There is a lot of data on the internet. Billions of messages are sent, status updates posted, files shared and actions taken. Almost all of them leave a trace behind. Probably the most concerning part is our private or in-house business communications. Cybercriminals and hackers might hack into databases and access your messages and exploit their content for personal gain.
Or worse, they might steal valuable data from you and hold it for ransom, reveal secrets and much more. This is where encryption comes into play. This process, if done right, can provide significant protection from prying eyes and unwanted attention to your private communications. In this article we’ll discuss what is AES encryption (and AES 256), cover what is digital encryption in general, its benefits as well as look at some insights for the future of this technology. Finally, we’re going to discuss the benefits of AES encryption for our users. Let’s begin!
What is digital data encryption? Explanation & Overview
Digital encryption is a process of transforming readable data into an unreadable format called ciphertext
. It is usually done with the help of an encryption key. The key contains the algorithm, pattern, or any kind of another identifying measure that can backtrack the encryption process and thus, decode the ciphertext – message.
The recipient needs access to the same encryption key (that the sender has) in order to decrypt the message and make it readable again. These are called private keys. This procedure makes it almost impossible for anyone who doesn’t have the key to decrypt the message, even if they have access to the original data.
Encryption is often used to protect private communications, financial information, and company secrets from prying eyes and hackers.
All of us have probably heard of the Enigma code – the most infamous message encryption used by Germans in the Second World War. By cracking the code, Allies were able to intercept and decode their messages, creating a huge advantage. Nowadays the threats surrounding most of us are digital. Hackers invade our privacy, attack and exploit businesses. Not only hackers are to blame. Private corporations can exploit our behaviour patterns whilst entire governments allocate resources to monitor and try to restrict the freedom of their citizens. Hence, digital data encryption has become more and more important.
Many other countries’ governments, not just NSA from the USA, have also been accused or are very open with the adoption of similar practices. Privacy in the digital space is more of an illusion nowadays with hundreds of millions of phone records collected, messages stored, actions monitored in the US alone.
What is AES encryption?
AES, or Advanced Encryption Standard, is a symmetric key encryption algorithm. It’s one of the most versatile and most liked tech solutions in the cryptography sphere.
The basis of AES is a block cipher that uses 128-bit block sizes and 128, 192, or 256-bit keys to encrypt data. AES256 is the version of the standard with 256-bit keys. It is widely considered the most secure, conventionally applied digital cryptography standard which is commonly used for the most secure end-to-end encrypted communications.
AES was designed by two Belgian cryptographers, Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen, and was adopted as an official standard in 2001 by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. Such an achievement indicates the wide array of recognition that the standard has gotten. For over 20 years, AES256 and AES encryption in general has been one of the most favoured solutions for developers who want to create a system where communications are well protected from foreign or external influences and leaks. Here’s a simplified chart of how it works.
With the case of AES-256 encrypted communication, the first phase is when the sender writes a message and clicks ‘Send’. The message is automatically encrypted with the secret private key. The ciphered text is transmitted, either P2P or through an intermediary server and is then decrypted with the same private key. Once decrypted, the content is deciphered and shown on the recipient’s device as the sender intended.
How safe is AES-256 encryption?
AES is a highly trusted and reliable algorithm. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has praised AES, calling it “unbreakable”, and the US Government has been using it to protect classified information since 2001.
As with any security technology, there are always potential vulnerabilities that could be discovered and exploited at some point in the future. However, there are none as of right now. Only the side-channel exploits exist, but these can be protected against, if the software developers proceed with sensible and safe implementation of the standard.
As mentioned before, the AES has three different identities (128, 192 and 256 bit). The 256-bit version has the longest key for encryption and thus, a hacker must spend the most time trying to decrypt the message. If you want to know how much effort it takes, no conventional computer or even a quantum computer can do that in a sensible amount of time. Still not aware of the scale? Well, it’s 2256. It’s also much more than the total number of atoms (yes, atoms) in the entire observable universe. And your body alone has around 7 octillion atoms (7*1027). The scale is colossal and no current tech is able to grasp that scope.
In addition to the number of possible variants for decrypting, the AES 256 also implements 14 rounds of encryption. Thus, the key for decrypting it is automatically longer than with other encryption technologies. The longer the key, the harder it is to crack. Speed isn’t a problem either. Advanced Encryption Standard isn’t too demanding on system RAM, hence it doesn’t load the systems or servers that much.
If you want to know how much time it would take to hack AES-256 encrypted content – we can’t say for sure what would happen in practice since it hasn’t been done. But, in theory, hacking would require billions of years.
