In its simplest form encryption means to re-arrange data in such a way that only someone with a secret key can have access to the data. In various forms encryption has been around since Ancient Greece time.
Encryption allows data to be passed from one place to another without anyone who has not got authority to access the data. For example in e-commerce data encryption allows confidential information such as credit card details to be transferred safely and securely to the online store to able you to purchase goods or services.
When you visit an e-commerce site wishing to purchase goods from them, the web browser will be encrypted using a method called SSL or Secure Socket Layer. When a site is encrypted you will notice a small padlock appear in the browser, SSL sites also have an address that starts with https://... The s stands for secure or encrypted.
The modern encryption key uses advanced mathematics, and commercial level encryption uses 128 bit key that will prove nearly impossible to crack. Many government agencies, armed forces and financial institutions use this level of encryption so you can be guaranteed that your data will be kept secure.
Within e-commerce sites encryption may make the transaction a little slower and online stores need to purchase a certificate of authority, in many cases online stores use the specialist payment gateway providers such as PayPal or WorldPay to overcome these issues. However one thing is for sure online stores must offer a secure network for customers to be able to pay for goods, if this trust was to break down then you would find that the e-commerce industry would be at risk.
Data encryption also plays a vital role in many other aspects of modern business, such things as emails and data backups are encrypted services.
The data kept by companies varies depending on the type of industry they are in, however no matter what sector it is imperative that any company ensure that their data is backed up and kept safe. Encryption allows the data to be kept secure, because the access to the company data is restricted to only people that have been entrusted with the data encryption key.
Emails are still the most popular form of communication between companies today, and because of the sheer number of emails and the nature of the contents included in emails and the attachments, it seems prudent that email systems have encryption facilities. Basically the encryption key is only known between the sender and the recipient, therefore ensuring that access to the email and its attachments are secure. Imagine the effect on a solicitors practice if sensitive information was sent to the wrong person in error, the solicitors practice could suffer reputational damage that may mean the practice could not survive.
Encryption is a major security tool for many on line activities, and provided the encryption key is not compromised and there is an offsite backup policy it is a very powerful tool to protecting data.