The term encryption is nothing new. One way of saying is a cryptographic message that needs a bit advanced tools to decode the data. Encryption exists all around us be it WhatsApp text messages, data protection softwares, apps like file and password vaults etc. but still we find ourselves at the mercy of hackers and end up losing our data. Many terrorist organizations use technology as a means of communication, but every field has its limitations.
What is encryption?
In simple words, encryption is the process of scrambling of data to make sure only the selected target audience can view/access it, and others are rendered helpless.
Encryption has existed in all ages and dates back to the age of Julius Caesar who used encryption to send messages to his generals. However, the things expanded in the modern warfare where Nazi messages were decrypted by the British and were one of the defining moments of the war.
Encryption is the scrambling of communication to keep it limited from being seen or accessed. But an encrypted message can be decrypted & deciphered by a third party (such as a tech company, government if they identify a way to unlock it).
End-to-end means that the message would only be seen by the sender and receiver as it is encoded in such a way. Anyone having the key (password) could get in, while others can stay outside. Famous apps like WhatsApp have applied end-to-end encryption to make sure information/messages travel with complete privacy and that only the rightful reader can extract information out of it.
How does it work?
Consider for an example, while using WhatsApp, you send a message to a recipient. Your app encodes it using a unique key (can only be unlocked by the recipient). Know that the process of encrypting a message is a process of a mixture of handshakes, but the only thing you need to remember is that it is almost impossible to break.
What makes it so important?
From photos, videos, documents, files, etc. all of such data now exists online. It has happened due to the obvious convenience factor, but the same option attracts the hacking community who are prevented through different means like anti-viruses, security software(s), etc.
History records how Yahoo got attacked which proves that our data isn’t safe at all at any time; our data can be leaked online (without our consent).
Which apps are encrypted?
There exist multiple apps which use encryption in one way or the other, but WhatsApp, iMessage, and Signal use end-to-end encryption.
Encryption and its types:
- Symmetric Key Algorithms: Identical or related encryption keys for both encryption and decryption.
- Asymmetric key algorithms: Different keys for encryption and decryption.
Know that encryption has its limitations and you just can’t rely on it. For example, encryption can help you protect the message written in an email, but the same could not be said for the name(s) of the sender and receiver. The identity of the sending or receiving cane sometimes be of great importance and encryption may or may not cover this option. Sure you’re not involved in anything illegal but consider an example where you plan to meet with a competitor about a job & you do not want your current boss to know about what you’re up to. Hence, you’d never want to give up the name of the person you’re meeting as if you’re caught, you might just lose your current job.
What apps are encrypted and what aren’t?
Many messaging apps use encryption in some way, but end-to-end encryption is widely applied by WhatsApp, Signal, and iMessage. Google’s Allo and FB Messenger do offer end-to-end encryption but not by default.
The recently emerged Snapchat does not use end-to-end encryption. Messages are stored for 30 days if unopened but are deleted from servers when opened by recipients. However, text messages aren’t encrypted (those messages that do not reveal over data connections).
Am I safe (like totally?)
No. even if someone isn’t able to read your messages, they can read:
- Your screen
- Screen of the other person
- Backup you created in the cloud
If you lose your phone and cloud is accessed, you’re open to unlimited threats. But that doesn’t make encryption a bad idea. It’s just that encryption has its limitations.
What makes encryption so controversial?
The government grants itself the right to access anyone’s information when needed. In case of severe circumstances, government intervenes to dig out information about a single person, entity or a group which is for the sake of the whole country. For example, terrorist just like us use devices to communicate with one another. On the other hand, tries to find loopholes in their systems to intervene and prevent any loss before it even occurs. So nobody can stop the government from intervening and accessing our data as it has the right to access our databases. They admit to doing such activity but they do so to prevent any unwanted activity. Hence, we find ourselves in the state of partial dilemma. Encryption is safe, but not entirely.