The digital world is experiencing explosive growth in computer systems and their interconnections via networks. As a result, the trend has caused an increased dependence of both individuals and organizations on the sensitive information stored and communicated using digital systems.
Meanwhile, security is mandatory in an age of viruses, malware, hackers, electronic fraud, and electronic eavesdropping on a global scale. With recent sophisticated and frequent cyberattacks, network administrators employ security mechanisms to protect data in the network from unauthorized access and different threats.
In particular, security experts have devised mature cryptography and network security solutions. Recent developments in cryptography provide more practical and readily available applications to enforce the practice and principles of network security. In effect, understanding the basics of cryptography is fundamental to keeping networks, systems, applications, and information secure.
Network and Internet Security
Internet and network security are two subdomains of computer security. Internet security specifically relates to internet services like browser security, email security, mobile security, and cloud security. On the other hand, network security covers a multitude of technologies, processes, and devices. It features a set of rules and configurations designed to protect the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility of computer networks and data using hardware and software technologies. Unquestionably, every organization, regardless of size, industry, or infrastructure, requires a degree of network security capability and solutions in place to prevent it from the ever-growing landscape of cyber threats.
Indeed, the Internet and network represent insecure channels for information exchange, leading to a high risk of intrusion or fraud. Fortunately, organizations can use cryptography to protect data transfer between participants.
Typically, the technology consists of encryption and decryption algorithms. By design, encryption algorithms perform scrambling of ordinary (plain) text to generate unreadable (block cipher) format for the recipient. Accordingly, the intended receiver restructures the original private data using decryption algorithms.
Cryptography systems require participants to possess some secret information, specifically an encryption key, used in conjunction with the transformation to scramble the content of the message before transmission and unscramble it on reception. In the case of network security technology, participants may require a trusted third party to achieve secure data transmission. Chiefly, they need Certificate Authorities (CAs) responsible for passing out digital certificates or digital signatures to validate the ownership of the private key used for secure communications on a trust basis.
Hash functions also feature predominantly in computer science and in the field of cryptography. They are an essential cryptography method that converts any form of data into a unique string of text. Unlike encryption that is easy to restructure using a decryption key, a hash function is a practice of cryptography that presents a mathematical operation that is easy to perform, but extremely difficult to reverse.
Popular Cryptography Methods
Cybersecurity experts use two popular encryption methods – symmetric and asymmetric. Users employ symmetric encryption, also known as secret key cryptography, to create a file that uses the same key for encryption and decryption. Designedly, this method deploys the same algorithm to decide a script as the algorithm used to encrypt it originally. That way, it is easy for multiple sources to use the key since participants only need to learn a single code. However, it means there is only a single line of defense against hackers in symmetric cryptography. The advanced encryption standard (AES) is a one of the numerous examples of symmetric method that involves the use of only one secret key to cipher and decipher messages in company and government agencies communication. AES succeeded the data encryption standard (DES) that was once the US government’s gold standard in methods it used to encrypt sensitive and confidential information.
The second method, asymmetric encryption, uses more than one key to encrypt and decrypt data. Mainly, systems use two keys, one to encrypt the information and a different one to decrypt it, making data sharing much more secure. In addition, asymmetric systems, also known as public-key cryptography, avail the encryption key to anyone while preserving confidence that only people holding the decryption key can decipher the information. Unquestionably, public key cryptography offers better security because it uses two different keys.
Role of Cryptography in Network Security
What is the role of cryptography in network security? Cryptography assures confidentiality and data integrity as well as provides user authentication and non-repudiation to the users. Confidentiality deals with how many people can understand transmitted information other than the two parties engaged in a conversation. Fitting cryptography provides data security by ensuring only authorized parties read shared files.
Besides confidentiality, cryptography ensures integrity in networks. So, naturally, the security mechanism makes it difficult for intruders to alter information being transmitted from a sender to a recipient without them being aware of the content changes.
Cryptography also provides authentication by ensuring the sender and the receiver can confirm each other’s identity and the information’s point of origin. Additionally, organizations can deploy cryptography solutions to ensure that information creators cannot deny the intentions behind creating a message or its transmission mode in the future.
Cryptography allows organizations to establish secure connections and sessions. For instance, a client can establish secure sessions with a server using a Handshake Protocol that uses the public key infrastructure (PKI) and establishes a shared symmetric key between communicating parties to ensure confidentiality and integrity of the communicated data.
Other than establishing secure sessions and connections, cryptography enables internet protocol security (IPsec) by authenticating and encrypting IP packets in a communication session. IPsec features protocols for establishing mutual authentication between agents at the beginning of the sessions and negotiating cryptographic keys used during a session. The system protects data flow between a pair of hosts (host-to-host), between a pair of security gateways (network-to-network), or between a security gateway and a host (network-to-host). Simply put, IPsec uses cryptographic security services to protect communications over the IP networks.
Cryptography Best Practices
In essence, cryptography in network security aims to provide encryption and decryption systems that perform perfectly on the above four cyber security principles. However, accomplishing this objective requires both computer programs and appropriate human behavior. Undeniably, the best security systems in the world can be defeated through inadequate security hygiene, such as poor passwords, failure to log out of an active session, weak access control, or sharing confidential information with attackers. In effect, security trams require basic understanding of the algorithms and basic understanding of previous attacks to device a plan for best present-day uses of encryption.
Cybersecurity experts need to pay close attention to their digital networks’ encryption and key management capabilities as the last line of defense for preventing data from falling in wrong hands. They need to deploy practical applications that make proper use of encryption and message authentication as core principle to enhance security posture and data privacy by reducing the attack surfaces. In this case, if an attacker somehow manages to break through other measures like passwords and security firewalls, cryptography becomes the main safeguard keeping them from reading or modifying protected information or other future attacks.
I am a cyber security professional with a passion for delivering proactive strategies for day to day operational challenges. I am excited to be working with leading cyber security teams and professionals on projects that involve machine learning & AI solutions to solve the cyberspace menace and cut through inefficiency that plague today’s business environments.