Encryption

Encryption is the process of converting data to an unrecognizable or "encrypted" form. It is commonly used to protect sensitive information so that only authorized parties can view it. This includes files and storage devices, as well as data transferred over wireless networks and the Internet.

You can encrypt a file, folder, or an entire volume using a file encryption utility such as GnuPG or AxCrypt. Some file compression programs like Stuffit Deluxe and 7-Zip can also encrypt files. Even common programs like Adobe Acrobat and Intuit TurboTax allow you to save password-protected files, which are saved in an encrypted format.

An encrypted file will appear scrambled to anyone who tries to view it. It must be decrypted in order to be recognized. Some encrypted files require a password to open, while others require a private key, which can be used to unlock files associated with the key.

Encryption is also used to secure data sent over wireless networks and the Internet. For example, many Wi-Fi networks are secured using WEP or the much stronger WPA encryption. You must enter a password (and sometimes a username) to connect to a secure Wi-Fi network, but once you are connected, all the data sent between your device and the wireless router will be encrypted.

Many websites and other online services encrypt data transmissions using SSL. Any website that begins with "https://," for example, uses the HTTPS protocol, which encrypts all data sent between the web server and your browser. SFTP, which is a secure version of FTP, encrypts all data transfers.

There are many different types of encryption algorithms, but some of the most common ones include AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), DES (Data Encryption Standard), Blowfish, RSA, and DSA (Digital Signature Algorithm). While most encryption methods are sufficient for securing your personal data, if security is extremely important, it is best to use a modern algorithm like AES with 256-bit encryption.

Updated November 11, 2014

Definitions by TechTerms.com

The definition of Encryption on this page is an original TechTerms.com definition. If you would like to reference this page or cite this definition, you can use the green citation links above.

The goal of TechTerms.com is to explain computer terminology in a way that is easy to understand. We strive for simplicity and accuracy with every definition we publish. If you have feedback about the Encryption definition or would like to suggest a new technical term, please contact us.

Want to learn more tech terms? Subscribe to the daily or weekly newsletter and get featured terms and quizzes delivered to your inbox.

Sign up for the free TechTerms Newsletter

How often would you like to receive an email?

You can unsubscribe or change your frequency setting at any time using the links available in each email.

Questions? Please contact us.