What Is Network Encryption? How Does It Work?

What Is Network Encryption? How Does It Work?

Network encryption is a method used to secure data that is being transmitted over a network, both internally within a company and externally across the internet. This is achieved by converting the readable data into unreadable data. This data can only be made readable in the format of a decryption key.

The main purpose of network encryption is to prevent unauthorized access to data as it moves across the network. It is crucial to protect sensitive information from being intercepted during transmission. It is commonly used in many online processes, such as online banking and e-commerce transactions, to protect data integrity and user privacy.

Methods like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are widely used for network encryption. These protocols encrypt data and help verify the identity of servers or clients, adding an extra layer of security.

Nile ensures network and data encryption through several measures. It uses hardened hardware that eliminates local SSH and console access to its network elements, tamper proof modules (TPM) to prevent access to certificates embedded inside the network elements, and MACSec encryption to protect the communication channels across those elements. 

For network access, Nile uses 802.1X and Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication along with device profiling to ensure that user traffic is always encrypted when traversing the campus and branch network. 

For guest access, when open and pre-shared key (PSK) based authentication can be used, guest user traffic is tunneled to Nile's point-of-presence (PoP) to completely isolate such traffic from corporate resources. This not only protects your assets but also ensures that only encrypted traffic flows can traverse the network.

Nile also isolates all authorized users and IoT devices, centralizes all traffic, and shares user/device attributes with firewalls to protect against threats. Moreover, Nile's solution has achieved ISO 27001, SOC2 Type II, CSA Level 1 certifications, demonstrating its commitment to robust security standards.

Why is network encryption important?

Network encryption is crucial for data protection during transfer, ensuring it can't be easily intercepted and read. It maintains confidentiality, allowing only those with the key to decode the information. Encrypting data decreases the risk of breaches. Even if data is accessed, decryption without the key is challenging, if not impossible.

Encryption guarantees data integrity by preventing tampering during transmission. Compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS often mandates encryption. Encrypted data, signified by a browser "lock" symbol, builds user trust, and shields against cyber threats like eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

How does network encryption work?

Network encryption safeguards data as it's transmitted across networks. Whether it's between devices on a local network or data being sent across the internet, network encryption ensures the data remains confidential and intact. Here's how it works:

1. Establishing the connection

When two devices want to communicate securely, they must first establish a secure channel. For internet-based communications, this often involves protocols like TLS (used in HTTPS) or VPN protocols like OpenVPN or IPsec.

During this handshake phase, the devices agree upon which encryption algorithms to use and exchange cryptographic keys, ensuring both sides can encrypt and decrypt the data.

2. Key exchange

Securely exchanging encryption keys is crucial. For this, protocols often use techniques like Diffie-Hellman key exchange, which allows both parties to generate a shared secret key without ever transmitting any part of the key itself.

In asymmetric encryption, one device may share its public key, allowing the other device to encrypt messages that only the holder of the corresponding private key can decrypt.

3. Data encryption

Once a secure channel is established and keys are exchanged, data packets are encrypted using the agreed-upon encryption algorithm and keys before being sent over the network.

This ensures that even if a malicious actor intercepts the packets, they won't be able to decipher the original content without the decryption key.

4. Data transmission

The encrypted data (ciphertext) is transmitted across the network, whether it's a local network or across the internet.

5. Data decryption

Upon receiving the encrypted data, the receiving device uses its decryption key to convert the ciphertext back to its original plaintext form, making it readable and usable.

6. Ensuring integrity and authenticity

Besides confidentiality, network encryption often provides data integrity (ensuring data hasn't been altered) and authenticity (ensuring data came from the legitimate sender).

Techniques like HMAC (Hash-based Message Authentication Code) or digital signatures might be employed. They provide a way to verify the integrity and authenticity of the received data.

7. Session termination

After the secure communication is done, the session is terminated, and session keys used for that particular communication might be discarded.

How does encryption secure internet browsing?

Encryption is used in internet browsing to protect the privacy and integrity of data transmitted between a browser and a server. The most common form of encryption for web browsing is called Transport Layer Security (TLS), previously known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

When you visit a secure or encrypted website (usually indicated by "https://" in the URL and/or a lock symbol in the browser's address bar), your browser and the server establish a secure connection through a process known as the "TLS handshake."

Here's a simplified step-by-step overview of the TLS handshake:

  1. Your browser sends a "hello" message to the server, which includes the highest level of encryption it supports and a randomly generated session key.
  2. The server responds with its own "hello" message, confirming the highest mutually agreed level of encryption, and its digital certificate, issued by a trusted third party called a Certificate Authority (CA). This serves as proof of the server's identity.
  3. Your browser verifies the certificate's validity. If it's trustworthy, the browser uses the server's public key (included in the certificate) to encrypt and send back a session key. Only the server's private key can decrypt this.
  4. The server decrypts the session key using its private key, and sends a "finished" message to the browser, encrypted with the session key.
  5. From this point onwards, all data transferred between your browser and the server is encrypted with the session key, ensuring that third parties can't snoop on or tamper with the data.

