What is Encryption?

Encryption is the science of encoding and decoding secret messages.  It began as cryptography—the ancient Greeks used it to protect sensitive information that might fall into the hands of their enemies. More recently, governments have used encryption for military purposes, but these days the term if often used in reference to online security.

Encryption is important because it allows technology providers such as website owners to convert sensitive information, such as your credit card number, passwords and other financial details, into a code that cannot be read by cybercriminals or other unauthorized third parties. As an Internet user you should be aware of when encryption is being used, and when it is not, since it can help protect your personal information when doing sensitive transactions.

So, when you’re doing online banking or online shopping, or registering with a site that requires your personal information, look to see that the website address begins with “https:” instead of just “http:” since this indicates that this site is using encryption. You can also look for the lock symbol, since this is another indication that the site offers improved security.

In addition to online shopping and banking destinations, other sites have started offering the option of switching to a secure “https:” page.  Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for example, now offer encryption since their users are sharing so much of their personal information. Keep in mind, however, that not all websites need this kind of security. Don’t be alarmed if you are on a news site, for example, that doesn’t offer encryption since you generally read content on these sites but do not send or share personal details.

Knowing about encryption and how it can protect you is important, so remember to follow these tips to protect yourself online:

Look for “https:” and the lock symbol when making sensitive transactions online

Always be careful about how much personal information you share online

If you use social networking sites, check your privacy settings to make sure that your information stays private

Use comprehensive security that protects your identity, data and all your devices, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service

Encryption may sound complicated but it is just a high-tech way of creating a code to protect your information, just as the Greeks did long ago. Now that you know what encryption is, be on the lookout for secure sites that can increase your Internet security.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  Disclosures.

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