Since symmetric encryption uses a single key for encryption and decryption, when transmitting data, the receiving client must already have the sender’s key in order to read the data. In asymmetric, the recipient’s key, which is public and available to all, is used by the sender to encrypt the data, which is then transferred and can only be opened with the recipient’s corresponding private key.
What does SSL/TLS mean?
The most common form of encryption that we use on a daily basis is SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) which is commonly used when accessing secured websites over a web browser. It’s also the most common form of security used for transmitting bank/credit card numbers for online purchases. SSL/TLS uses both symmetric and asymmetric encryption for its data transferring.
Since symmetric encryption requires both the parties to have the same key, there needs to be a way for the sender to get their key to the recipient, and just transmitting the key would defeat the purpose of encryption in the first place. So this protocol uses asymmetric encryption to encrypt the symmetric key to send it. This is a temporary, one-time key that’s created for that session of data transfer. With this key, the two parties can freely exchange encrypted data for the duration of the session.
SSL/TLS protected websites must have a valid SSL certificate, which is their public key. It must be renewed often to stay as secure as possible.
What does AES mean?
Another common term used when discussing security is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), usually in conjunction with 128-bit or 256-bit. AES is a standard used for symmetric encryption keys. The number corresponds to how complex the algorithmic key is.
256-bit AES is the encryption standard adopted by the federal government and countless other entities. The number of possible combinations in a 256-bit encryption key consists of 78-digits. It would take a supercomputer millions of years to decode it. Which is why it’s imperative to keep the key secret, as it’s the only way that outside attackers can decrypt the captured information.
Balancing security and convenience
Online services walk a tightrope of balancing security and convenience, as one usually comes at the cost of the other. Heavily encrypting data for storage or transfers costs time as well as ensuring that the networks, devices and end-users following the best security practices.
Having flimsy security so that data can be more easily accessible is good for convenience sake, however, utilizing weak encryption or at the wrong points can make intercepting encrypted data and the corresponding key easy for hackers. A common example of lax security is the lack of SSL/TLS security or an expired certificate. File-sharing is faster, but it’s a huge security risk.
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