How Much Encryption Do I Need?

Encryption is a very important factor in our digital lives. It is something we encounter every day, whether we realize it or not. For companies that store our private information, it is extremely important that no one else has access to the data. However, for individuals, convenience may outweigh the added security in some instances. 

What Is Encryption?

Encryption is a way of storing or sending information securely. By securely, we are referring to the encrypting of the data. Encryption doesn’t mean the data can’t be accessed, but rather, if it does get accessed, it won’t be readable. Think of someone writing a message on a plate, then painting over the message and breaking the plate into millions of tiny little pieces. If someone gets the plate, they will have no idea what the message says. However, when you give the broken pieces to the person that is supposed to have it, the plate gets magically put back together with a key. This is, of course, a very simplified explanation.

Encryption on Mobile Devices

Mobile devices (i.e., phones, tablets) need to have encryption because they are being taken out into public spaces where, if the device is lost or stolen, private data could end up into the hands of someone who would exploit the data in some way. For instance, if someone loses a smartphone containing credit card information, then that information is available to whoever happens to find it. This is why all current iPhones and some Android phones are encrypted with a passcode by default. Phone contents being encrypted is important. However, it is also important to realize that any time a user contacts a website using their phone, that data may or may not be encrypted. For instance, general web browsing is not encrypted, but entering password or credit card information is, assuming the website itself is not unscrupulous.

Encryption on Cloud Services

Mobile devices depend on cloud services, since data usually needs to be synced to other devices, such as computers. Services that offer syncing, whether it be for contacts, pictures or anything else, need to get the information off of the phone. The encryption that keeps the data secure has to be decoded in order to sync with these services. This doesn’t mean the data is sent to these services unencrypted, however. It means that the encrypted data is first decrypted by the phone. Then it is sent to the sync service on the phone, encrypted by that sync service and then sent encrypted through the web. Keep in mind, allowing any service outside of the phone access to this information means trusting that the service will keep the data safe.

How Secure Do You Want to Be?

For the average user, there is a certain amount of insecurity they are willing to live with. How much depends on the individual. Do you want your email to be encrypted? Most email is not encrypted end to end because the receiving email service wouldn’t understand the encryption. Do you want to make sure your photos can’t be accessed? It would probably be best to keep them on your device only and not sync them with photo storage services. Every allowance for access to your data runs the risk of the data being exploited, so users have to make the decision as to what is most important to keep 100 percent locked down and how much convenience and entertainment they want from their device.