What is Encryption and Why we need it?

Wayne Wu

Wayne is a graduate from the university of Waterloo with a B.A. in psychology. He is interested in all things tech and design. You can find him taking pictures from time to time.

Our privacy is priceless. We need to protect our data. Encryption can help securely protect data that you don't want anyone else to see. This guide will teach you the importance of encryption and why we need it.


rotecting your data online has never been more important in the age where we use so many online services, from banking, to shopping, to work, and entertainment. In this year alone, the personal information of about 100 million individuals across the US and Canada were affected in the Capital One data breach.

But how is your data protected online, and how do you go about making sure that you’re taking the steps to make it as safe as possible? It all has to do with encryption.

Simply put, encryption is the method by which data is scrambled in order to make it unreadable by any unauthorized parties. The authorized party in this case would have what’s called an encryption key that unscrambles the data and allows access to the original data, and both the sender and the recipient(s) would have the encryption key.

In computing, the encryption key is essentially a set of mathematical values within an encryption algorithm for changing data so that it appears random. Similar to a physical key, it locks (encrypts) information so that only someone with the right key can unlock (decrypt) it.

This is the basic concept of data encryption, but there also two main methods of encryption derived from that concept that can be used to secure data.

Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric encryption is an encryption method that uses a single key to encrypt and decrypt data. The sender or system that is encrypting the data has to share this key with all of the authorized recipients of the message. Because of this, symmetric encryption is sometimes referred to as secret key encryption.

This form of encryption is also usually much faster than its asymmetric counterpart. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), is one of the most popular symmetric encryption methods used today, which is no surprise when you consider that it was designed to protect classified information in government organizations.

Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric encryption, also known as public key encryption, uses two keys. The first key is used for encrypting data while the second key is used for decrypting data. Both keys could technically be used for either task, but the data encrypted by one key can only be decrypted by the other key, and vice versa.

The “public key” designation comes from the fact that one of the two keys is kept private and only known by the owner, while the other is made public and shared with the recipients of the message.

Encryption in Action

Under these two types of encryption methods, there are many encryption standards used today, some of which you may recognize in widely used products and services.

For example, when you’re browsing the internet, most of the websites you visit will be using HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) to securely send data between the website and your web browser. This is especially important for online banking or sending any type of sensitive data over the web.

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) makes sure that messages sent between two parties can only be viewed by those same parties. Anyone trying to intercept that data along the way between sender and recipient will not be able to read the data. WhatsApp and Signal are two popular messaging apps that employ E2EE when sending and delivering messages.

Wayne Wu

Wayne is a graduate from the university of Waterloo with a B.A. in psychology. He is interested in all things tech and design. You can find him taking pictures from time to time.

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