On the internet, we have a duty to keep our data safe, secure, and private. Encryption is our strongest tool in that fight, but what exactly is encryption? What does it do to keep our data secure? How does that look different for the military and the civilian?
What is Encryption?
Encryption finds its roots in the field of cryptography. The process of writing and solving coded messages became the foundation upon which modern encryption was built. In ancient history, the Roman used simple substitution ciphers by simply shifting their messages down a few letters, these days, you can find a substitution cipher in a children’s puzzle book, but for the time, this was considered one of the premier methods of protecting your data in transmission. As history progressed, we developed more sophisticated versions of effectively the same thing.
Most famously, we used machines to develop and decode encrypted messages in World War II. Machines with turning drums would take an input, shift the output internally, and create complicated, coded messages that were simple to decode once given the proper information. The Germans used a more complex machine with more drums to create messages that were more difficult to decipher, and the Allies fought back by working tirelessly to crack their codes. We can think of Alan Turing and his code-cracking machine as the beginning of modern-day encryption. In fact, there are many similarities between early analog encryption and the complicated processes that our phones use today.
In the modern day, we encrypt data in a similar, more sophisticated manner. Because information on computers must be transmitted in a precise manner, any slight shift to the data being transmitted will transform it into expensive gibberish that neither machine nor man can translate. Data encryption takes advantage of this by creating keys on either end of a line of communication to which only the authorized devices have access. The encrypted information is then scrambled in a unique fashion and only reconstructed when the proper key is slotted into the data. An encryption key is generally as simple as a string of common characters, but the mechanical beauty lies in the sheer number of possible combinations. Well done encryption will be entirely unparsable by any person or machine without the proper key, and faking one, even with the most powerful devices we have on the market right now, would take a shockingly impractical amount of time.
AXEL Go uses what is called AES 256-bit encryption. This military-grade encryption method was first developed in 2002 to bolster the cybersecurity of the most well-funded military on the planet. This means that this encryption standard was developed with some of the best resources money could buy and scrutinized by some of the most privacy-minded people.
Before AES-256 bit encryption hit the scene, federal agencies were the Data Encryption Standard (DES). DES as an encryption standard was a 56-bit monster for quite some time, but eventually, computing power became so cheap and accessible that DES could no longer keep up. A single person with a suitable machine could crack a document encrypted with DES 56-bit in less than a day by the 1990s with brute force alone.
AES 256-bit encryption stands on the shoulders of encryption methods that stood before it. AES 256-bit is a symmetric key cipher. This means that the same key is generated on either end of the transfer. The data encrypted by the AES algorithm is broken up into several “blocks,” and each of those blocks is replaced with encrypted data decided upon by the encryption key. Once the data is rendered unrecognizable, it can only be reverted into a readable format by the proper key. The encryption process is performed in several different “rounds,” and the number of rounds of data replacement that have taken place before the data is considered sufficiently encrypted. AES 256-bit encryption is the most thorough iteration of AES encryption, and it has the backing of the NSA and protects many of the organization’s top secrets. It’s robust enough for the military, and bringing that technology to civilians in an easy-to-use format is the least we can do for the digital security of all.
How Does Encryption Protect You?
In the simplest terms, encryption protects us in the digital world by creating barriers to entry for everyone but yourself. When data is encrypted, you become the only person with the key to an incredibly complicated lock. Once the tools are in place, end-to-end encryption does the hard work of scrambling and reconstructing your data without any additional input on your part.
An unfortunate aspect of modern-day privacy legislation is the tendency to pull back your protections in times of strife. A typical legislative response to international disasters, times of war, or changes in federal protection is to lean on the human tendency to seek protection. That reflex often materializes in the law as privacy overreach. Our doorbells, cell phones, and air conditioning control modules can keep track of our positions and habits, and that information can be turned over to third parties without us having a say in the matter.
When we talk about using encryption as a tool to protect yourself or your business in the modern world, the primary reason for this is to keep your data out of the hands of bad actors. Ransomware attacks have brought massive industries to a screeching halt. For instance, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is the perfect example of how we can lose out on millions of dollars in business, inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people, and shake our trust in our infrastructure. Hackers and other bad actors will always be the primary threat that encryption aims to fend off, but it is essential to understand that end-to-end encryption is a tool with many functions.
We encrypt data, not just because it keeps bad actors out, but because people have a fundamental right to privacy that is easily eroded if left unprotected. By going out of the way to create robust, secure protections of our privacy before the right to do so is challenged, we create a space online that is secure and belongs to you alone.
Embrace Your Right to Privacy
.AXEL Go is a file storage and sharing service designed to revolutionize how we think about security online. Our user experience design is focused on handing top-of-the-line security to any business of any size. Our AES-256 bit encryption and decentralized server structure thwart cyber attacks on big businesses as competently as it protects local operations. No matter how tight the budget for your practice may be, we are the perfect fit for secure, intuitive storage file sharing. You can try AXEL Go premium for free for 14 days. See what security backed by our $10,000 guarantee can do for your business.
“Advanced Encryption Standard: Understanding AES 256 | N-Able”. 2022. N-Able. https://www.n-able.com/blog/aes-256-encryption-algorithm.
Lily Hay Newman, wired.com. 2022. “End-To-End Encryption’S Central Role In Modern Self-Defense.” Ars Technica. https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2022/07/end-to-end-encryptions-central-role-in-modern-self-defense/.
“Law Enforcement Access To Smart Devices.” 2022. Brennan Center For Justice. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/law-enforcement-access-smart-devices.