In this new era we live in, the age of computers, all aspects of our lives are becoming increasingly reliant on computer systems. More and more of the devices we use are equipped with internet capabilities, and almost all kinds of public and private information can be accessed through these networks. As a result of this unprecedented level of interconnectivity, this information has never been more vulnerable to outside threats from hackers and viruses alike. More than just private information as at risk however; lives are very much at stake as well. Everything from the financial system, to basic utilities, and even medical equipment can be compromised through a competent cyberattack, and encryption is the basis for all cybersecurity protections.
In 1994, the United States Air Force’s central command facility was completely compromised by several hackers, giving them access to classified information and several other public and private institutions including NASA. In 2007, the home goods company TJX was hacked, aimed at the financial information of hundreds of thousands of customers. Seven years later, both Target and Home Depot were hacked as well, leading to the theft of more than one hundred million credit card numbers. In 2015, what are believed to be Chinese hackers accessed the personal information such as social security numbers and date of birth of government employees and anyone who had ever received a government background check. Cybersecurity is one of the single most important concerns we have a society today, and the most crucial part of cyber security is encryption.
In cryptography, the term encryption is used to define the process of encoding information in such a way that only authorized parties can access it, and those who have not been authorized cannot. While encryption has been used for centuries by militaries and governments to facilitate secret communication, today it is commonly used by civilians and businesses as well. The use of encryption to protect digital information is ubiquitous at this point, and has been adopted by almost every company and civilian system in the world.
Encryption is not without its flaws however. For the most part, encryption is only used to protect data while it is being transmitted or being stored at rest, leaving information vulnerable while being processed by cloud servers for example. All of the breaches in cybersecurity mentioned previously were of data being stored at rest, and that was being protected by encryption. There are a number of methods used by hackers to breach encryption today, including cryptographic attacks, data corruption attacks, and ransomware attacks. There are many other ways around encryption, and a new method is being developed every day.