What Is Encryption, and Why Should I (or My Customers) Care?

There have been numerous newsworthy incidents in recent months having to do with encryption. What is it? Why is it important? How does it affect my life? These are regular questions many people have. Don’t be ashamed for asking. It’s complicated stuff, but it’s also important stuff. Here’s an overview.

What is encryption?

In a nutshell, encryption is a method of securing information. According to Wikipedia, “encryption is the process of encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized parties can read it”. But what does that mean? Basically, it comes down to privacy. Whenever you send a text message or make a phone call or send an email, that information has to travel between your phone or computer and the recipient’s device. As that signal travels it passes through all kinds of places where it may or may not be protected from outside parties. Encryption scrambles that message so that it is illegible while it is being sent. Once the message hits your recipient’s device, it is unscrambled and once again legible.

There is a lot more to encryption than this simple explanation and if you’re interested, please read here…  Just know that encryption is very difficult to break, and it is fast becoming the standard way to protect messages sent and received electronically. Which brings us to the next question…

Why does it matter?

There are many ethical questions raised when it comes to discussing secure communications. If we all have access to encryption, that means it can be used for any number of things, both good and bad. Communicating with your attorney or accountant about a business matter is one example of when encryption provides a wonderful level of security and peace of mind. You can rest assured that only you and your attorney or accountant are able to access your personal information. That being said, encrypted communications have also been used by criminals and terrorists to protect their plans from police and security authorities. This begs the question: how much privacy is “enough,” and when is too much privacy harmful?

The point of this post is not to have or inform any philosophical discussion. There’s plenty of that going on elsewhere. Know this though — encryption is a powerful tool for enabling privacy of communication. You should care about it because it can benefit you directly by giving you peace of mind that your personal information (think banking, business, legal, family communications) is secure and safe. It can build trust. The flip side of that coin is that it can also be used by bad people to do bad things.

Simply put, encryption is a tool for protecting communications that can be used for any purpose, good or bad. Encryption means different things to different industries. Learn how it affects your customers, and engage them in a discussion about it. A good blog post or article about encryption and your company’s position on security and trust posted to your website is a great way to inform your users about the value of secure communications and assure them that you take privacy seriously.

Harris QuinnDirector, Business Development 

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