Table of Contents

Companies in every sector must comply with standards and regulations, and one of the best ways to do this is to utilize encryption. Encryption takes data that can be clearly read, also known as plaintext, and runs it through an encryption algorithm. An encryption algorithm uses a key and mathematics to convert the plaintext into ciphertext, which is an undecipherable collection of letters and symbols. The process of encryption can be reversed using the same key, or the other key in a key pair, in a process called decryption. There are two different types of encryption: asymmetric and symmetric encryption.

Asymmetric vs Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric encryption involves the use of one key for both encryption and decryption. The plaintext is read into an encryption algorithm along with a key. The key works with the algorithm to turn the plaintext into ciphertext, thus encrypting the original sensitive data. This works well for data that is being stored and needs to be decrypted at a later date. The use of just one key for both encryption and decryption reveals an issue, as the compromise of the key would lead to a compromise of any data the key has encrypted. This also does not work for data-in-motion, which is where asymmetric encryption comes in.

Asymmetric encryption works with a pair of keys. The beginning of asymmetric encryption involves the creation of a pair of keys, one of which is a public key, and the other which is a private key. The public key is accessible by anyone, while the private key must be kept a secret from everyone but the creator of the key. This is because encryption occurs with the public key, while decryption occurs with the private key. The recipient of the sensitive data will provide the sender with their public key, which will be used to encrypt the data. This ensures that only the recipient can decrypt the data, with their own private key.

Uses for Asymmetric and Symmetric Encryption

Asymmetric and symmetric encryption are each better used for different situations. Symmetric encryption, with its use of a single key, is better used for data-at-rest. Data stored in databases needs to be encrypted to ensure it is not compromised or stolen. This data does not require two keys, just the one provided by symmetric encryption, as it only needs to be safe until it needs to be accessed in the future. Asymmetric encryption, on the other hand, should be used on data sent in emails to other people. If only symmetric encryption were used on data in emails, the attacker could take the key used for encryption and decryption and steal or compromise the data. With asymmetric encryption, the sender and recipient ensure only the recipient of the data can decrypt the data, because their public key was used to encrypt the data. Both types of encryption are used with other processes, like digital signing or compression, to provide even more security to the data.

Common Asymmetric and Symmetric Encryption Algorithms

Symmetric Encryption Algorithms:

Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms:

 

Comparison Table

 Asymmetric EncryptionSymmetric Encryption
DefinitionA two-way function that takes in plaintext data, and turns it into undecipherable ciphertext. This process utilizes a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption.A two-way function that takes in plaintext data, and turns it into undecipherable ciphertext. This process uses the same key for both encryption and decryption.
Use Cases
  • Digital Signing: Asymmetric encryption is much better for digital signing, compared to symmetric encryption. The use of both a public and private key means the identity of the signer of the data can easily be known. The signer uses their private key for encryption, while the recipient verifies their identity with their public key. As only the public key of the signer can decrypt data encrypted with the signer’s private key, the identity of the signer is verified when the data is decrypted.
  • Blockchain: Again, the identification of the user during cryptocurrency transactions is much easier done with asymmetric encryption.
  • Public Key Infrastructure (PKI): The identity of key owners is proven with certificates in PKI, and thus asymmetric encryption is the better choice in PKIs.
  • Banking: Encrypting sensitive customer data in banks is extremely important, as is decrypting that information as quickly as possible. For this reason, symmetric encryption is the preferred method of encryption in banks, as one key encryption is much swifter than two key encryption.
  • Data Storage: As with banking, data storage services and products tend to use symmetric encryption. This method is much swifter to encrypt and decrypt data needed in a timely manner.
Advantages
  • The loss of the public key does not result in the compromise of data
  • More secure than symmetric encryption
  • Only the owner of the private key can decrypt the data sent to them
  • Simpler to implement
  • Faster than asymmetric encryption
  • Protects data from compromise
Disadvantages
  • Slower than symmetric encryption
  • More complicated to implement than symmetric encryption
  • Loss of a key means any data encrypted with that key can be compromised
  • Less secure than asymmetric encryption
Common AlgorithmsECDSA, RSA, PGPAES, Blowfish, Twofish, RC4

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Table of Contents

Threats loom ever present in our digital world, which is why methods of securing data are constantly advancing. Tactics like encryption are used every day on sensitive data-at-rest or in-motion. Encryption is the process of putting data in the form of plaintext into an encryption algorithm, and producing a ciphertext. Ciphertext is a form of data where all the patterns of letters that create words in the plaintext are scrambled into a new text that cannot be read without decrypting the data. Encryption uses a key to ensure the ciphertext cannot be deciphered by anyone but the authorized recipient.

Signing of data works to authenticate the sender of the data and tends to implement a form of encryption in its process. The process of signing emails, sensitive data, and other information has become necessary, as it verifies the identity of the sender and ensures the data has not been altered in transit. If a Man in the Middle attack occurred and the data was altered or compromised by the attacker, the recipient of the information would know that this has occurred. The attacker could alter the data, but as they do not have the key used by the sender to sign the data, the recipient of the data will know not to trust the sent data when analyzing the key and data.

How does digital signing work?