Not all websites use HTTPS, so it's crucial to check for the "https://" or lock symbol, especially when entering sensitive information. Virtual Private Networks can also provide an additional layer of encryption for your internet browsing.

What is an encryption algorithm?

An encryption algorithm is a set of mathematical operations that transform plaintext or any arbitrary data into ciphertext, which is hard to understand and appears random. 

It’s designed to protect information by transforming it into an unreadable format, often using a secret key. Only those who possess the secret key can reverse the process and convert the data back into its original, readable format.

What is an encryption key?

An encryption key is a random string of bits created specifically for scrambling and unscrambling data. It is used alongside an encryption algorithm to transform plain text data into a non-readable form called ciphertext, and vice versa.

Encryption keys are an essential part of data protection. They ensure data privacy and security by ensuring only authorized parties can access and understand the encrypted data. Key management, or maintaining and protecting these keys, is a crucial part of any security strategy.

What are the different types of encryption?

There are two main types of encryption: symmetric encryption and asymmetric encryption.

1, Symmetric encryption

    : Also known as private-key encryption, symmetric encryption uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt the data. This method is faster and more efficient but poses some security risks, as the key must be shared between the sender and the receiver. If this key is intercepted, the data can be deciphered.

Examples of symmetric encryption include:

    • Data Encryption Standard (DES)
    • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
    • Twofish
    • RC4, RC5, or RC6

2. Asymmetric encryption: Also known as public key encryption, the asymmetric encryption method uses two keys: a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption. The public key is freely shared, while the private key remains a secret, owned only by the recipient. Asymmetric encryption is generally slower than symmetric encryption but is more secure because the decryption key is never transmitted.

Examples of asymmetric encryption include:

  • Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA)
  • Diffie-Hellman
  • Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA)
  • Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC)

What is a brute force attack in encryption?

A brute force attack in encryption is a trial-and-error method where an attacker systematically checks all possible keys or passwords until the correct one is found. In essence, a brute force attack is an exhaustive search that is typically used when all else fails and when there is no method of finding an answer more efficiently.

These types of attacks can be extremely time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially for complex encryption systems. For example, an encryption system using a strong 128-bit key would have 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible keys to check.

However, less secure systems, or those using shorter keys, can be more susceptible to brute-force attacks. This is why it's recommended to use longer, more complex passwords paired with two-factor authentication.

In recent years, sophisticated processes like dictionary and rainbow table attacks have replaced time-consuming brute-force methods. These newer attack styles use lists of likely key phrases and precomputed tables to reverse cryptographic hash functions.

Why network encryption matters

Data confidentiality

Encryption is essential for maintaining the confidentiality of sensitive information during transmission. By converting data into ciphertext, it ensures that only authorized recipients possess the decryption keys, preventing eavesdroppers and unauthorized access.

Privacy

Encryption plays a pivotal role in safeguarding user privacy by preventing unauthorized tracking or monitoring of online activities. It shields personal and sensitive data from prying eyes, enhancing individuals' online security and peace of mind.

Data integrity

Preserving data integrity is paramount in the digital age. Encryption ensures that data remains unaltered during transit. By detecting and mitigating tampering attempts, it upholds the trustworthiness of information exchanged over networks.

Compliance

Numerous industries and regulatory frameworks require encryption to protect customer and business data. For example, healthcare organizations must adhere to HIPAA, and European businesses must comply with GDPR. Implementing encryption not only safeguards data but also ensures legal compliance.

Preventing data breaches

Encryption serves as a formidable defense against data breaches. Its implementation significantly raises the bar for cybercriminals, making it exceedingly difficult for them to steal and exploit sensitive data. This, in turn, reduces the risk and potential consequences of data breaches.

Secure communication

In an era of ubiquitous connectivity, secure communication is imperative. Encryption enables trustworthy exchanges over untrusted networks, such as public Wi-Fi. By encrypting data in transit, it shields it from potential threats, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential and secure.

Trust and reputation

Building trust with customers, clients, and partners is vital for any organization. Implementing robust encryption measures demonstrates a commitment to security, enhancing an organization's reputation and fostering confidence among stakeholders.

Always-on encryption for your wired and wireless network

Network encryption is the cornerstone of network security. Nile Access Service was designed from the ground up with best security practices, ensuring every network connection is encrypted. Using the latest MACsec encryption standards and WIDS technology, you can rest easy knowing your organization’s data is safe.

Discover how our Zero Trust approach ensures every connection is authenticated and encrypted, bolstering your enterprise network security. Don't get lost in endless options — let’s discuss how you can experience seamless security tailored for your access network.

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