Encryption is essentially the process of encoding – or hiding – the information you send across the internet in a way that it can only be read by the person or website it is meant for. There are various ways this is handled on the net.
Encryption uses a “key” – a certain sequence of numbers that is unique and only “known” by your computer and the one you’re sending information to.
When your computer sends the information out, it scrambles it by using this key as a basis. This scrambled information would be gibberish to anyone who didn’t have the correct key to unscramble it at the other end.
When the information reaches its destination, it gets unscrambled by using the key. This lets the person or website read the information correctly at the other end.
Websites that use an encrypted connection use something called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to secure the information going back and forth. This is how websites like Amazon or your bank can ensure your private information like passwords and credit card numbers are safe from prying eyes.
There are different strengths of encryption codes. 40 bit encryption is the simplest, but it is relatively easy to crack. Most secure websites use 128 bit encryption, which is practically impossible to decode.
You might even see 256 bit encryption is some very high-security cases.
Encryption is one of the key factors in security on the internet. While you don’t need to know the nuts and bolts of how it works, you should know what to look for when dealing with any website that handles your personal information.