Data Encryption: How it Works and Why it’s Essential for Cyber Security

Data encryption is a way of translating data from plaintext (unencrypted) to ciphertext (encrypted). Users can access encrypted data with an encryption key and decrypted data with a decryption key. Data encryption is a security method where information is encoded and can only be accessed or decrypted by a user with the correct encryption key. Encrypted data, also known as ciphertext, appears scrambled or unreadable to a person or entity accessing without permission.

How Data Encryption is Used

Data encryption is used to deter malicious or negligent parties from accessing sensitive data. An important line of defense in a cybersecurity architecture, encryption makes using intercepted data as difficult as possible. It can be applied to all kinds of data protection needs ranging from classified government intel to personal credit card transactions.

Data encryption works by securing transmitted digital data on the cloud and computer systems. There are two kinds of digital data, transmitted data or in-flight data and stored digital data or data at rest. Modern encryption algorithms have replaced the outdated Data Encryption Standard to protect data. These algorithms guard information and fuel security initiatives including integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation. The algorithms first authenticate a message to verify the origin. Next. they check the integrity to verify that the contents have remained unchanged. Finally, the non-repudiation initiative stops sends from denying legitimate activity.

How Data Encryption Works

Data encryption works by using a mathematical algorithm, also known as a cipher, to transform plaintext into ciphertext. The cipher requires a key, which is a secret value that determines how the plaintext is encrypted and decrypted. The key can be a string of characters, a number, or a passphrase. The key must be known by both the sender and the receiver of the encrypted data, or else they will not be able to communicate.

Depending on the type of encryption used, the key can be either symmetric or asymmetric. Symmetric encryption uses the same key for both encryption and decryption, while asymmetric encryption uses two different keys: one for encryption and one for decryption. The encryption key is also known as the public key, and the decryption key is also known as the private key.

The process of data encryption can be illustrated by the following steps:

  1. The sender of the data chooses an encryption algorithm and a key.
  2. The sender uses the algorithm and the key to encrypt the plaintext data into ciphertext.
  3. The sender sends the ciphertext to the receiver through a secure channel.
  4. The receiver uses the same algorithm and the corresponding key to decrypt the ciphertext back into plaintext.
  5. The receiver can now read and understand the original data.

Why Data Encryption is Essential for CyberSecurity

Data encryption is essential for cyber security because it protects sensitive data from unauthorized access, modification, or deletion. Data encryption ensures data privacy and confidentiality, which are crucial for individuals, businesses, and organizations that deal with personal information, financial transactions, intellectual property, trade secrets, or classified information.

Data encryption also helps comply with regulatory standards and legal requirements for data protection and security. Examples of regulatory and compliance standards that require encryption include HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and the GDPR. Data encryption can also prevent legal liabilities and reputational damage in case of a data breach or cyberattack.

Data encryption can also enable secure communication and collaboration across different platforms and devices. Data encryption allows users to exchange messages, files, documents, or other types of data without worrying about interception or tampering with third parties. Data encryption can also provide authentication, integrity, and non-repudiation services, which means that users can verify each other’s identity, ensure that data has not been altered in transit, and prevent denial of sending or receiving data.

Types of Data Encryption: Asymmetric vs Symmetric

There are several different encryption methods, each developed with different security and security needs in mind. The two main types of data encryption are asymmetric encryption and symmetric encryption.

Asymmetric encryption, also known as Public-Key Cryptography, encrypts and decrypts the data using two separate cryptographic asymmetric keys. These two keys are known as a “public key” and a “private key”. The public key can be shared with anyone who wants to encrypt data, while the private key is kept secret by the owner and used to decrypt data. Common asymmetric encryption methods include RSA and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

Symmetric encryption is a type of encryption where only one secret symmetric key is used to encrypt the plaintext and decrypt the ciphertext. The symmetric key must be shared between the sender and the receiver of the data, which can pose a risk of exposure or compromise. Common symmetric encryption methods include Data Encryption Standards (DES), Triple DES, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), and Twofish.

Benefits of Data Encryption

With more and more organizations moving to hybrid and multi-cloud environments, concerns are growing about public cloud security and protecting data across complex environments. Enterprise-wide data encryption and encryption key management can help protect data on-premises and in the cloud. Some of the benefits of data encryption are:

  • It protects sensitive data from unauthorized access, modification, or deletion.
  • It enhances customer trust and loyalty by ensuring their personal information is secure.
  • It helps comply with regulatory standards and legal requirements for data privacy and security.
  • It reduces the risk of data breaches, cyberattacks, and reputational damage.
  • It enables secure communication and collaboration across different platforms and devices.


Data encryption is a vital component of any cybersecurity strategy. It helps safeguard valuable data from malicious actors and accidental exposure. By using different types of encryption methods and best practices, organizations can ensure their data is protected at all times and in all places.