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January 2003

Understanding encryption and cryptography basics

AES, DES, RSA, ECC -- there are so many ways to encrypt your data. Whether your company's protecting customer credit card information, securing remote user connections to your network or protecting your intellectual property from digital piracy, you're using encryption every day. But crypto can be intimidating to the uninitiated, and there are a daunting array of options. In the 1980s, there was only one real choice -- the Data Encryption Standard (DES). That's changed. Today, we have a broad selection of stronger, faster and better-designed algorithms. Now, the problem is to sort out the choices. But what's the difference? How do you know if you're buying industrial-strength protection or if your developers are choosing the right encryption for the job? Where do you begin to make sense of it all? Start right here. This primer will help you decipher the jumble of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that define encryption. Key concepts The basic notion of all ciphers is to allow two people -- popularly called "Alice" and "Bob" -- to ...

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