Data encryption and the different types of encryption algorithms

As businesses become increasingly reliant on cloud services to store data and manage their operations, more and more company data is transmitted and stored online. This is why it is important to implement several measures that help keep that data private, one of which is data encryption.

What is data encryption and how does it work?

Data encryption is the process of using complex algorithms to convert readable data, such as an email message, into a random string of text known as ciphertext.

Provided that the sender gives the intended recipient/s a decryption key, the latter can convert the ciphertext back into its original form. Without the decryption key, the recipients/s would not be able to read the contents of the email — and neither would cybercriminals, if they manage to get their hands on the encrypted email.

Related reading: Why should you use encryption for your business?

What are the different types of encryption algorithms?

Not all encryption methods are created equal. The effectiveness of an encryption method is based on the type of algorithm — also known as a cipher — it uses. In essence, the more complex the algorithm is in generating randomness, the stronger its encryption is. The longer the key length, the harder the decryption is.

Commonly known encryption algorithms include:

Data Encryption Standard (DES)

DES was developed in the early 1970s at IBM and its slightly modified version was used as the official US Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) in 1977, and was known as FIPS PUB 46. FIPS PUB 46 served as the cryptographic security standard for all government communications. By using the same standard across all of its systems, the US government was able to facilitate interconnectivity without sacrificing security.

DES’s short 56-bits key length, however, makes this encryption algorithm ineffective in protecting sensitive data today, especially against brute force attacks. This is why it was officially withdrawn as the US encryption standard in 2005 and is considered an obsolete cipher.

Triple DES

As its name suggests, triple DES (3DES) runs the DES algorithm three times — it encrypts data, then decrypts it, and encrypts it once more — strengthening the original DES encryption. It is a simple way to increase the key length of DES (i.e., 168 bits, which is equivalent to three 56-bit DES keys) without having to design a completely new algorithm. The main drawback, however, is that 3DES encryption takes longer than the original DES.

3DES is mostly considered to be obsolete, as it is no longer being incorporated into new tech tools and products. A few businesses still use it up to this day, but only for internal purposes.


RSA takes its name from the familial initials of the three computer scientists who first publicly described it in 1977: Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman. It is a widely used encryption algorithm due to its long key lengths (i.e., 1024, 2048, and 4096 bits), making it effective for securing data transmissions. RSA encryption, however, takes a long time to complete, making it impractical for large or numerous files.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

AES, formerly known as Rijndael, was established by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001. It also became the US Federal Government standard for encrypting electronic data in 2002, superseding DES. AES is the first publicly accessible algorithm approved by the US National Security Agency for encrypting top secret information. Its keys come in three different lengths: 128, 192, and 256 bits.


When NIST held an AES competition to find a cipher that would replace DES as the government encryption standard, Twofish was one of the top contenders along with Rijndael, which was ultimately chosen.

Known as one of the fastest ciphers available (albeit slightly slower than Rijndael), Twofish requires more RAM than most other ciphers to store keys. It is free for public use without any restrictions, making it suitable for a variety of applications.

With the numerous encryption algorithms available, non-IT businesses like yours may find it difficult to choose the right one. Fortunately, the cybersecurity specialists of SpectrumWise can help you with this and all of your other cybersecurity needs. Schedule a consultation with us today.


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