What is Data Encryption: How It Works & Methods Used

May 18, 2023 - (Free)

Around 463 exabytes of data will be generated globally per day by linked servers or the cloud by 2025. Businesses must be skilled at protecting the various locations where their customers’ data is held against breaches and other threats.

A well-liked and efficient way to protect sensitive data and advance security initiatives is encryption. Encryption is used in a lot of your regular online activities, including online banking, email, shopping, and even the page you’re on right now.

Let’s define data encryption precisely and discuss the optimal approach.


What is Data Encryption?

Encryption is described by the Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC) as “the cryptographic transformation of data into a form that conceals the data’s original meaning to prevent it from being known or used.”

Simply put, encryption scrambles plaintext into ciphertext, which makes it hard to read without the right decryption key, shielding critical data from prying eyes.

Swapping each letter for the one that occupies its opposite position in the alphabet is a simple example of encryption. As a result, “a” becomes “z,” “b” becomes “y,” and so on.

Here’s a practical application:

“Don’t tell anyone”

changes to

“Wlm’g gvoo zmblmv”

How Does Encryption Work?

Encryption encrypts data using complex mathematical algorithms and digital keys. Data is encoded into ciphertext using an encryption technique (cipher) and an encryption key. After transmitting the ciphertext to the recipient, the same or a different key (cipher) is used to decode the ciphertext back into the original value.

The secret sauce of sound data encryption is encryption keys. They are simply codes that function similarly to real keys in that only the correct key unlocks the encrypted data. Encryption keys can be generated manually or by software that scrambles data with an algorithm and generates an encryption key.

There are two methods for creating encryption keys:

  • Bit Sequence: It’s also known as crucial space. It provides the number of potential key combinations in logarithmic units. The larger the key space, the more resistant the encryption is to brute force attacks.

  • Password-Based Key Derivation Function 2 (PBKDF2): Keys are generated from passwords. Passwords are reinforced with a pseudo-random string and then mapped to the necessary length bit sequence using cryptographic hash algorithms.

What is the Purpose of Encrypting Data?

Modern encryption protects more than just sensitive data.

  • Protects User Privacy: Encryption preserves user privacy by ensuring that no human or computer, other than the intended parties, may read data at rest. Data such as tax documents, banking information, or an application form may be stored directly on the machine, or data such as emails may be accessed using a web browser.
  • Prevents Identity Theft and Blackmail: Encryption protects user privacy by ensuring that no human or computer may read data at rest other than the intended parties. Tax documents, banking information, or an application form may be stored immediately on the machine, or emails may be viewed via a web browser.
  • Enables Secure File Sharing: In 2021, the average cost of a single data breach for firms with more than four out of five employees working remotely was over $5 million. Remote personnel sharing files over insecure networks make it simple for thieves to intercept data during transmission. The use of encryption ensures that no unauthorized employees or software can access the shared files.
  • Protects Lost and/or Stolen Devices: Smartphones, computers, and tablets are easy to misplace or misplace. If an opponent or hacker gains access to these devices, they can readily take information that is not properly protected. Encryption protects data on stolen or lost devices. Hackers cannot access data unless they have the password (encryption key).
  • Ensures Compliance: Encryption assists organizations in meeting regulatory regulations and norms. Depending on your sector, encryption may be required to comply with legislation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), for example, mandate organizations to encrypt customer personal information when it is stored at rest and sent over public networks.

What is the Difference between Hashing and Encryption?

Hashing Encryption
Hashing is a one-way function that converts data to a smaller fixed value known as the key. Encryption is a two-way function that converts plaintext to ciphertext and then decodes the ciphertext back into plaintext using a key.
The primary goal of hashing is data auditing: indexing and retrieving things from the database. The primary goal of encryption is to safely transmit data over networks.
Hashed data has a fixed length and does not grow in proportion to the length of information. The length of encrypted data is not defined. It expands in lockstep with increasing information length.
Example: MD5, SHA256 Example: RSA, AES and DES

Data Encryption: At Rest, in Transit and in Use

Data encryption can take place in three stages:

Encryption at Rest

Files saved on hard drives, cloud storage, USB devices, and smartphones are examples of data at rest. For physical and virtual theft protection, data at rest is encrypted. Encryption at rest protects the key by encrypting and decrypting data with a key. To protect the key, you can employ a PIN, password, or hardware authentication method, making it impossible for hackers to steal data even if they have physical access to the device.

