Data Encryption , or cryptography , refers to the process of encoding computer informa­tion so that it can not be read by unauthorized persons.  Data is encrypted by using some sort of encryption scheme. This scheme is typically very com­plex, making it very difficult to break the encryption.

There are several popular encryption schemes, with names such as 128-bit DES. Usually these schemes require some sort of encryption “key”, which makes the encryption impos­sible to re­verse without having that key. Without this key, anyone knowing the encryp­tion scheme could decrypt your data. This key might be a passcode or a long string of numbers, etc, and modifies how the encryption algorithm generates the encrypted data. In this way, you can have a standard encryption algorithm that everyone can use, but which generates unique encryption results. The result is that if you send encrypted data to some­one, you would also have to provide a suitable decryption key to that someone for them to decrypt the data.

Sometimes the encryption/decryption is applied automatically, such as when visiting “se­cure” web sites, in which case your web browser handles the encryption and decryption work. Other times, you must do some manual setup and steps, such as when using PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption in email.

Information Services is currently evaluating different encryption products, and has yet to identify a product that it recommends for campus use. However, PGP Corporation has several applications that encrypt files, folders, and even an entire computer.  Both Microsoft and Macintosh operating systems offer encryption capabilities as part of their file systems. However, the strength of these encryption options is still being investigated.