In this age of heightened awareness, organizations and agencies are super-vigilant in protecting sensitive data from falling into the hands of unauthorized sources. Encryption is one method in which this can be achieved.
Just like a physical lock requires a key, there are two processes that must work hand in hand to protect data. Encryption transforms (locks) data into a series of letters and numbers when it is sent over the airways to an internal or external network. As a result, only the person who holds the key may decrypt (unlock) the data in order for it to be read. Without these two forces working together, gaining access to sensitive data would be difficult.
According to Homeland Security’s Alerts and Tips Blog, encryption is similar to digital signatures, but the two differ in the following ways:
“Like digital signatures, public-key encryption utilizes software such as PGP, converts information with mathematical algorithms, and relies on public and private keys, but there are differences:
- The purpose of encryption is confidentiality—concealing the content of the message by translating it into a code. The purpose of digital signatures is integrity and authenticity—verifying the sender of a message and indicating that the content has not been changed. Although encryption and digital signatures can be used independently, you can also sign an encrypted message.
- When you sign a message, you use your private key, and anybody who has your public key can verify that the signature is valid. When you encrypt a message, you use the public key for the person you’re sending it to, and his or her private key is used to decrypt the message. Because people should keep their private keys confidential and should protect them with passwords, the intended recipient should be the only one who is able to view the information.”
For more information on encryption and digital signatures, see US-CERT’s Security Tip ST04-019.
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