Encryption in Transit

Data transmitted from one network and accessed by another may be intercepted by actors with access to both networks. Data in transit is protected by encryption. Most routers now support Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) encryption, but business networks can add an additional degree of security with WPA2 Enterprise. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), Transport Layer Security (TLS), and Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) are used to encrypt data in transit over the internet.

Encryption in Use

There is no data at rest or in transit. Data is instead accessed, modified, or destroyed since it is supposed to be in “use.” Data is continually being used by mobile and cloud apps. This data is vulnerable to risks based on where it is stored on the system and who has access to and/or uses it. The best strategy to protect data in use is to guarantee that the application’s source code has the most secure encryption.

Encryption Methods

The two main types of encryption are symmetric and asymmetric.

Symmetric Encryption

The Symmetric Key Encryption, often known as private-key cryptography, encrypts and decrypts data with a single key. To achieve secure communications, the sender and recipient must share the same key. By employing the same key for encryption and decryption keys, the key provides an unbroken layer of encryption from beginning to end. The single key might be a password, a code, or a string of randomly generated integers. AES, DES, and Triple DES are popular symmetric encryption algorithms.

Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric key encryption, commonly known as public-key cryptography, encrypts with a public key and decrypts with a private key. Asymmetric encryption improves security by validating the source of the data and providing non-repudiation (the creator cannot dispute its authorship). However, it reduces transmission speed, network speed, and machine performance. RSA is a well-known example of asymmetric encryption.

Symmetric Encryption VS. Asymmetric Encryption

Symmetric Asymmetric
Keys A single key is required for both encryption and decryption. It requires two keys: one to encrypt and one to decrypt.
Speed Faster encryption process. Slower encryption process.
Key Length Typically, keys are used that are 128 or 256 bits long. The keys are longer, at least 2048 bits in length.
Function transfers substantial amounts of data. Prior to the actual data transfer, tiny bits of data are transferred to authenticate and create a secure communication channel.
Security Key compromise risk is increased when a single key is shared. No need to provide keys. To increase overall security, the encryption and decryption keys are created individually.

Encryption Algorithms

Data is encrypted into ciphertext using an algorithm, and using a decryption key, the ciphertext data is then converted back to plaintext. These are the most widely used encryption algorithms, though there are many others.

DES Encryption

The Data Encryption Standard (DES) is a bit-level block encryption standard. The plaintext is divided into 64-bit blocks, which are then individually encrypted using a 64-bit key. The 64-bit plaintext is thus converted into 64-bit ciphertext in this manner. Only 56 bits are available for encryption since each eighth bit of the key serves as a parity bit (or check bit). Because the 56-bit key is too tiny, DES is insecure and has been dropped as a security standard because it is insufficient for the present data security landscape.

Triple DES Encryption

Triple Data Encryption Standard (TDES) is a symmetric key encryption technique that succeeded DES. It employs three separate 56-bit keys and runs DES three times before sending it to the recipient – encrypt, decrypt, and re-encrypt. Triple DES is being phased out in favor of more powerful encryption methods.

AES Encryption

AES Encryption is an abbreviation for Advanced Encryption Standard (also known as Rijndael) and is a symmetric encryption technique, which means that the same key is used to encrypt and decode the data. AES has a fixed block size of 128 bits and a key size of 128 bits, 192 bits, or 256 bits. AES is widely used to encrypt data on hardware and software around the world due to its speed, compatibility, design simplicity, and strong immunity to known threats.

RSA Encryption

The RSA encryption algorithm was developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adelman. It makes use of mathematical one-way functions, which are simple to apply but require a lot of calculation to reverse. When the key size is increased to approximately 1024 or 2048 bits, the strength of the RSA encryption dramatically improves. The longer keys are a definite indicator of improved data security, which is why they are utilized as the encryption standard for all online transactions.

Encryption with Unitrends

Backup occupies a special position since it affects all elements of the digital ecosystem, including endpoints, clouds, physical servers, virtual machines, and application data. As a result, Unitrends constantly places a high focus on maintaining the security and integrity of our customers’ data.

