What is On-the-Fly Encryption?

Instructor: David Gloag
Security and protection are becoming an ever-increasing part of our technology-based lives. In this lesson, we'll take a look at encryption, what it is, and what on-the-fly means with respect to it.

The Information Threat

Can you imagine what would happen if your bank account information was stolen? If the customer account information for a business went missing? Or if the credit card information on file at an online retailer was compromised? The results would be at best a mess, at worst horrific.

Fortunately, we have a number of technologies working to defend against these threats. One in particular is encryption.

What is Encryption?

Encryption, a form of conversion, is a process that changes information so that it can't be used by those that don't have authorization. It employs mathematics, and a bit of external information known as a key, to accomplish this feat.

The result is a random-looking equivalent that is strong, meaning that it resists attack without the key. With the key, encryption can be undone, a characteristic known as reversibility. Encryption is a basic part of cell phone protection, online business transactions, communications, and more. Beyond entering a password (key), you often won't even know it's there.

What is On-the-Fly Encryption?

On the surface, on-the-fly encryption is encryption like any other. It converts information from one form to another and it protects information from prying eyes. It differs however, in one significant way.

Once setup, it requires no intervention from the user. It totally disappears. When you access information in storage it is automatically decrypted. Then you perform whatever work is necessary, and when you put the information back into storage, it is automatically encrypted again. The logistical steps used by other encryption methods have been magically removed! On-the-fly encryption has other names being including:

  • Live Encryption
  • Transparent Encryption
  • Real-time Encryption


On-the-fly encryption is used in situations when you want the encryption process to be totally transparent, which amounts to any situation where the user isn't technical, or where convenience is important. As an example, think about researchers in another field, say chemistry. These folks will want to protect their discoveries, but they probably won't be technically savvy. They won't want the distraction of remembering how to manually encrypt or decrypt. Similar examples exist in almost any non-computer science field.

That isn't to say that traditional encryption is terribly cumbersome now. But you do have to remember the password (key), and you have to initiate the encrypt or decrypt.

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