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What Are User-Controlled Keys and Why Are They Important?

End-to-end encryption is invaluable for protecting the privacy and security of sensitive and personal data. However, end-to-end encryption provides little benefit unless encryption is performed with user-controlled keys.

The Need for End-to-End Encryption

Most communications contain some form of personal information. Even when chatting with friends you might send photos, information about your life, etc. These communications need to be protected against being viewed or modified by anyone but the authorized recipients.

End-to-end encryption provides this service for both personal and business communications. An end-to-end encrypted messaging system encrypts data on the sender’s device before transmitting it to the recipient(s). At the other end, the recipient(s) use the appropriate secret keys to decrypt the message on their devices.

While being transmitted over untrusted networks (such as public Wi-Fi) and the messaging provider’s systems, all communications should be encrypted. This makes it impossible to read these messages or perform any modifications to them without these modifications being detectable to the recipient. This ensures that the data being transmitted remains private and that the recipient can verify its authenticity.

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Why End-to-End Encryption Requires User-Controlled Keys

End-to-end encryption is a powerful tool for data privacy and security. However, this is only true if the encryption is implemented properly and that data cannot be decrypted while enroute to its destination.

The most common mistake when implementing end-to-end encryption messaging systems is to have encryption keys controlled by or accessible to the provider of the messaging system. This may mean that the provider generated the encryption keys or stores them in an unencrypted form, potentially to allow access to messages across multiple different user devices.

If a messaging provider controls encryption keys, then they can decrypt messages at will. This also means that anyone with access to the provider’s systems can do so as well, including employees or cybercriminals that breach the provider’s network.

User-controlled keys ensure that nobody except the intended recipients of a message can access it. This means that, even if the platform provider is compromised by a cyber attacker, the contents of user messages are encrypted and remain private and secure.

True End-to-End Encryption with Ciphr

Any end-to-end encryption system without user-controlled keys has the potential for its security to be broken by anyone with access (legitimate or otherwise) to those encryption keys. This is why user-controlled keys are essential for data privacy and security.

With Ciphr, your encryption keys are generated on your device and never leave it. We have no access to your keys, and only encrypted messages are stored on our servers (which are only stored temporarily until being delivered). This means that the security of the system is not affected by encrypted messages passing through our servers.

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