Both physical and virtual Unitrends appliances use AES-256 bit encryption. Whether the data is in transit to a secondary recovery target, at rest on the local appliance, or in transit to the target itself, it is all encrypted.

A good Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) strategy and a bad one can be distinguished by encryption. But encryption isn’t the only consideration. With our eBook 5 Steps to Building Your BCDR Solution, you can discover more about what constitutes a great BCDR approach.

The Future of Data Encryption

As a result, the business community is actively promoting encryption. To avoid brute-force decoding, some efforts are being undertaken to increase key sizes. Other initiatives are looking into cutting-edge cryptographic techniques. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, for instance, is evaluating a next generation public key method that is quantum-safe.

The problem is that on conventional computer systems, the majority of quantum-safe algorithms perform poorly. The industry is focusing on creating accelerators to speed up algorithms on x86 platforms in order to solve this problem.

The intriguing concept of homomorphic encryption enables users to do calculations on encrypted material without first having to decrypt it. As a result, if an analyst needs to query a database containing secret information, they can do so without needing to ask a higher-level analyst for permission or have the data declassified.

Homomorphic encryption safeguards data not only when it is in use, but also when it is in motion and at rest (on a hard drive). As it employs some of the same mathematics as quantum computers, it also has the benefit of being quantum-safe.

What Should be Encrypted?

Data types that can be protected include, but are not limited to:

  • Credit Card Numbers
  • Passwords
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Phone Numbers
  • Addresses
  • Bank Accounts
  • Patient Health Information
  • and other Information that’s Deemed “Confidential”

Finally, if you and the firm you work for do not have the proper data encryption protecting information, this will result in some really difficult situations. Whether you have a data breach or sensitive material leaks, you and your company may suffer in more ways than one. Consider economic calamities, brand disasters, and a loss of customer trust.

Anything that you back up should also be encrypted. If you have an external hard drive that you plug into your computer, data encryption for both at-rest and in-transit is essential.

This is frequently ignored since users rarely use their backup files. But keep in mind that it only takes one hacker to get their paws in the cookie jar. Then all of your valuable information will be up for the taking. There will almost certainly be nothing you can do about it.

Can Encrypted Data be Hacked?

In a nutshell, encrypted data can be hacked. Attackers can compromise data encryption systems in a variety of ways:

  • Malware on Endpoint Devices: Many endpoint devices include encryption technologies like whole disk encryption. Attackers can use malware to compromise an endpoint device and then use the device’s keys to decrypt the data.
  • Brute Force Attacks: Attackers frequently attempt to bypass encryption by randomly attempting different keys. The likelihood of success is proportional to the size of the key. As a result, most encryption standards require 256-bit encryption keys. Some encryption systems, however, employ weak ciphers that are vulnerable to brute force assaults.
  • Cryptanalysis: This is a technique in which attackers discover a flaw in the cipher and exploit it to obtain access to data.
  • Side-Channel Attacks: In order to do this without actually cracking the cipher, one must look for flaws or defects in the system’s design that permit users to decrypt data or prohibit its encryption.
  • Social Engineering Attacks: Using phishing or other social engineering approaches to deceive a privileged user into supplying the key is arguably the simplest way to breach encrypted data.
  • Insider Threats: The risk of a privileged individual turning against the organization and abusing their privileges to steal data poses a serious threat to encrypted data. Insider dangers also include careless users who violate security standards.

Despite these dangers, encryption is a powerful and effective security technique. However, given the possibility that encryption will be penetrated, it should be viewed as an additional layer of defense rather than the only one used by enterprises to protect their data.


Data encryption is an essential tool for ensuring the security and integrity of sensitive data. Data encryption converts plaintext into ciphertext using cryptographic procedures, rendering it unreadable to unauthorized parties. We investigated several encryption systems, such as symmetric and asymmetric encryption, each with its own set of properties and applications. Furthermore, we examined common encryption techniques such as AES, RSA, and DES, which are critical in safeguarding data at rest and during transmission. It is critical to recognize that encryption is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the best method is determined by criteria such as security requirements, key management, and performance considerations. Organizations may protect their data, protect user privacy, and limit the risks associated with unwanted access and data breaches by establishing effective encryption processes. In today’s digital landscape, where the volume and value of data continue to expand, embracing data encryption as an inherent part of information security measures is critical.