Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Encryption explained: how apps and sites keep your private data safe

The apps we use every day ensure our personal data doesn't get into the wrong hands through a process called encryption.

With an escalation in hackings over the past decade, breaches in our private data are ubiquitous meaning now, more than ever, encryption is key. Home secretary Amber Rudd recently made headlines for suggesting that end-to-end encryption was "unacceptable" and governments should be allowed access to data as and when it sees fit. This came under fire from privacy campaigners who said if you weaken encryption for one, you weaken encryption for all.

What is encryption?
Encryption prevents unauthorised access to your data, from emails to WhatsApp messages and bank details, by keeping communication secure between the parties involved.

This is done by 'scrambling' the information sent from one person to another into a lengthy code making it unreadable for anybody else attempting to access it.

When the data is encrypted, the sender and the receiver are the only people that can decrypt the scrambled info back to a readable condition. This is achieved via ‘keys’, which grant only the users involved access to modify the data to make it unreadable and then readable again.

On messaging app Whatsapp, for example, every message sent has its own unique lock and key and only the sender and receiver have access to these keys. This prevents prying eyes from seeing the information in messages. For the rest of the world, and even Whatsapp itself, the relayed information is unintelligible gibberish because no-one else has the key to decrypt the content. This is referred to as ‘end-to-end encryption’.

Put more simply, imagine encryption to be like translating your information into a language only you and your recipient know, and more importantly which a cybercriminal can’t translate.

'Safe, not 'hackerproof'

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