What Is Encryption and How It Strengthens Online Security in 2020?
Nowadays, encryption is universally used with the purpose of data protection and it’s essential for online security. You’ve probably heard about the term encryption in different contexts when going through content related to technology. Nowadays, encryption makes it possible for our personal data to be secured when, for example, we shop online or use the internet for banking.


Still, encryption is not a new process. Through history, people have used encryption so they could send secret messages only certain people were able to read. In the modern world, computers are able to automatically perform the encryption process and it’s used beyond sending secret messages.

Encryption is the best technology for protecting our personal data from hackers and cybercriminals that would try to steal and misuse it for fraudulent activities.

To better understand how essential encryption is for online security, we’ll go more in-depth through what encryption is, how it works, and what are its usages in the modern world.


A brief history of encryption

Encryption is believed to date back in antiquity when Spartans used to code their messages during battles. They used a device called scytale which consisted of a parchment strip wrapped around a wooden cylinder. When the parchment was unwrapped, the message was unreadable as it was just a nonsense sequence of letters. To decipher the message, the parchment needed to be wrapped around another cylinder of the same size.

Later on, another type of encryption was developed by Hebrew by reversing the alphabet (“A” becomes “Z”, “B” becomes “Y”). The Romans, during Julius Caesar, also used a similar tactic but, instead of reversing the alphabet, they swapped the letters of the alphabet by three places (“A” becomes “D”, “B” becomes “E”).

Wars have led to cryptographic innovations as it was highly important for the information to stay out of enemies hands.

Thinking back to your school days, you probably created your own alphabet so you could exchange messages on pieces of paper with a couple of classmates without the rest of the class being able to read your conversations. If you did this, then you’ve used encryption in its basic form.

Nowadays, your devices and tools utilize a more advanced form of encryption so your messages and personal data can be safe in the digital world.


What is encryption?

Encryption is the process of encoding a message so only specific people are able to read it. The purpose is for the information to be hidden from others and it works by converting plain text into random ciphertext, impossible to read without decoding the data.

Encryption does not prevent someone from interfering with the information, but it makes it impossible for someone to find out the content even if it’s right in front of him.


How encryption works

When it comes to encryption, there are two terms you should know about first hand – Plaintext and chiper text.

The plaintext is the unencrypted text, data that is readable (such as an email sent to your friend).

The ciphertext is the encrypted data, containing both the original and encrypted plaintext and it’s unreadable to both humans and computers.

Through the encryption process, the plain readable text is converted into incomprehensible information.

So how is the receiver able to read the data if it’s unreadable when it reaches the destination?

Well, here’s where encryption keys come into place.

To encode and decode the data, an encryption key must be used. It is one of a kind and it’s created by using different and complex algorithms.

The encryption key scrambles the data into unreadable characters and it’s also the only one who’s able to revert the unreadable text back to plaintext. This situation where one encryption key can do both the coding and decoding applies for symmetric encryption, which we’ll talk about in the types of encryption chapter.

Types of encryption

There are two types of encryption – symmetric and asymmetric key algorithms.

Symmetric key algorithms

The symmetric key algorithms are also known as public-key cryptography.

Symmetric key algorithms use the same key for both encrypting the plaintext and decrypting the ciphertext. With this type of encryption, the two parties that exchange information only need to share the key once and it will remain the same.

While symmetric key algorithms are easier to use because there is only one key, it is also less secure as if someone manages to obtain the key, he’ll be able to decrypt the information.

Asymmetric key algorithm

Unlike symmetric key algorithms, asymmetric key algorithms use two different keys – one for encrypting the plaintext and one for decrypting the ciphertext.

This type of encryption uses a private key and a public key. The private key is used to encrypt the message and it’s not shared with the receiver, while the public key can be shared with anyone but only allows access to a limited piece of information.

When you send an encrypted email to your friend that used asymmetric encryption, you send the public key to your friend. He’ll be required to authenticate to verify that the message is sent by the private key holder. If someone manages to obtain the public key, he will only be able to read the one email, but he won’t be able to get access to the rest of the emails.

