Encryption Technology and Why You Should Care About It

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Cyber security has been a consistent part of the news since June, and this consistency carried over into the 2014 Education Technology Day presented at Ithaca College, where over 50 vendors gathered to inform the public of the newest technology.

In early June, The Guardian published documents that exposed the United States National Security Agency (NSA) of collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers.

Since that time, more articles have been written about the information that revealed information accessible to NSA officials and millions of Americans have expressed their discontent with the invasion of privacy.

Information technology experts suggest users encrypt their information to increase the amount of privacy a user has on their computer information.

Kris Monroe, the Information Security Officer at Ithaca College, presented a seminar during Education Technology Day to demonstrate how encryption can be understood as simplistic “basic protection.”

Some encryption software can be as easy as downloading an app to a mobile device from an app-store. While others can be more complicated to operate depending on the strength a user determines they need to protect their personal information.

Monroe explained five different types of encryption types during the seminar:

  • Browser encryption gives a user privacy between portals on the web.
  • E-mail encryption limits who views a message to the receiver by requiring key codes before it is opened.
  • Password managers store password keywords either in an individual’s storage cloud or on a hidden online server.
  • Flash drives are considered one of the safest ways to protect information because they can be kept offline.
  • Proper disposal of documents software deletes documents and re-writes a different information storage code to make the document un-attainable.

Each different type of encryption has a unique value to every user.

Journalists covering National Security use Tor (an e-mail encryption software) to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and dissidents according the Tor software website. While the regular citizen could possibly find browser encryption to protect against many forms of surveillance, account hijacking, and some forms of censorship.

Demonstrated Encryption Software

For each type of encryption type, Monroe provided examples of downloadable software. The examples varied from being unique to certain web browsers or available on any platform.

Browser encryption included add-ons (browser apps) like HTTPS Everywhere, that creates a safe and secure portal and plug-ins (Adobe Flash Player) like the more complicated Archive Backup System. Both examples can be downloaded through the biggest browsers Chrome, Mozilla, Internet Explorer etc.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 4.41.10 PM

HTTPS the browser encryption software can be as easy as clicking “Add to Chrome”

Tor is used to securely send private messages, as is written above, but there are many other systems that contain privatized code. For example, a system called Thunder Bird to code messages has been operating since 2004 and was downloaded a million times in it’s first ten days.

Google announced last week that their e-mail software Gmail, was revamped in order to protect “every single email message you send or receive,” they said in a statement to Time magazine. Protecting messages that move between Google servers is something they write “we have made a priority since last summer’s revelations.”

Edward Snowden appeared at South by Southwest Interactive conference this month to deliver a speech to a crowd via Skype. During his speech, Snowden urged technology companies to protect users from government surveillance, because technology companies can act more quickly to protect users’ privacy than the U.S. government.

The New York Times, also announced earlier this week that President Barack Obama is “preparing to introduce legislation” to reform the NSA’s process collection of Americans private data.

Richard Ledgett, who heads a U.S. National Security Agency task force responding to information leaks, poses in a handout photo provided by NSA taken in 2011. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

Richard Ledgett, who heads a U.S. National Security Agency task force responding to information leaks, poses in a handout photo provided by NSA taken in 2011. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

It is important to note that most Americans are not securing their personal documents that the NSA necessarily wants when they use encryption software. NSA Deputy Director, Richard Ledgett, disclosed that the data that was collected while monitoring Americans was mostly metadata” and during a Ted Talk said “if you’re not connected to an intelligence target, you’re not of interest to us.”

The encryption process does gives Americans the freedom to search from page to page all while knowing that they are not being monitored as a group to collect metadata.

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