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Encryption Report

In this report I will analyse the impacts of encryption in the wider society and to assess the different arguments that have been raised about encryption.

Introduction

Encryption is a type of data security, which allows data to be converted into alternative text (called a cipher) with the aim of forming meaningless data unless a particular phrase, secret key or password is used to decrypt the encrypted data. Encryption has been used worldwide by many other civilizations such as the Roman Empire. The main aim was to create “secret” or confident data that only the sender and receiver would be able to know by means of decryption. This technology has become wide spread and is used without even acknowledge. It has already penetrated on how companies carry out secret processes within the communications of internal companies. “The primary purpose of encryption is to protect the confidentiality of digital data stored on computer systems or transmitted via the Internet or other computer networks.”[9]

There are two types of encryption, symmetric key and public key encryption, which are used widely, symmetric key being the earliest and public key being the latest.

The types of Encryption

Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric encryption uses the same keys to encrypt plain text and to decrypt cipher text. The draw back is that both sender and receiver must have the same keys and could get “leaked” meaning the encryption might not be useful anymore.

Public key Encryption

Public key encryption involved producing two keys, one algorithm, which encrypts and another algorithm, which has the ability to decrypt. “Public key techniques were originally invented to solve the key distribution problem and to provide authenticity. They have many advantages over symmetric systems; the main one is that they do not require two communicating parties to know each other before encrypted communication can take place.”[6] The “public” comes from the fact that the encryption key is published to the public to use and encrypt data. However the key for decryption is not published to the public. Only the receiver is able to decrypt. Public key encryption has not always been around. It was found in “a secret document in 1973.”[1]

Uses of Encryption

Encryption has been used vastly raising questions to be asked whether it should be banned or not. Firstly, encryption has been used by secret services such as Mi5 and the NSA. This is due to encryption having the ability of “hiding” sensitive information so that only the secret service, or its affiliates can view it. However there are conspiracies due to the fact that “the NSA was the organization to introduce the concept of SHA-2 algorithms for encryption.”[2] Due to this, some people are skeptical that the NSA could hold the key to decrypting this type of hashing algorithm.

There has also been some controversy over the legalization of encryption. Earlier this year, “the prime minister made comments widely interpreted as proposing a ban on end-to-end encryption in messages”[3]. This was proposed as a terrorist group called Islamic State was using encryption to send messages to each other. For obvious reasons this must have been sensitive information that they did not want the government to acquire by means of communication interception. He stated, “Terrorists must not be allowed to disrupt our way of life.” This can be true and a way that encryption can be made illegal. But is this just an excuse? If encryption was made illegal then how would British companies make sure that data is protected as the data protection act states? With no encryption it would mean data would be stored as plain text, which could cause problems and result in more organisations/companies breaking the data protection act if their data gets leaked.

Not only is encryption used within storing text data and used by governments, but it is also used in the film and music industry for media. With the rising of DMCA and copyright issues, it has been thought of ways to make content owned by others, private. This is where encryption can help. “Security is the basic requirement of video content encryption. For video encryption, it is generally believed that when the cost for breaking is larger than the one paid for the video content, the encryption algorithm may be as secure.”[4] This statement is relatively true. If the process took years and years to decrypt an encryption but during that time there was more loss than gain, then the encryption is relatively secure. “For example, a file is encrypted with 256-bit AES, it would take a hacker more than a lifetime to crack the code using the brute-force method. Even the hacker’s grandchildren wouldn’t live long enough to successfully decode the information.”[5] This illustrated how long it would take someone to decrypt a file. This is quite a long time and therefore not worth the time. However, as super computers advance in time, there will be capabilities of brute forcing algorithms faster. For example, a program called Bitcoin uses SHA-256 encryption for its transactions and something called blocks. Miners (powerful ASIC devices) generate random SHA-256 values, which it attempts to brute force to figure out the next sequence in the block chain.

Another use was when “Julius Caesar enciphered his dispatches by writing D for A, E for B and so on.”[7] This is an example of ciphered text. And the only people who would know how the cipher works are the people who send the message and receive the message.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

One advantage of encryption is that data can be kept secure. If a company was attacked and had its client data stolen, but the data was encrypted, then the attacker would not have much luck in gaining the actual details of the companies clients. As state above, the time required to decrypt the files would not be worth it. Another advantage is that by encrypting, it decreases the chances of eve droppers from gaining information as it passes form point A to point B. This is don’t by the sender encrypting and then the receiver to decrypt the information.

Disadvantages

One disadvantage is that societies, groups or people can send information, which could potentially cause harm to others, anonymously. This means that no one could track them as the messages would unable to be read. As stated above, David Cameron wants to change the law about encryption as terrorist groups have been using encryption services to send messages to each other to plan attacks. Another disadvantage is that if the private key is forgotten, then all the data that is encrypted will be virtually impossible to retrieve. Or if not forgotten, the key could be “leaked” allowing files to be decrypted. Another is with the Julias Ceaser example as above, “some letters, and combinations of letters, are much more common than others; in English the most common letters are e, t, a, i, o, n, s, h, r, d, l, u in that order.”[8] This means that the ciphered text can be deciphered easier.

Conclusion

The examples above show encryption can seem like a good practice, but it can also be bad. There will always be sensitive software for as long as the Internet exists and we need encryption to hide that information form the people who really want the information to exploit. Computer Science


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