Benefits of Digital Cryptography
As previously stated, the main purpose of digital cryptography is to protect private communications and data from unwanted access. By making it only decipherable to those in possession of a particular key, cryptographic protocols add in a hugely significant layer of additional protection to the everyday communication of almost anyone involved.
AES encryption is used in a number of different ways that promote data privacy and protection. The most notable benefits are:
- Enterprises can use AES to protect their sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorised individuals.
- Encryption allows keeping your private communications exclusive to the sender and the intended recipient. No 3rd parties or servers will be able to see and/or read what’s being said.
- Cryptography prevents unwanted communications from outsiders. Since your identity can be concealed, end-to-end encryption can lead to de-personalised chatting and thus, no more cold calls, cold messages, or targeted ads.
- For businesses, this can increase the trust in your internal communications.
- Even in the case of data leaks from servers, the contents of the messages or any other data points are encrypted. Hence, hackers would not be able to use this information for their own personal gain. Properly encrypted data is worthless.
The future of digital cryptography
Looking into the future, we can see that digital cryptography will only become more important as we rely more on online communication and storage. Analysing technological solutions with no potential for the future isn’t worth it. However, contemplating about and looking at the potential for digital cryptography, both developers and consumers can see much area for growth in both the near and long-term future.
With data breaches becoming more and more common, it is crucial that we have systems in place that can protect our information.
Statistics show us that every second, more than 56 records are compromised. This means that both businesses and individuals can do more to protect their personal and customer’ data. Encrypting it is the first way towards having more privacy online.
AES encryption is one of the most reliable and trusted ways to do so. It is already being used by millions of people and businesses around the world and will continue to be a staple in our digital security.
In the future, maybe solutions more capable and advanced than AES-256 will emerge. But for the foreseeable future, at least when someone is in the search for a stable and easily implementable, but very secure option, the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard works best.
What happens with leaked, non-encrypted data?
If data is left unencrypted, well, it’s just like leaving your phone unlocked, hoping that no one would take advantage of it. That’s a nice idea and hope, but the world that we live in is far less dependable. If your data is unencrypted, it’s just begging for the attention of hackers. Even mid-level phishing, social engineering or mediocre DDoS attacks can hamper digital server security. Hackers can also target other security exploits to gather various data from the public or private databases/servers.
What can you expect when a database is hacked or its contents are leaked? Well, one European cybersecurity company conducted a study where they analysed the aftermath of 100 data breaches that occurred in 2019.
What they found was that not only were the numbers staggering (with an average of 2.5 million files being compromised) but also that a shocking 95% percent of the leaked data was left unencrypted.
This means that 95% of the files could be opened, read in full, analysed, passed through to others, converted, and exploited in every other imaginable way. What this means for regular users is that their personal information or whatever other data or info that they might’ve shared with the database that was now leaked, would be available to hackers and/or the public.
If what’s leaked only contains your game login details or phone number
– it’s not nice, but it’s something you can move past. You can change your passwords, implement 2FA, etc. However, if it’s your medical records, private conversations including sensitive topics, financial info, or similar things, it suddenly becomes all that much clearer why digital encryption is in the spotlight of our article. Some hacks are very damaging to your personal life or can even create huge trust issues down the road. When your messages are leaked, it can damage your reputation at work, in your personal life, etc.
In some countries, saying some things can lead to fines or worse, prison. However, if an encrypted database is leaked, decrypting the contents of messages would take such a long time that it’s never even worth it to do so. Hence, AES-encrypted communication pays off.
To avoid both material and psychological hardships, it’s worth considering what you can do and how you can make your digital activities more secure.
Kraden Messenger App – How we USE modern cryptography, including AES
Kraden seeks to solidify its status as the world’s most secure messaging app.
All messages are end-to-end encrypted, using industry-leading encryption tech like the Signal protocol. 3-DH elliptic-curve handshakes, AES-256, HMAC-SHA256, and some others are used to keep your messages secure and encrypted.
Furthermore, whatever messages you send are deleted after a certain period of time. This prevents any security exploits and ensures maximum security for every Kraden user. The database which contains sensitive information on your device is encrypted with the 256-bit AES algorithm also. Open source SQLCipher provides the cipher used on the app. The key itself, for decrypting data, is provided by your own Google Pixel device and the Titan M chip which it has.
Digital cryptography has progressed a lot over the years. However, as of right now, AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the go-to choice for secure and safe communications online. Even the most cunning hackers would need millions of years to decrypt the true contents of messages that are encrypted using AES-256, for example. Thus, security and privacy are greatly improved, with not only state-of-the-art businesses, but also top-level government organisations trusting this standard for their comms.