In the early 2000s, encryption was an exotic word only developers and cyber geeks used. Fast forward one decade and almost everyone has heard about encryption; but few truly understand it.
Encryption conveys security, privacy and trust. There's a sense of comfort in the complexity behind encryption. If it's so difficult to understand, it must be equally difficult to crack.
It’s kind of like taking your seat in an airplane and thinking, “I still don’t truly understand how planes get me to where I need to go safely, but certainly some smart people have it all figured out. Right?”. Many companies capitalize on these emotions in their branding and marketing efforts.
But of course, reality is a little more complicated than that. Not all airplanes are made equal. Some are old. Some don’t get regular maintenance checks. Some are designed for safety first, or for speed and performance. Others are designed for comfort. The same principles apply to digital security; not all encryption is equal.
Many apps and digital services capitalize on these emotions in their branding and marketing. Encryption is everywhere. But of course, reality is a little more complicated than that; encryption is not created equal.
When it comes to online communication, encryption on its own doesn’t cut it. Hackers have long since figured out how to exploit loopholes and backdoors in simple encryption systems. And technology has advanced so rapidly that outdated encryption systems haven't kept up.
In response, encryption protocols have had to become more advanced and difficult to decipher. Swiftly taking over the secure communication world is end-to-end encryption.
In this article, we’ll walk you through what it is, how it works and why you’re never secure without it.
Why Do I Need to Protect My Online Communications?
Anyone who cares about their privacy and still wants to use online tools to send emails, texts, voice notes, make phone calls and share files needs to consider the security of encryption. Here’s why.
Whatever app you use, once you type in a message and click send, your most valuable data is immediately sent out to the jungle of the internet. And like a jungle, the internet can be an intricate and dangerous place.
When we communicate through chat apps, our private conversations pass through countless unknown servers, routers and devices - giving unauthorized organizations, hackers, or corporate entities a chance to intercept it.
Keeping your credit card information, passwords, phone numbers, medical records, social security number and family photos safe is a struggle. While an unencrypted message might get across to its intended recipient, it's difficult to know if it was intercepted or manipulated in between.
Consumers are fighting to protect their privacy against hackers, corporations and mass-surveillance government agencies. Hackers might use a person’s information to steal from them, blackmail them or exploit their computer’s processing power. Big email or messaging services that do not respect their users’ privacy might collect their data and then hand it over to third parties.
With access to users’ emails, those unauthorized advertising companies can then track users’ purchases to later identify and segment potential customers and design targeted ads for them.
Private information can also get into the hands of governmental surveillance agencies, which can use it to repress citizens’ freedom of expression or to manipulate voters.
Businesses also have every reason for concern. The reputation of a business depends to a large extent on its ability to protect its customers, stakeholders’ and operational information. 3 billion private data records stolen or exposed in the first half of 2018 alone.
Companies also must follow privacy regulation like the GDPR to avoid catastrophic penalties. The current cyberthreat landscape continues to spread throughout verticals and geo locations as data breaches make headlines around the world.
The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) 2019 displays a grim reality for the state of cybersecurity. Security incidents totals 41,686 and confirmed data breaches topped 2,013 across 86 countries.
What Is End-to-End Encryption?
End-to-end encryption is crucial for protecting online communications. Securing data as it travels from one point to another, it is the best-known way to ensure that no-one other than the intended recipient can read your private communications.
Some end-to-end encryption systems give the user control of their cryptographic keys. It's a system by which only the endpoint devices hold the cryptographic keys needed to decipher a message. In end-to-end encryption, even if a message is intercepted, it would not be intelligible to anyone who does not have the key. Meaning only you, the sender, and your intended recipient can make sense of a message. Even the app developer wouldn't have access to the private communication.
But let’s back up for a moment.
How Does It Work?
As you already know, encryption turns communication data (messages, emails, audio or video calls, images, etc.) into unintelligible strings of numbers and letters. Cryptographic keys enable the app to decipher encrypted messages and return them to legible formats.
If everyone has the cryptographic key needed to decipher a message, then encryption would be meaningless. No point of putting a lock on something if you, your recipient and everyone else all have the master key.
To solve this issue, end-to-end encryption implements asymmetric principles by generating two different keys - a public key and a private key.
A public key encrypts the message before it reaches the centralized server and is forwarded to the recipient device. The private key enables the recipient to decipher the message when they receive it.
The relationship established between the sender’s public key and the receivers private key happens behind the scenes when you verify the contact.
Think of it like a locked mailbox at the front of your house. Any postman can put a letter inside the box, but only you have the private key to unlock it. In end-to-end encryption, message encryption occurs on one device using a public key (anyone can send you a letter) and decryption occurs on the recipient’s device using a private key (only you can open the box).
Is End-to-End Encryption Really Enough?
End-to-end encryption isn't the final answer to secure communication. Cybercriminals have found loopholes that allow them to execute any number of attacks on weak end-to-end encrypted communications, such as:
Not all end-to-end encryption is equal. Some older encryption protocols use encryption keys that are much smaller than is capable today. Although an app may enable end-to-end encryption, it may not protect your data as heavily as it could.
Even end-to-end encryption cannot protect the endpoints themselves, such as in the case of a stolen iOS or Android device. Added brute-force protection can keep the data stored on your device protected.
A backdoor is usually a secret method of bypassing normal authentication or encryption. Edward Snowden revealed that Skype (even with end-to-end encryption) had a backdoor which allowed Microsoft to hand over user messages to the NSA.
Long term encryption keys:
If a secure communication app is encrypting data using a single, long term encryption key, there is only one hurdle for a hacker to overcome. End-to-end encryption may be established but cracking the single encryption key exposes all communication protected by that key.
End-to-end encryption is essential, but it’s not all there is to protecting your online communications. How the cryptographic system is implemented to a secure messenger is the difference maker for stronger security.
Ciphr Does More Than Just End-to-End Encryption
Ciphr takes end-to-end encryption to the next level. Designed for security first, Ciphr empowers privacy and provides users with the most advanced encryption protocols available.
- Top-grade end-to-end protection with PQ-ECC encryption
- Powerful brute-force security with Composite Key technology
- Perfect forward secrecy encrypts each message with a unique encryption key to end the risk of long-term encryption keys
- Peer-to-peer verification for trusted private conversations
- Self-destructing messages and emails
- Zero-knowledge group chats for anonymous chats
Contact us to find out more below.