Encryption and You

by Roxanne John- President, Internet Society St. Vincent and the Grenadines (ISOC SVG) Chapter

WHAT IS ENCRYPTION?

Encryption is the process of scrambling information so it can only be read by someone with the keys to open and unscramble the information. It is commonly used to protect both data stored on computer systems (data-at-rest) where the secret value is typically known only by the data owner. And data transmitted via computer networks, including the Internet (data-in-transit). Where, data is generally scrambled using a public key and unscrambled using a private key.

End-to-End (E2E) encryption provides the strongest level of security and trust, because by design, only the intended recipient holds the key to decrypt the message. No third party, not even the party providing the communication service, has knowledge of the encryption keys.

WHY IS ENCRYPTION IMPORTANT?

We rely on encryption every day. It is fundamental for our security, confidentiality and privacy of data being stored or transmitted. It is key to the functioning of many key elements of our society such as:

  • Web browsing: websites use HTTPS, an encryption protocol to provide secure communication, keep data from being read by criminals, while in transit.
  • E-commerce: we trust companies to protect our financial information when we shop online or use online banking.
  • Secure messaging: when we use a messaging application (apps) we expect the message to be private. Some messaging apps use encryption to maintain the privacy and security of their users’ communication while it is in transit. Others even use end-to-end encryption so only the sender and receiver can read the message, e.g. iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal.

WHO SHOULD MATTER?

  • Government agencies– encryption protects data that is central to personal lives, economic prosperity and security.
  • Journalists/Free press– encryption allows journalists a trusted relationship with their sources who will be encouraged to come forward to share information. It will protect their anonymity.
  • Individual citizens and communities-we need to understand what encryption is and its practical uses.
  • Law enforcement and national security-encryption is fundamental to the safety and efficient operation of key aspects of our society and our lives. It prevents terrorist and criminal acts and prosecute offenders
  • Industries and businesses-encryption protects data, and provides security to our businesses and services.
  • Providers of critical infrastructure and essential services—including water, electricity, transportation, banking, and healthuse of encryption will among other things, protect their operations from cyberattacks.

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ON ENCRYPTION?

Encryption Homepage: https://www.internetsociety.org/issues/encryption/

Policy Briefs: https://www.internetsociety.org/policybriefs/encryption/

Factsheet for Journalists: https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2020/fact-sheet-how-encryption-can-protect-journalists-and-the-free-press/

Factsheet for Policymakers: https://www.internetsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/FactSheet-EncryptionVsLawful-Access-EN.pdf