Using asymmetric encryption highly diminishes the chances of getting hacked, but its disadvantage is it cannot be used for computing huge amount of data because the algorithm is way more complex and the process of encrypting is much slower.


The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

AES is a secure encryption standard also known as Rijndael symmetric block cipher that’s now used worldwide to protect and encrypt sensitive data.

It is a type of symmetric encryption in which the plaintext is separated into blocks. The block size of AES is 128-bits. The initial block is taken through a certain amount of rounds where new keys are added, bytes are substituted, rows are shifted, and columns are mixed.

AES has three different key lengths and the difference between them is in the number of rounds that the data goes in the encryption process.

  • 128-bit AES – 10 rounds
  • 192-bit AES – 12 rounds
  • 256-bit AES – 14 rounds

Basically, 256-bit provides a greater security margin than 128-bit. For most practical purposes, 128-bit AES is used, but highly sensitive data is processed with 256-bit.


What’s encryption used for?

Back in the days, encryption was heavily used in war times so militaries were able to exchange messages without enemies being able to intercept the secrets.

Nowadays, encryption is universally used with the purpose of data protection.

You might’ve noticed when browsing online the HTTPS in the address bar. The Scomes from secured and it means that the website is using a Secure Sockets (SSL) protocol which is an encryption method that secures the connection between the web server and your browser.

Some of the most important examples where encryption plays an essential role are in e-commerce, banking, online payment, cryptocurrency, users data storage. WiFi routers, SIM cards also use encryption algorithms to protect the user’s private data.

Encryption also makes it possible for information that’s being exchanged between two parties to remain safe and protected. One example would be when you provide your credit card details when you’re purchasing something online.

Another example of encryption usage is by chat services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. Their software is designed to convert any plaintext message into a ciphertext that can only be decrypted by the recipient. This process when only the sender and the receiver are able to read the message is known as end-to-end encryption. Some email providers also use this type of encryption to strengthen their user’s security.

Even if third-parties are able to obtain the data that’s being sent, it will be unreadable hence, worthless for hackers or cybercriminals.


Improving online security by encrypting your traffic

What you do online, your internet browsing and history, are exposed to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), the government, or to whoever manages to hack into your device and get access to your network.

They can see every website you visit, the files you download, and any interaction you have in the online world.

This gives hackers the chance of collecting private data about you that they can further use to harm you through different types of fraudulent activities.

Fortunately, there are tools designed to protect your personal information when you’re browsing online by encrypting your internet traffic.

These services are called VPNs.

With a VPN, the data you send and receive when connected to the internet is encrypted.

When you connect to the internet through a VPN server, the requests are not made through your LAN but through the VPN connection. The VPN client encrypts your data and it will only be decrypted when it reaches the VPN server and it’s forward sent to the website you want to access. This way, not even your ISP will be able to see what you’re doing online, they’ll only see you’re connected to the VPN.

Moreover, the VPN changes your IP address, o the websites you visit won’t be able to see your real location and IP, they’ll see the requests as coming from the VPN server’s IP address.

Because VPNs encrypt your data and keep your information private and secure, they are one of the most important tools for online security.

Besides making you anonymous online and protecting your personal information, you’ll also get other perks by using our VPN such as:

  • Being able to access any content online even if it’s usually restricted in your country (e.g. Netflix).
  • Downloading torrents anonymously.
  • Finding the best deals when shopping online.
  • Securing your connection on public WiFis.
If you’re not convinced yet if you should be using a VPN, here are the essential benefits of VPN connections.
Have you ever asked yourself – Should I use a VPN?
The answer, most likely, is yes. Especially with the internet evolving, VPNs are more and more necessary.
But you can’t just take my advice for granted. That’s why I’m gonna walk you through the benefits of VPN services so you can decide if you should get a VPN yourself.
If you’re not familiar with VPNs yet, we have a guide for beginners on how VPN services work.

