Encryption has been debated in the news and in the courtroom, most recently in the FBI vs. Apple case. But what exactly is encryption?
Codes have been used to send sensitive or private information securely for millennia. One example is the Enigma Machine, which was used by the Germans to encode important information during World War II. The 2014 film The Imitation Game examined the life of Alan Turing, who helped to break this code.
Encryption is an updated, digital form of a secret code. An encrypted text message or file can only be read by the person sending it and the person receiving it. Anyone who might intercept it between the sender and the receiver will only see scrambled text, which is very difficult to decipher. Only the sender and the receiver have the “key” (or decoder ring) to unlock or unscramble the message.
Encryption is used to protect sensitive information, such as bank records and credit card information, as well as day-to-day communications. Without knowing it, you’ve likely used encryption in your daily life. If you’ve used the Wi-Fi at the library, you’ve used encryption; a Wi-Fi network that requires a password is a form of encryption. Have you shopped online? Used online banking? Your credit card and bank account information were protected by encryption.
When sharing sensitive information (such as your credit card number, address, or Social Security Number) online, only enter that information on encrypted or secured websites. To tell if a website is secure, look in the address bar. Encrypted websites start with https:// and, depending on your browser, may have a lock icon next to the address.
Many social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter use encryption to protect all the information and photos you share with friends and family.
Encryption is subject to debate. With encryption, criminals are able to communicate securely, including potentially coordinating terrorist attacks. But encryption is also used by the military to protect sensitive information, allows journalists to securely contact sources and protects our financial transactions. Encryption may impede criminal investigations, but it is also an important part of modern technology.
If you are interested in learning more about staying safe online, check out our Internet Safety and Security class, which will be held Thursday, April 21st at 7 pm and Wednesday, May 25 at 11 am. Registration opens two weeks before the date of the class. Sign-up for these and any other computer classes at heightslibrary.org or by calling (216) 932-3600.