What is Data Encryption & Encryption Algorithms

In this digital era where businesses rely highly on digital models, it's crucial to ensure the security of sensitive business data. To do so, data encryption is one of the utilized mechanisms.

1 What is Data Encryption?

Data encryption is the mechanism of converting plain text information into a different format, known as ciphertext. This ciphertext can only be decoded back to the original data by authorized individuals. The processes or methods involved in this process of converting plain text into ciphertext are known as data encryption algorithms.

Data encryption can be performed on the data throughout its lifecycle, such as during storage, processing, and transit.

With the right data encryption mechanisms, the sensitive data of an organization can be kept safe from potential attacks. It is because the data is incomprehensible for the attacker, without the decryption key, which is accessible only to authorized individuals.

With data encryption, three important security mechanisms are ensured. These include Authentication, Non-Repudiation, and Integrity. Authentication signifies the verification of a message to ensure it's being sent from the original source. Non-repudiation is evidence of a message being sent from the sender so no denial can happen. Integrity is validating that the data received matches with what was sent, such as no change has happened during the process.

2 How is Data Encrypted?

This section explores the steps of the data encryption process. The process is inclusive of all the steps that convert plain text into ciphertext and ciphertext back to plain text. There are five steps in the process, which are explained below:

1) Use an Encryption Algorithm

Encryption Algorithms help convert data into ciphertext in a securely predictable way. If the encryption mechanism is not defined and understood correctly, it may still encrypt the data, but decrypting it would be next to impossible. Therefore, these algorithms define the set of rules to encrypt and decrypt your data.

There are numerous encryption algorithms available. Some of them are replaced by new ones because they have lost their level of security. However, the choice of the correct encryption algorithm relies on your requirements and infrastructure. For example, the RSA security algorithm is a standard when it comes to data being sent over the Internet.

2) Generate a Key

Once you have finalized your choice of encryption algorithm, generate the decryption key. It's usually a set of numbers and characters, making it a strong password. Every algorithm requires certain values to generate a key for you. Treat this key with utmost care as it's the sole bridge between your data and ciphertext.

3) Start Encryption Process

Now that you have decided on the encryption algorithm and have your decryption key, the next step is to simply start the encryption process. Feed the data to the encryption algorithm to gain the ciphertext for usage.

4) Output the Encrypted Data/Ciphertext

After the encryption algorithm has completed its work, you have the encrypted data. Encrypted data is simply the coded data based on the mechanism of your chosen encryption algorithm and it can only be decrypted using the decryption key generated from the same algorithm.

You can utilize the encrypted data for processing or transporting it from one endpoint to the other. As mentioned before, encryption can be performed on the data in the storage, processing, or transit stage.


After the receiving node receives the encrypted data, it needs to be decrypted. For that, the receiving node can use the shared decryption key to decode and understand the received information.

3 7 Data Encryption Algorithms

1 AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)

AES is one of the most used encryption algorithms and is even a US government standard. The working of this algorithm is based on a substitution-permutation network, which is a sequential series of numerous mathematical operations. This algorithm encrypts in the form of block ciphers, where each block is 128 bits.

There are three types of AES algorithms based on the bits of block ciphers it generates AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256.

2 RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman)

Its name is based on the surnames of three mathematicians who discovered this encryption algorithm. This algorithm is based on the asymmetric mechanism (explained ahead). It utilizes a pair of keys, where the public key is generated by factorization of two primary numbers with an addition of auxiliary value. The algorithm is pretty secure but slow and expensive.

3 DES (Data Encryption Standard)

DES is an outdated encryption algorithm, but was one of the first ones, forming the basis of all the other improved algorithms. This algorithm generates a key of 56 bits, marking it as not secure enough for modern-day usage.

4 Triple DES (Triple Data Encryption Standard)

Triple DES is an improvised version of the DES algorithm. It passes the data through the DES algorithm thrice to make it more secure. Overall, this algorithm is quite slow and not preferred, but can be a good choice when it comes to solutions involving hardware encryption.

5 Blowfish

Blowfish is a faster and free alternative to DES. This algorithm works on variable-length-based keys to generate a 64-bit block cipher. The benefits of Blowfish are that it's free and unpatented, making it a good choice for software solutions. But it's not preferable in all solutions because of its small block cipher size.

6 Twofish

Twofish has a great reputation when it comes to fast and secure symmetric encryption algorithms. It can generate keys up to the size of 256 bits. Additionally, Twofish works well in both software and hardware-based solutions.

7 ECC (Elliptic Curve Cryptography)

ECC is an asymmetric encryption algorithm, which utilizes elliptic curves of mathematical algebraic architecture over a finite number of fields. It makes use of public-private key pairs to encrypt the data. However, it stands as an alternative to the RSA algorithm and is effective when it comes to digital signatures.

All in all, AES-256 is the most robust algorithm among all the commercially available algorithms because of its 256-bit cipher block size.

4 What are Encryption Keys and How They Work?

Just as in the real world, you can unlock your safe box with a key to access the valuable items inside, you can use encryption keys to access the sensitive data inside the coded text. Encryption keys are what allow you to code and decode your sensitive information, keeping it safe from potential attacks.

There are two main types of data encryption mechanisms: Symmetric and Asymmetric. The symmetric mechanism uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt data. Asymmetric mechanisms, on the other hand, use two different keys to perform the encryption and decryption of data.

Note that every algorithm generates the encryption key in a different form based on its encryption method and involved operations. Also, the encryption key must be kept safe to avoid any sort of unwanted data loss and stealing.

5 Two Main Data Encryption Types

There are two main types of data encryption algorithms: Symmetric and Asymmetric. All the algorithms we discussed above fall under these two categories. The difference between both is defined below:

Symmetric Encryption

The symmetric encryption method involves the usage of the same key to encrypt and decrypt data. The key needs to be sent to the receiver side safely to be able to decrypt the data.

It is faster because of the involvement of a single key but is considered less secure. Since it's faster and the key sizes are less, this method is preferred when there is a transfer of a large amount of data.

Asymmetric Encryption

The asymmetric encryption method involves the usage of two keys: a public key and a private key where one is used to encrypt the data and the other to decrypt it. As it involves two different keys, there is no issue of ensuring the safe transfer of the key to the receiver.

This method is more secure as it provides better authentication and data integrity but can be slower. The asymmetric method is usually preferred for smaller amounts of data and where data security is highly crucial.

6 The Impact of Data Encryption on Data Security

Data is a big integral part of running a business in this digital era, which makes the idea of having secure data a big plus for the security architecture of an organization. To summarize, data encryption can benefit you in the following ways:

● Adds a layer of security to your IT infrastructure.
● Helps you abide by compliance standards.
● Assists in building reputation and growing business in the longer run.

Bringing it all together, it's important to instill data encryption mechanisms in your business processes to help ensure the integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation of your data.

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