1. Enhanced security

One of the main benefits of VPN (the most important actually) is the secure connection it gives you when browsing the internet.

VNP services use encryption protocols so the data you share when browsing the internet is secure.

With a normal connection, you are subjected to become a pray for hackers.

A virtual private network (VPN) connection creates a secure tunnel for internet browsing. It encrypts all the data being transferred between your device and the page you want to access, making it almost impossible to be deciphered.

Moreover, a VPN connection also hides your IP. This means hackers, your ISP (internet service provider), or the government can’t see your identity online.

Once you connect to a VPN through the VPN software, the overall connection on your device is encrypted including the internet browsers, apps, torrents. Unlike proxies which need to be set up for specific apps.

Each VPN service offers a different level of encryption, so you must be careful when choosing your VPN provider.

What to look for when choosing a VPN provider:

  • The VPN encryption protocols – There are more types of protocols used for VPN connections, and the encryption they offer is not equal. For example, you should stay away from PPTP as it’s not considered secure anymore.
  • Where they have servers – If you’re going to use the VPN at home, you should choose a server that’s close so it won’t slow your internet speed. If you’ll be using a VPN when gaming, connecting to a server that’s close to the gaming server will help with the lags.
  • What devices will you use – It’s important to make sure the VPN service provides apps for all the devices you own. Also, you want to know how many devices you’ll be using so you know what offer to choose.

2. Safely connect to public networks

One of the biggest benefits of using a VPN is it gives you a secure way to connect to public networks without worrying about third-party snoopers.

If you like blogging from coffee shops or travel a lot and often connect to airport and hotel networks, then you should be using a VPN service.

With public networks, VPNs are a must. The moment you connect to a public network, your security is at risk.

There are a lot of ways someone can alter the connection with the mean of stealing the data from the devices connecting to the network.

The risks of using a public network

  • Packet Sniffing – Or data phishing, refers to a hacker stealing your data. If a hacker has access to a router you’re connected to, the sniffing comes easy for the hacker.
  • Fake Wi-Fi networks – One common way for hackers to steal your information is by targeting a popular place (e.g. a coffee shop) and create a Wi-Fi connection with that place’s name. You have no way of telling if the network is fake. So you might find yourself enjoying your favorite coffee, deciding to check your email and end up by connecting to a fake network and get your identity stolen.
  • Auto-connecting – One way we make our life easier is by setting up our devices to auto-connect to Wi-fi networks we often use. The thing is, a hacker is able to duplicate a Wi-Fi connection. So if somebody is after your data, he can duplicate your Wi-Fi connection and your device will auto connect to the fake network.

Keep in mind that a hacker having access to your internet connection is not something to overlook. He doesn’t only see your internet history, but he can also get his hands on your accounts, passwords, credit card data.

By using a VPN service, you assure a connection that’s safe to use even from your favorite coffee shop.


3. Keep your work safe

One of the advantages of VPN services is you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your hard work.
If you’re a blogger or an online business owner, it’s not hard to become the target of hackers. And the security of your data and content should be one of your biggest concerns.
Imagine working for months on a project just to have someone come and steal all that hard work from you. Not a pretty scenario, is it?
Your work deserves to be kept safe and it’s totally worth investing in a VPN service so you make sure no one can get hold of your files.

4. Remote control

Through the benefits of having a VPN, it worth mentioning the remote control characteristic.

VPN services were originally created for businesses to give their employees a system to connect to access the local business network from anywhere. VPN give employees a secure connection to the business network so no data exchanged in the connection is at risk of being peeked over or stolen. It’s extremely useful for businesses with remote employees or with multiple locations.

Big businesses usually create their own VPN connections. But of course, this comes with at a higher price. Still, if you own a small business, you can create a secure tunnel for your business data by getting an affordable VPN service. It’s especially useful if you have people working remotely for you.

Not only businesses can benefit from the remote trait a VPN gives, but also individuals who travel a lot.

