted without a decryption key. There is one important thing to note here: offers a very low probability of being decrypted. Encryptions can be decoded. It is rare, but it’s possible. That’s why encryption is merely one tool in our security toolbox.
It’s hard to give a real-world metaphor of something so intricate, but at its most basic, encryption is very similar to those decoding puzzles you might find in the Sunday newspaper. You know, the ones where J=E and N=P, and you have to figure out the rest? Imagine that, but way, way, way more complicated. These newspaper puzzles give you clues and are built to be solved. Encryption algorithms are deeply complicated and are built never to be cracked.
Encryption can be used in a myriad of ways. Some of the most common situations in which encryption is utilized are emails that contain financial information, personal information, passwords, or confidential business data. For instance, if paystubs or W2s get distributed to your employees via email, you should encrypt them. Your employees’ personal information and financials are disclosed on those documents, and no one other than you and your employees should have access. Similarly, if we reset a password for a client, we don’t send that password update without encrypting it first. A new password is useless if it’s immediately compromised. In these situations where sensitive information is being communicated, encrypt your emails. It can’t hurt to err on the side of caution.
Your data and your business are worth protecting. Encryption is a widely accessible tool that does a lot of good for your security. Use it!