1984 seems so long ago, but in today’s internet age, it seems more relevant than ever. It seems as if we’ve forgotten what privacy is; all of our personal information is online somewhere, accessible to anybody with a username and password. That’s why internet encryption is so important; it’s what makes you, you.
What is Internet Encryption?
Encryption, in the most basic form, a way to protect unwanted eyes from viewing your data.
Historically, it used to be with cyphers (think Alan Turing and the Nazi Enigma). But in today’s modern society, that no longer works. As computer get more and more powerful, they can easily use something called the brute force method to guess millions of potential combinations via trial and error.
Instead, we’ve developed something more sophisticated. In a nutshell, there are algorithms that make sure the information you want to send are sent privately.
But you’re not here for the in a nutshell, are you? We here at Seamgen figured you weren’t.
There are two main methods of encryption: public key (asymmetric) and private key (symmetric).
The public key allows anybody with the public key to encrypt information, but not access it; that is limited to the private key. This is why it’s also known as asymmetric encryption. It requires two different key; the public key to input the information, and the private key to access it.
On the other hand, the symmetric model allows both of the keys do to the same function…thus the “symmetric”. They’re both able to add and encrypt and decrypt information using the same key.
For our purposes though, think of it like a locked box. One key allows you to put information in, and the other key allows you to retrieve the information. Both of those keys are completely different; you could give everybody you know the key to put information into the box, but that’s all they could do; put things in. It requires that second, different key to remove the “stuff” you’ve put in the box.
I mean, but how does it affect you, really? I mean, you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to hide.
It’s also not like you have your address, name, date of birth, and credit cards online, right?
If you’ve ever participated in online shopping, all of your information mentioned above is out there, on the internet, waiting to be stolen.
And it’s not like this is a small issue; Yahoo, Sony, and Target were all victims of internet hacks. While this isn’t necessarily a fault with the encryption per se, it does reinforce the idea that there need to be stronger methods to prevent leaks of private data.
Not only that, it’s your right as an American, guaranteed to you under the bill of rights; the 4th amendment protects you from unlawful searches and seizures.
But you’re not a criminal, and you don’t do any criminal activities? What do you have to hide?
While that may be true, have you read every single penal code in your area? What about every national penal code?
Especially when there are such strange laws that seem way too specific, like giving a moose a beer in alaska (illegal) or using profanity under the age of 14 in Georgia (illegal).
So while you may not think you’re doing anything illegal, the police might not think so. Not only that, they could use that as ground for a search warrant, in which the consequences can become really severe.
That’s why apps such as iMessage or WhatsApp, which offer end to end encryption, are so important; they prevent prying eyes from reading what you’re writing.
Can I have your (bank) number?
And it doesn’t end there.
Online shopping, online banking, direct deposits all contain sensitive information that, if released, could really impact somebody’s life.
Bank numbers, credit cards, routing numbers, etc. If you’ve ever had your identity stolen, you know how hard it is for you get your life back together.
That’s because, in the grand scheme of things, you’re nothing more than a number. And that’s what banks, credit card companies, and businesses use: numbers.
Prime numbers are numbers important, that’s why you learned about them in the 4th grade. They’re also important in keeping your data safe.
Basically you have a “public key” consisting of a product of two large primes used to encrypt a message, and a “secret key” consisting of those two primes used to decrypt the message. You can make the public key public, and everyone can use it to encrypt messages to you, but only you know the prime factors and can decrypt the messages.
And boom, just like that, your data’s safe. Unless they have both of the keys, your data is essentially untouchable.
But there are people who do try. Ever heard of 128-bit encryption? It means that there are 2^128 possible combinations. It could be cracked, but it’ll take some time. There are literally billions of combinations of primes that could be used to factor the public key, but it doesn’t mean anything unless they get it right.
What’s so bad about encryption?
In a nutshell, nothing. It keeps your data safe from people you don’t want seeing it.
But that’s the problem. The government, in their infinite wisdom, want backdoors to everything.
They claim it’s for the sake of national security. Remember the San Bernardino terrorist attack in 2015? The government wanted Apple to create a backdoor to their entire mobile operating system so that they could get into the phone.
Seems reasonable, right?
Such a powerful tool would be able to affect every single iphone ever made. Not only that, even though the government promised that they’d use it responsibly, we don’t know what responsibly means.
And, God forbid, it got into the hands of some bad guys; America’s most popular mobile phone would be putty in their hands.
Senate has gone so far to introduce legislation that would, when instructed by the court, be required by law to help the government decode any encoded information.
This essentially would be the death of end to end encryption; it would force any company or person to hand over anything that would help the government decode any data, meaning that there’s no need for it in the first place.
This is obviously in response to Apple’s noncompliance in the San Bernardino case; it’s an affront to data security everywhere. It gives the government unlimited power, and would weaken the security of all of their devices.
Internet encryption isn’t something that you see in movies, with hackers pressing a couple buttons on a computer to break into the mainframe. It’s serious stuff, using serious math, that could potentially have serious consequences.
And in an increasingly internet-based age, where your data could potentially be viewed by millions of people, it’s important to make sure that your private information stays just that, private.
And with Mozilla claiming that, for the first time in history, more internet traffic is encrypted than not.
And that’s good; it’s vital to maintain a healthy internet. It’s important to remember that internet encryption isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. Without it, we’re all sitting ducks.