Through a VPN connection, you can access your home network while traveling. Meaning you will be able to connect to the internet as being on the same LAN (local area network) as home, giving you the ability to share local files.


5. Online anonymity

Unlike proxies, a VPN hides more than just your IP address.

When you connect through a VPN service, all your connection is encrypted. Meaning neither the ISP (Internet provider) nor the government can see what you’re doing online. Which makes for an anonymous connection.

Still, you’re not 100% anonymous.

You must pay close attention when you choose the VPN provider as some services are more reliable than others. Some providers keep your data and can either use them for their own advantage or to sell it to third parties.

Another aspect you need to keep in mind is that if the provider keeps your data, it’s obligated to share it if there is any legal concern. VPN providers won’t risk their freedom for your own.

What to be careful when choosing the VPN service

  • If they keep logs of your data
  • Where the VPN server is located, as in some jurisdictions they are legally required to keep logs

6. Bypass filters and unblock websites

One of the most important benefits of VPN is it gives you the freedom to access any content online.
Some online content is restricted to specific countries. And there are various situations when regional restrictions can pose a problem. But by using a VPN, your real IP address will be changed so you can bypass these regional restrictions.

Have access to any content you like

For example, you might’ve bumped into a YouTube video that wasn’t enabled in your country.

One of the best benefits of VPN is that you can easily bypass regional filters. The VPN service changes your IP, and when you register for the VPN service, you can choose the country of the server that’s being used. Once you connect to the VPN, your IP will be changed and your connection will appear as being made from another country (the country where the VPN server is located).

Get better deals

Another situation where there’s a benefit in using a VPN service is because of promotions and advertisements. Most brands target advertisements and promotions based on your location. By connecting to the internet through a VPN service, you might get your hands on better deals that are set up to display to people from different countries and you wouldn’t see them otherwise.

Solving issues when traveling

Regional restriction can also pose a problem if you use to travel a lot. If you are from Italy, for example, and you travel to Australia, you might find that some of the websites you usually access from Italy are blocked for Australian users. In this case, using a VPN will give you the freedom to access the websites you want.

Avoid complications with your online business

You can also bump into an unpleasant situation if you run an online business. Especially if you have clients from other countries. You might have, for example, to work on a client’s website that’s located in Europe but you are based on the US. If the website is blocked to US users, you won’t be able to access it through a normal internet connection. But you can opt to use a VPN service that will change your IP into one located in Europe.

Regional restrictions can also pose a problem for SEOs that need to do keyword research for multiple countries. Google results show differently based on the country, and a VPN service will make it look like you’re connecting from a different country.

Bypass restrictions in workplaces & schools

Internet restrictions are really common in workspaces and schools. They usually set up a firewall to stop you from accessing certain websites. Common restrictions are YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites, and downloading torrents. By using a VPN service you can bypass these restrictions and enjoy your favorite movies or Instagram pages anytime you like.

Get early access to content

By using a VPN service you can also get early access to content that’s exclusive in a specific country. When a product releases, it’s usual for it to be first released in one country (usually the US) before it goes live for the rest of the world. You can use a VPN with a US IP and your connection will display you as being located in the US, giving you access to the desired content. This one is especially useful for gamers, as games use to be released in the US first.

Now that you know the benefits of VPN, is it worth to get a VPN?

You should have a great understanding of what are the benefits of VPN. To recap, the main benefits of using a VPN are:
  • Enhancing the security for internet connections
  • Giving you the ability to safely connect to public networks
  • Keeping your files and work safe
  • Being able to connect remotely to local networks
  • Get online anonymity
  • Bypass filters and unblock websites, which comes with a lot of advantages
In today’s world, VPN services are more than some services for geeks and tech enthusiasts. They became a necessity for any online user who wants to keep his/her data and identity secured.
So if you are concerned about your privacy, you should consider investing in a VPN service. There are a lot of affordable options out there you can opt for.