What is Encryption and Decryption?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Encryption and decryption refer to the password -based conversion of electronic information or data into what is known as a ciphertext or a form that makes it extremely difficult to read, and to the return of the same data back to its original form which might be plain text. Ciphertext is what results from data being "passed through" or processed by ciphers that might simply substitute letters of an alphabet with numbers or totally manipulate the arrangement of the data via algorithms. Sometimes the rearranged data is called codetext, but "code" is the simple representation of signals, whether that representation is kept secret or not. Morse code is one example that could be called a code but not a ciphertext. The process of converting data back to its original form ideally is achieved using a key, commonly known as a password, but highly sophisticated software also can be employed to discover the key or analyze the data to return it to its original form whether, that was plain text or audio.


There are many reasons for the use of encryption and decryption, such as securing the sensitive data that is transmitted to complete electronic transactions such as online purchases of merchandise or services and for interaction with government agencies requiring the submission of private information. When a consumer purchases a product or service from a business that conducts electronic commerce, simply known as e-commerce, he or she enters his or her billing address and credit card details into an online form in order to send this data to be processed. Encryption and decryption always should be at work in such situations to protect the purchaser's financial information.

Secure transmission of financial information is so important that most web browsers indicate whether a connection is secure by displaying an open padlock for insecure transmissions and a closed one for secure operations. The background color of the address bar might also change, and either way, consumers should never submit data that, if intercepted, could lead to identity theft or financial ruin. The letters "https" should appear in the address bar even if there is no other indication that the data is secure.

Wireless transmissions of data are especially vulnerable to being intercepted and read by unauthorized individuals, but communication of sensitive data over wired networks also is quite insecure. Legitimate businesses that engage in e-commerce and government offices are not the only users of encryption and decryption. The officials of some governments that have a strong interest in homeland security, such as the United States, believe that terrorist groups might make use of encryption and decryption for secret international communications.


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