“Google+ is Shutting Down After a Vulnerability Exposed 500,000 Users’ Data”
“Hackers Stole 50 Million Facebook Users’ Access Tokens Using Zero-Day Flaw”
These are just two of the headlines regarding hacking that have popped up in the past week or so.
In this day and age, it seems nobody is immune to the threats of cybercriminals. Whether you work in government, finance, healthcare, run a small business, or do literally anything else, the need for encryption and tough technology security is at an all-time high. Hackers are on the prowl for confidential information, proprietary trade secrets and personally identifiable data (e.g., social security numbers, addresses, and phone numbers) that they can hold and use as ransom or for industrial espionage.
Are you taking encryption seriously enough?
What is encryption?
Encryption originated from cryptography, defined as the use of codes and ciphers to protect secrets. Flash forward a bit from Egyptian symbols on ancient scrolls to complex digital algorithms on electronic devices and bam, you have modern day encryption. In its most basic form, encryption is the process of encoding data and thereby making it unintelligible and scrambled. In many cases, encrypted data is also paired with an encryption key and therefore only those that possess the key are able to access the data.
What’s an encryption key? An encryption key is a collection of algorithms designed to be totally unique to the encryption it unscrambles. It scrambles and unscrambles the encrypted data until it reverts it back to its original, readable state.
How does it work?
When you send a message using an end-to-end encrypted messaging service (think Whatsapp), the service wraps the message up in code, scrambling it and creating a custom encryption key. This code can then only be unlocked by the recipient of the message. Essentially, a new set of encryption algorithms is created each time two smartphones begin communicating with one another, bolstering the protection already provided by complicated digital scrambling. Encryption keys can work as a pair, one locking the information and multiple (which can be passed out, think a group message) to unlock the encrypted information.
The type of encryption depicted above is asymmetric, signifying the presence of a pair of keys: one for encrypting the data and the other for decrypting it.
Conversely, there’s symmetric encryption. Symmetric encryption is the process of using the same key (two keys which are identical) for both encrypting and decrypting data.
So why the breaches?
If we know so much about encryption and people were using it successfully as a major, secure digital messaging source as far back as World War II, then why in the world are we seeing more security breaches than ever?
The answer is this: convenience will always top privacy, and there is simply no way to balance that equation. Encryption is difficult to implement, especially on many of the large-scale, hyper-complex platforms that continue to burst onto the scene in all industries. As technology booms and hackers become more technical, it can be difficult to find ways to communicate safely.
Here are a few simple apps to incorporate into your daily life to stay a little more private.
If you find yourself using Facebook Messenger often, consider switching to the similar to use, yet much safer, Whatsapp. This app offers users worldwide end-to-end encryption on both messaging and phone calls. WhatsApp is considered one of the best encrypted messaging apps on the market today, working so well that some governments such as Brazil, and recently, the UK aren’t too happy about it.
Another app for end-to-end encrypted chats. In addition to standard messaging features, Viber has a special called “Hidden Chats,” where you can hide 1-on-1 and group chats which can only be unlocked with a PIN number.
A step up in features offered from Whatsapp, Silent Phone is a subscription-based service which offers end-to-end encryption and keys held by the subscriber. This means none of your calls can be looked at by government eyes. Arguably the top encrypted messaging app as it also offers secure file transfers, messaging and conference calls. You’ll feel the freedom of living in a previous decade when hackers and governments didn’t spy quite as much.