Encrypting Files FAQ
Securing communications has been essential since writing was invented – even ancient Egyptians used symbol replacement to keep texts private. As technology progressed, encryption moved from simple codes, to specialized tools that would encrypt messages, to encryption software. And as computers became more powerful, encryption had to use increasingly long keys to avoid brute-force attacks.
How Does File Encryption Work?
Files are encrypted using complex algorithms that shuffle the contents and then are decrypted using a key provided by the originator of the message. The effectiveness of encryption technology is determined by:
- The strength and complexity of the algorithm
- The length of the key
- The appropriateness of the chosen encryption system
Information that has been encrypted remains confidential because it is rendered unreadable to anyone without the decryption key. Some encryption algorithms offer further file protection by ensuring that files are not altered or tampered with during transit.
Keep reading: How Encryption Works: Everything You Need to Know
How Are Files Encrypted?
Files can be encrypted by a variety of encryption standards. Some are used most frequently by specific industries, and others are most compatible with specific databases. Popular encryption standards include:
- AS2, AS3, or AS4
- Open PGP
- ZIP with AES
- SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol)
- FTPS (File Transfer Protocol over SSL)
Most encryption technologies filter data through a series of changes – substitutions, permutations, and other operations – multiple times to conceal the message.
Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Keys
Keys that can be used by both the sender and receiver to encrypt and decrypt messages are symmetric, since the key is the same on both sides. Asymmetric encryption uses two keys, usually one public and one private. Knowing the public key allows you to encrypt the file, while the recipient uses their private key to decrypt the message.
What Does File Encryption Do?
Each encryption standard protects the privacy and integrity of your organization’s data slightly differently. For instance:
- Open PGP encryption is used for encrypting, decrypting, and authenticating files. It uses hashing, data compression, symmetric private-key cryptography, and asymmetric public-key cryptography to keep data secure. PGP encryption, done via software applications, transforms plain, readable text into a complex code of characters that are unreadable. Learn more
- GPG (GnuPG), a different implementation of the Open PGP standard, opens and decrypts files encrypted by PGP or Open PGP. Learn more
- SFTP uses encryption algorithms to securely move data to your server, keeping files unreadable during the process. SFTP also requires authentication to prevent unauthorized file access during the operation. Learn more
All-in-all, file encryption encodes your data either in motion or at rest, or both, and requires a key to decrypt the data. This keeps the content of your files secure.
Which Files Can Be Encrypted?
Nearly all file types can be encrypted, including text files, emails, data files, directories, and disk partitions. Encryption software can also be deployed on a variety of platforms, both cloud-based and on-premises, including Windows, VMware, Linux, Azure, IBM i, AIX and UNIX, and Mac OS.