Why Symmetric Key Encryption is Vital to Cybersecurity


Every minute of the day sensitive data, from health records, to military plans to credit card information, is transmitted via the internet. Thanks to symmetric encryption, such information can be relayed very securely. Basically, encryption enables confidential information to move from one computer network to the other without being intercepted. Once a message has been encrypted, it cannot be compromised by an unauthorized user. What exactly is encryption? Server locks, passwords, removable storage, and firewalls are examples of ways through which people secure their data. However, encryption remains to be the most used method of all. Symmetric encryption converts emails, data uploads, and text messages into ciphertext, which is not readable by humans.

How Encryption Works

Encryption applies the use of algorithms that try to convert data into ciphertext and complicated code that the most powerful computers would take a few years to decipher them. Only a computer or a person who holds the right key can decode the information quickly enough, or reverse it back into its ciphertext form.

Symmetric Key vs. Public Key Encryption

The same key should be installed on both PCs that receive and transmit the encrypted data in order to realize symmetric key encryption. Public key encryption, on the other hand, uses different keys: a public key, which is installed to any PC that seeks to communicate with, say, computer A and a private key, which is only installed on computer A. To decrypt the data successfully, a computer will need to have its own private key and the public key installed on computer A.

Secure Sockets Layer is an example of a commonly used internet security protocol that applies public key encryption. The SSL protocol is used by internet servers and browsers when transmitting sensitive information. Once necessary SSL protocols have been implemented, a browser will set off the URL with “https://” instead of http://”. Moreover, depending on the type of browser, a padlock sign will appear either at the bottom of the page or to the left of the URL.

Difference between Digital Signatures and Encryption

A digital signature is often used to confirm the identity of the sender of a particular message. The signature will also verify that the data has not been tampered with before reaching its destination. Once any information on the message has been compromised after the signature was attached, the signature loses validity. Digital signatures may be used without or with symmetric encryption. Digital signatures use private keys, and only those with a public key can only verify them. Authors of encrypted messages, on the other hand, use public keys to send messages to recipients who must have private keys to decipher the information or message.

Cybersecurity Guidelines for Encryption

  • Any secretive or sensitive material that can be accessed by cybercriminals and hackers must be encrypted
  • Wireless devices are easy to compromise as compared to wired hardware. Therefore, given that a considerable amount of information is now transmitted wirelessly, encryption becomes very important.
  • Users should ensure that their private keys are protected with strong passwords.
  • Advances in technology are leading to an increased application of authentication based on fingerprints, biometrics, face and retina scans, and voice identification.

How Symmetric Encryption Provides Privacy and Authentication

Symmetric key encryption is used to prevent tag cloning by using a response and challenge protocol. For instance, if one tag shares a secret key Y with a receiver and the tag hopes to authenticate itself to the receiver, it will have to send its identity to the receiver first. The receiver will generate a nonce E and share it with the sender. The sender should use the secret key Y and the nonce E to come up with a hash code where: H = h(Y, E) and share the code with the reader. Using such a scheme, it is virtually impossible for an intruder to come up with similar tags without prior knowledge of the secret keys.

Different types of symmetric key encryption have been successfully applied in daily life. For instance, an RFID gadget, known as a digital signature transponder, which uses the challenge-response protocol as described above, was successfully introduced and applied by Texas Instruments. This transponder has been built into vehicles to avoid car theft, and it can also be fixed onto wireless devices used in gas stations.

One issue that might affect the use of symmetric key encryption is managing the secret keys. In order to authenticate its identity to an RFID reader, both tags should share different keys with the reader, and the reader must keep all of the associated keys. Once a tag decides to authenticate its identity to the reader, the reader ought to identify the key shared between them. If the reader fails to determine which key they shared, it cannot authenticate this tag. A method called key searching is used to tackle this issue. The reader will have to search through all the keys in its memory to identify the right key.

Encryption is Important for Cybersecurity

Cryptography is essential to cybersecurity. Cryptography uses algorithms to shuffle the message in a way that only authorized users can decrypt them. Symmetric cryptography involves using the same key for both decryption and encryption.

The ancient Greeks were the first people to use codes to replace or transpose number and letters. For many years, the science behind cryptology was used to transmit military information. The current digital encryption has borrowed most of its DNA from these systems: the only difference is that computers do most of the work nowadays.

Given the risk posed by hackers and other cybercriminals around the world, it is clear that professionals who have sufficient cybersecurity training will be highly valued by entities that process sensitive information. Credit card companies, financial firms, private firms, and government and military forces need the expertize brought on board by cybersecurity professionals who work to ensure their systems are free of unauthorized compromise.

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