The process of digital signing works similarly to encryption. Encryption comes in two types, asymmetric and symmetric encryption. The process of asymmetric encryption works by creating a key pair with a public and private key. The private key is kept secret from everyone but the creator of the key, while the public key is available to everyone. The data is encrypted with the private key, and decrypted when needed with the public key. Symmetric encryption only uses one key for both encryption and decryption. As asymmetric encryption is more secure than symmetric encryption, it tends to be used more often. When sending data to a recipient, the correct method of encryption is to encrypt the data with the recipient’s public key, as this means only the owner of the key pair can decrypt that data.

Digital signing works oppositely. The data is signed by hashing the message with a hashing algorithm and the sender’s private key. This produces a hash digest, which can only be recreated through use of one of the keys in the key pair created by the sender. The recipient then receives the message, the hash digest, and the public key, if they did not already have it. The recipient then uses the sender’s public key to hash the message they have received. If the resulting hash digest matches the hash digest that has been sent along with the message, then the identity of the sender has been confirmed. This also confirms that the data has not been changed in transit. However, signing alone does not ensure the data has not been intercepted and read.

Encryption and Signing

To protect data from compromise and authenticate the sender at the same time, encryption and digital signing are used together. They are also both used in tandem to fulfill compliance standards for companies. Standards, like the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), require companies to protect data as securely as possible along with authenticating data received from others. Encryption and digital signing ensures these standards are reached, and that users can be secure in the knowledge that data that is sent to and from them will not be compromised.

Confidential or sensitive data should always be encrypted and signed for its own safety. The use of encryption and signing together ensures that the main goals of cryptography, Confidentiality, Integrity, Authenticity, and Non-Repudiation are all met. Confidentiality and integrity are reached when data is encrypted asymmetrically, as only the intended recipient can decrypt the message. Non-repudiation and authenticity occur due to digital signing. Non-repudiation means that using the technique of digital signing, the sender of any information cannot, in the future, say they did not send the data, as the use of their private key confirms that they sent the data.

Common Encryption and Signing Algorithms

Symmetric Encryption Algorithms:

Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms:

Signing Algorithms:

  • RSA
  • ElGamal Encryption System
  • Digital Signing Algorithm (DSA)
  • ECDSA

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Table of Contents

Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm, or ECDSA, is one of the more complex public key cryptography encryption algorithms. Keys are generated via elliptic curve cryptography that are smaller than the average keys generated by digital signing algorithms. Elliptic curve cryptography is a form of public key cryptography which is based on the algebraic structure of elliptic curves over finite fields. Elliptic curve cryptography is mainly used for the creation of pseudo-random numbers, digital signatures, and more. A digital signature is an authentication method used where a public key pair and a digital certificate are used as a signature to verify the identity of a recipient or sender of information.

What is ECDSA?

ECDSA does the same thing as any other digital signing signature, but more efficiently. This is due to ECDSA’s use of smaller keys to create the same level of security as any other digital signature algorithm. ECDSA is used to create ECDSA certificates, which is a type of electronic document used for authentication of the owner of the certificate. Certificates contain information about the key used to create the certificate, information about the owner of the certificate, and the signature of the issuer of the certificate, who is a verified trusted entity. This trusted issuer is normally a certificate authority which also has a signed certificate, which can be traced back through the chain of trust to the original issuing certificate authority.

The way ECDSA works is an elliptic curve is that an elliptic curve is analyzed, and a point on the curve is selected. That point is multiplied by another number, thus creating a new point on the curve. The new point on the curve is very difficult to find, even with the original point at your disposal. The complexity of ECDSA means that ECDSA is more secure against current methods of encryption cracking encryptions. Along with being more secure against current attack methods, ECDSA also offers a variety of other benefits as well.

The Benefits and Drawbacks to using ECDSA

A benefit to using ECDSA over other public key cryptography is how new ECDSA is. ECDSA was standardized in 2005, compared to most common public key cryptography algorithm used, RSA, which was standardized in 1995. Since ECDSA has been around for such a shorter period of time, hackers have had less time to learn how to crack ECDSA. This, along with ECDSA’s complexity make switching to ECDSA look like a more desirable option each year. These benefits are why newer protocols choose to use ECDSA over RSA for public key cryptography functions.

Yet, RSA is still the most widely used public key cryptography method. This is due to the length of time RSA has been around, among other reasons. Though attackers have had more time to crack RSA, it is still the tried and true method used all across the Internet for digital signing, SSL/TLS transport, and more. A drawback of ECDSA is that it is complex to implement, whereas RSA is more easily set-up in comparison. The simplicity of RSA is often a draw to organizations, as it offer less roadblocks in its set-up. The downfall of many different organizations using ECDSA that have been hacked is the improper implementation of ECDSA itself, as it is complex to implement in the first place.

Where can ECDSA be implemented?

ECDSA does not just need to be used in the signing of certificates, it can be used anywhere RSA has been with the same effect in the end. Public key cryptography methods are found in everything from TLS/SSL to code signing. The government uses ECDSA to protect internal communications, while Tor uses it to maintain anonymity for their users. These are just a few of the uses ECDSA can be used for, but all cryptosystems face an issue with the emergence of quantum computing. Quantum computing threatens to make all classic cryptosystems, from AES to RSA to ECDSA, obsolete. The methods used in quantum computing mean previously strong methods like ECDSA will need to update to use quantum cryptography, or become obsolete.

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