Today, everything is connected to computing systems. New technologies are implemented into everyday lives, banking, healthcare, software, education, advertising, etc. But such systems have to be protected, and one might be wondering how do developers provide safety.
In most of the mentioned cases, cryptography is used to achieve privacy and security. Keep reading the article to learn what cryptography is and what it offers.
So, what is cryptography? It’s a mechanism used to protect information and communication thanks to the usage of codes. To protect data, cryptography uses encryption.
What is encryption? It’s a tool that transforms a key and input (now the plaintext) into an encrypted output (later the ciphertext).
As a result, only those individuals who request information get access, can read and process it.
It’s a concept used in computer science, and it refers to secure information techniques that derive from mathematical mechanisms and algorithms. Cryptography transforms and secures messages into forms that are nearly impossible to decipher.
Algorithms used in cryptography are used to generate keys, digital signatures, verification to protect information, web surfing, and confidential communication. It can secure financing transactions and email sharing.
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Now that you’ve learned about the crypto definition let’s see what techniques are used to make cryptography work. The concept is closely related to cryptology and cryptanalysis.
Cryptography includes such techniques as merging words with images, microdots, and other methods to hide data while in transit or storage.
Today, cryptography is often used in converting plaintexts, such as simple text, into ciphertext (encryption), and then back again, which is called decryption. Individuals working in this field are called cryptographers.
Cryptography is concerned with the following objectives:
- Confidentiality. It means that information shouldn’t be deciphered by anyone except the person it is intended for.
- Integrity. The data shouldn’t be altered or replaced in storage or during the transit between the sender and receiver. If the change happens, then the alteration will be noticed.
- Non-repudiation. The creator or sender of data can’t deny their intentions in the creation or transfer of data at a later stage.
- Authentication. The sender and the receiver can confirm each other’s identity and the destination of data.
Specialists consider procedures and protocols that meet several or all of the above-mentioned objectives as cryptosystems. Cryptosystems are related to mathematical procedures and computer programs, but they also include the regulation of human behavior.
For instance, creating complex passwords, logging off unused systems, and keeping private sensitive procedures with outsiders.
A cryptosystem uses a set of protocols called cryptographic algorithms (ciphers) to encrypt and decrypt messages to protect communication among computers, applications, and other similar systems.
A cipher suite utilizes one algorithm for encryption, one more algorithm for message authentication, and one more for critical exchange. This process, backed with protocols and written in software running on OS systems, involves the following:
- generating public and private keys to protect data (by using encryption and decryption);
- digital signatures and verification to check message authentication;
- key exchange.
Now let’s see why cryptographers go to such lengths to ensure the data is encrypted.
Problems that Cryptography Solves
Cryptography mainly aims at meeting four main goals (mentioned above in the article). Such goals are: confidentiality, integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation. Mentioned goals are crucial properties in modern software. No software or app would be safe or even possible without using cryptography.
Software systems, and not just offline systems, exist on the web. They have thousands of clients, dependencies, servers, and networks. All mentioned components are physical machines with a need to communicate with trusted networks.
Internet communication occurs within open, public systems. Hackers may attack systems to obtain the data shared between networks. These are two types of attacks often occurring on open networks:
- A passive attack. The hacker connects to the network connection and gets access to sensitive data while it is transmitted.
- An active attack. The hacker pretends to be a client or server, and they intercept communications meant for it in transit. Then they modify the data before transmitting it to the original receiver.
Most internet users are already aware of some protocols that provide confidentiality over the web. Mentioned protocols are SSL and TLS. They may protect communications from malicious interference.
Authentication protection makes sure the information a receiver gets is coming from someone a receiver thinks it comes from. For instance, a bank has requested your social security number. Are you sure you’re sending requested data to the bank or to a hacker? The main goal of authentication protection is to ensure you’re sending data to your bank.
Cryptographic systems aren’t used solely to protect information while it’s being transmitted. These systems can be applied to data at rest to protect it. The data stored on a disk or server on a database isn’t safe without encryption.
Cryptography may prevent hackers from getting access to sensitive information. It’s a type of encryption that locks the data on a phone or other device that was stolen.
There are three main types of cryptography:
- Single-key (or symmetric-key).
- Public-key (or asymmetric-key).
- Hash function.
Let’s dive into the details about each cryptography type.
Single-Key (or Symmetric-Key) Cryptography
Symmetric-key cryptography, or in other words, private or secret key cryptography, ensures both the receiver and sender use one key to encrypt and decrypt data.
The kind of cryptography used to secure the method is called Advanced Encryption System (AES). The approaches cryptographers use in this type are totally streamlined and are quicker.
Here are some of the most common symmetric-key types:
- block cipher;
- stream cipher;
- Data Encryption System (DES);
Single-key type of encryption is perfect when someone needs to protect data at rest. Here’s an example: a password management program encrypts all other passwords, but these passwords are to be kept at rest.
In simple words, you don’t send encrypted data, but it’s secured at rest. Only one key is needed since there is no sender-receiver relationship.
Public-Key (or Asymmetric-Key) Cryptography
Cryptographers mainly use public or asymmetric-key cryptography to secure data in transmission. In such a case, a sender and receiver deal with different keys for different purposes (encryption and decryption).
A private key is kept by each individual, while the public key is shared across the system so that a message can be shared through public keys.
Typically, public-key cryptography uses a method called RSA. The public key is more secure than a private key method. A few other than RSA asymmetric key cryptography methods are:
- elliptic curve techniques;
If a person wants to receive a message from their client, they send a public key to this client. The public key isn’t carrying any vulnerabilities. If a hacker manages to get the key, it’s not an issue. No one can use it to decrypt data since they need a private key.
When the client gets data, they use their private key to decrypt and read information. So, public key aims at encryption, private key aims at description. Public-key type is mainly used to protect data in transmission.
This type of cryptography takes the message’s arbitrary length as input and delivers a fixed length of the output. It is also expressed as a mathematical equation by taking a numerical value as input and then generating the hash message.
The most common methods are:
- Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA);
- Message Digest 5 (MD5);
Unlike the previous two methods, the hash function isn’t using any keys as it’s a one-scenario algorithm.
The algorithm uses several stages of hashing operations. Every stage considers input as an array of the recent block and then generates the last round activity as output.
Cryptography and Cryptocurrency
Cryptography seems like a useful tool to secure cryptocurrency transactions. So, what is cryptography in cryptocurrency, and how is it used?
Cryptos use cryptography for three main goals such as securing transactions, controlling the creation of additional units, and verifying the asset transfers. Cryptocurrency uses public-key cryptography to meet these set goals.
Public key cryptography needs a user to have both public and private keys. These keys are generated randomly to ensure safety. Typically, a key looks as follows:
Usually, keys consist of up to 30 characters and numbers. In crypto, a public key is needed for users to share it so they can get money on their crypto wallets. The private key has to be kept a secret since it is needed to decrypt the data to get the money.
Imagine a mailbox. Anyone can drop letters into that box, but only one person has a key to unlock the mailbox and get all letters. In this case, the mailbox is the public key, and the physical key for the mailbox is the public key.
This technology unlocks new possibilities and keeps changing the online payment industry. Thanks to cryptography, people around the world can safely use cryptocurrency.
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