3aIT Blog

This month's jargon busting blog looks into another topic that has been in the news this month. You may have heard about Apple refusing to provide the FBI with access to an encrypted iPhone. But what is encryption?

In basic terms, encryption is a way of scrambling data in such a way that it is impossible for it to be read by anyone that doesn't have the "key" to unscramble it. That "key" can take many forms. In the case of the iPhone that is making the news, it was a 4 digit pin. It could equally be a password, facial recognition or thumbprint.

Encryption is by no means a new technology, nor is it exclusive to computers. However, as computers become more and more powerful, the strength of encryption increased hugely, while the time taken to apply this encryption has decreased.

One popular use of encryption in every day use is SSL certificates. If a website has one of these installed, it can run over https:// and you'll notice a padlock next to the website in your browser (as you should with this one). This means that any data you input into this website is encrypted before transfer so that, in the very unlikely case that it is intercepted by a 3rd party, it can't be read. This is why it is so important to check for this padlock when using any website that you're putting confidential data into - especially credit / debit card details.

Many devices offer the option to encrypt all the data it stores. This is the case with the criminal's iPhone in the news. If you were to access the hard drive of an unencrypted phone, you could pull all the data off of it in a readable format. However, as this user had chosen to encrypt their data, while one can see that there is data on the phone, it will be impossible to read without decrypting first.

However, just because information on a device is being encrypted, it does not mean that there's necessarily anything sinister happening. It's very easy to misplace a device which carries a huge amount about us. If that information fell into the wrong hands, it could be used to access bank accounts, view personal photos, and would be a very good starting point for identity theft. Encrypting the data on a device means there's no chance of anything useful being retrieved from a lost phone, tablet or laptop.