Most people don't realize it, but we rely on network encryption almost every time we go online. For everything from banking and shopping to checking email, we like our Internet transactions to be well-protected, and encryption helps make that possible.
Encryption is a popular and effective method for safeguarding network data. The process of encryption hides data or the contents of a message in such a way that the original information can only be recovered through a corresponding decryption process. Encryption and decryption are common techniques in cryptography — the scientific discipline behind secure communications.
Many different encryption and decryption processes (called algorithms) exist. Especially on the Internet, it's very difficult to keep the details of these algorithms truly secret. Cryptographers understand this and design their algorithms so that they work even if their implementation details are made public. Most encryption algorithms achieve this level of protection by using keys.
In computer cryptography, a key is a long sequence of bits used by encryption and decryption algorithms. For example, the following represents a hypothetical 40-bit key: