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End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) for Beginners – The Complete Guide

Global digital population as of January 2021
The global digital population as of January 2021 (Source: Statista)

As more people adopt digital platforms to handle communications, security becomes an increasingly significant concern. This isn’t an unexpected development. By most metrics, there are more than 4 billion active internet and digital communication users as of 2021. It’s an accumulation that is over 20 years in the making.

For many, however, digital communication platforms are still a novelty. Many of these new and long-term users have concerns about the safety of using these infrastructures, either fairly or unfairly. With a little investigation, it’s clear enough that service providers are very serious about digital communication and website security, but what measures are taken?

The likelihood is that, at one time or another, you’ll have heard something about end-to-end encryption (E2EE). This is an important security feature for many digital communication services. More to the point, it’s something that every user should have at least some basic knowledge about.

This beginner guide will teach you what E2EE is, how it works, and why it’s so important. Consider this your end-to-end encryption pocketbook.

What is End-to-End Encryption?

Process of end-to-end encryption
Process of end-to-end encryption (Source: Algoworks)

One of the most well-known forms of encryption, end-to-end encryption has been adopted by a huge volume of services and platforms over the last few decades. Since the wider public is now using software that relies on E2EE, there’s a greater need for understanding than there’s ever been previously. 

It isn’t too complicated, really.

End-to-end encryption is a highly secure method of communication. With E2EE, any data is encrypted before the device sends out the message. While en-route to its receiver, the data is unreadable by those who might seek to take a peek. Only once it reaches the receiver is it possible for the decryption to take place – and only then by the receiver. 

Understanding the Basics of Encryption

End-to-end encryption is one of the more prominent forms of encryption at the moment. And that’s exactly it – it’s just one of many different encryption varieties.

Accordingly, it’s important to start with the basics – like what exactly encryption means. 

Speaking simply, encryption is a method for muddling data (encrypting) so that it isn’t readable by just anybody. In order to see the data, you need to have the ability to unscramble (decrypt) it.

We live in a world where privacy is an increasingly rare commodity. This has seen encryption experience a considerable elevation in value. 

Most people interact with encryption systems on a regular basis. They often do this unknowingly. From social media apps and screen sharing software to email services and banking websites, much of what you use has some form of encryption.

End-to-end encryption is a specific method for scrambling and unscrambling data – so, how does it work?

How Does End-to-End Encryption Work?

For beginners, encryption technologies seem almost magical. But these systems work off well-established principles that have experienced robust testing over time.

For true E2EE, scrambling occurs at the device level. What this means is that any messages sent from a device are encrypted before they leave. Obviously, they’re decrypted once they’re received by the intended user. Since most digital communication platforms rely on messages passing through interchanges, this encryption is vital. 

The system is dependent on the creation of a public-private cryptographic key pair. Sometimes known as asymmetric cryptography, this process uses separate keys for encrypting and decrypting the data. Public keys work by scrambling the data and the keys widely distributed. On the other hand, private keys are used to unlock the message. Crucially, only the owner knows the private key. 

For each person that’s involved in the communication, E2EE systems create and distribute public and private keys.

Where Is End-to-End Encryption Used?

Products that are using E2EE
Products that are using E2EE (Source: Vox)

Now you know how end-to-end encryption works, but where might it be used?

Most people are probably familiar with E2EE as a result of services like WhatsApp, but these cybersecurity measures are present everywhere. 

Here are a few software categories where end-to-end encryption is a must.

1. Video Conferencing Software

You’re probably already aware that video conferencing platforms have exploded in popularity in recent years. There are countless reasons why businesses might integrate these technologies.

It’s clear, though, that a video conferencing solution for small business and large business operations must include end-to-end encryption. Given the sensitive nature of the information that passes through these channels, they simply can’t do without it.

2. Email 

Now, here’s a technology that feels as old as time itself. In both private and professional situations, it’s very common to exchange sensitive information over email.

There’s a reason that email is one of the hotspots for hacking attempts – there’s a treasure trove of data to mine. Luckily, the majority of email providers supply robust end-to-end encryption to safeguard this data.

