What is encryption?

Kristi ShmyrCybersecurity

Concept photo illustrating encryption (padlock with CD ROM)

Concept photo illustrating encryption (padlock with CD ROM)If you have spent any time talking to an IT professional about cybersecurity or reading about keeping  your data safe, then you have probably heard the word encryption. And, if you are like most people, you probably just pretended to understand what the heck that meant and nodded along so that you could be done with this and just go and buy a cookie.

But, alas, all cookies must come to an end, and it is time for you to learn what encryption actually means.

Encryption is “the process of converting information or data into a code, especially to prevent unauthorized access.” At least, that’s the definition that Google produces. But I want to do more than just Google definitions for you: I want to make those words actually mean something.

(Stop thinking about that cookie and pay attention now.)

Remember when you were in elementary school and you wanted to talk about things with your best friend (like which boy or girl you liked, or how annoying your sibling was) without your parents or teachers or annoying siblings understanding? So you invented a language? And it was probably really not hard for any adult to figure out your secret code, but you thought it was the most clever thing ever? Well, that’s encryption. It is the passing of secret or private information to another (maybe a website instead of a best friend) in a coded language so that, even if the message is intercepted, it cannot be read. It is the grown-up equivalent of the secret code you used in your diary as a child.

Encryption is incredibly useful for protecting your information from cyberattacks. And, if you can believe it, even more sophisticated than the code you used back in Grade 4.

Encryption is used all around you by companies and individuals like banks and credit card companies that can’t afford to lose the data they store. If it’s something you think you require, talk to an IT professional (ahem) about your needs.