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Types of Encryption Keys

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

Ecommerce is a major component of business today, and with that comes the need for protection. In this lesson, we'll look at the protection used in ecommerce, encryption keys - what they are, the different types, and examples of when they are used.

The Key to Randomness

Have you ever wondered why you enter a password when you log into your bank account or cell phone? Likely, you know it is for protection. But what kind of protection? Surely a simple word or phrase isn't all that significant. Well, in actual fact, it is. That simple word, or phrase, introduces a random element to the protection schemes that make it hard for someone with malicious intent to be successful. One such scheme is encryption, and the random element, an encryption key.

What is Encryption?

Encryption is the process of converting or transforming information. Its purpose, to hide that information from prying eyes. It is mathematically based, often involving a series of complex calculations. There are several different types of encryption, and they are used for various things. Common examples include securing personal information stored on social media websites like Facebook, hiding the login credentials for your personal computer, and protecting the password for your cell phone. Whatever the use, encryption works behind the scenes to protect your valuable information.

What is an Encryption Key?

An encryption key is a piece of external information used in the conversion process. Specifically, it provides an element of uniqueness to the process. For example, let say that you wanted to encrypt the message, 'I like dogs', using the key, 'hello'. Then the resulting encrypted message might look like, 'KJSUTSQKJIN'. Now, if we introduce another key, say 'sunny', and encrypt the same message, we might get something like 'BMSNMFIENDU'. Same message, with different key, gives a different result. This is a powerful idea because it means that you can introduce a new level of randomness in the output of the encryption, simply by changing the key.

What Are the Various Types of Encryption Keys?

There are a number of key types out there. In fact, it seems like every article you read touts a new one. The reality, however, is that most are just variations of four basic types. They are symmetric, asymmetric, public, and private.

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