3. Chatbots

A relative newcomer in this space, chatbots have changed the way that consumers interact with businesses. 

Chatbots use robotic process automation (RPA) technology to receive requests and execute the necessary tasks. For those who are unfamiliar, a quick RPA definition tells us that it’s a form of technology used to replicate human actions for digital tasks.

These chatbots will receive vital, sensitive information from the user. To securely complete the required tasks, end-to-end encryption is essential.

4. Messaging Apps and Services

Messaging apps and platforms are used as much, and perhaps more, than email for many people. 

They’re vulnerable in the same way that your email accounts could be without end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp, Viber, and iMessage are a few examples of messaging services that use E2EE.

Why Is End-to-End Encryption Important?

Many people do not deal with complex technology on a frequent basis, and unless you work in cybersecurity or engage in crypto projects, it can be hard to understand why encryption is important. Still, these systems matter a great deal. 

What Does E2EE Shield You From?

Digital security might not be something you think about often, or at all, but it has a direct impact on you every day. 

Primarily, E2EE is used to prevent people from viewing your messages and data. Since only the end-users are able to see the message, bad actors won’t have a chance to intercept your communications. 

Take this example. 

A business uses an interactive voice response (IVR) system to gather information from their customers before directing them to the team they need. The information gathered could be sensitive – think social security numbers, for instance – and that raises security concerns. 

If the IVR system doesn’t employ end-to-end encryption, this data is vulnerable. A leak of this nature could prove catastrophic for a person. On the other hand, when the data is encrypted, these concerns crumble. 

But end-to-end encryption isn’t just great at keeping people from viewing your data. It also works wonders at protecting the data from tampering. As a result of E2EE, the data isn’t legible. Consequently, there’s no method that could reliably alter the data – and any such attempt would be blatant. Again, this holds substantial significance.

Let’s look at another example.

In this scenario, a marketing department is planning on using analytics software to create a new data-driven strategy for the business. They can gather data easily enough, so that’s not a concern. Yet, they fail to think of the proper security measures needed to rebuff any tampering attempts.

In this situation, they might receive erroneous data – data that misdirects their strategy. Using encryption systems would have eliminated this problem at the source.

Commercial Benefits of Using End-to-End Encryption

Encryption software market size in North America
Encryption software market size in North America (Source: Grand View Research)

You can probably tell from the above examples that encryption is especially important for businesses. Why is that?

1. Building Trust and Confidence

If you’re providing a communication platform for private users and other businesses, they need to know that their information is going to be secure. 

Domain and website hosting services are good examples of businesses that could suffer from mistakes.

Some of these businesses offers ai domain name registration services, allowing businesses to associate themselves with artificial intelligence. Highly futuristic. If, however, they fail to show that their hosting services are secure, people will take their business elsewhere – in spite of the pull of such domains. 

When businesses demonstrate that they’re serious about encryption and security, it breeds confidence in the company. For commercial users, in particular, this can be the difference between adopting a service and moving onto something else.

2. Avoiding Loss of Capital

You’ve probably heard in the news of data breaches taking place. Yet, it might not have occurred to you that these breaches can result in significant financial hardship.

Theft is a real concern, but lacklustre encryption and security measures could also land you in hot water with regulatory organizations like the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

3. Guarding Sensitive Data

The very purpose of end-to-end encryption is to protect data. What you might not have realized yet is just how impactful leaked data can be.

For the average US citizen, having their messages leaked would lead to embarrassment. For a business, the consequences are potentially more serious. You could lose a market edge, upset your staff as their details are leaked, or release product specifications.

Unscrambled: The Importance of End-to-End Encryption

Digital communication is practical, accessible, even enjoyable. But for a secure experience that won’t harm you in the long run, end-to-end encryption is essential. 

As awareness of digital security risks grows, so does the thirst for more information. People want to guard their personal and commercial data like never before. Nowadays, they need to know that the platforms they’re using are helping them do exactly that. 

Don’t make the mistake of scrimping on security measures – they’re fundamentally important. 

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Article by Grace Lau

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