With the volume of data constantly moving around the Internet, the risk of someone intercepting or stealing data is high. We hear of systems being hacked daily. If you’ve never been hacked before, consider yourself lucky. Now is the time to start taking the necessary precautions.

One such precaution is encrypting as much network traffic as possible. Encryption is the process of scrambling data to make it unreadable by anyone other than the intended recipient. This scrambling is necessary to ensure the privacy of the data, resulting in secure network traffic that cannot be decoded by hackers.

There are two ways of encrypting and subsequently decrypting data:

- Asymmetric encryption. Also know as public key encryption. Asymmetric encryption uses key pairs, whereas one part of the key pair is public and another part is private. A sender uses the public key of the intended recipient to encrypt the data. Conversely, the recipient uses his private key to decrypt data.

For instance, an e-mail message can be encrypted with the recipient’s public key and the recipient decrypts the message with his or her private key. Since the recipient’s private key is only in the recipient’s possession, no third party is able to decrypt the message encrypted with the recipient’s public key. A common implementation of this method is SSL, which is used by both IMail and WS_FTP Client/Server.

- Symmetric encryption. Also known as secret key, symmetric encryption uses the same key for both encryption and decryption. When compared to asymmetric encryption, the symmetric encryption is faster. A disadvantage in symmetric encryption is that both the sender and the recipient must have access to the same encryption key. This disadvantage is minimized because breaking the encryption is possible only by trying all possible encryption keys.

For example, let’s assume that one computer can go through one million encryption keys in one second. If one million computers are set to break the encryption, in which a 40-bit key is used, going through all encryption keys takes about 1.1 seconds. With a 128-bit key, however, that search time lengthens to about 11 trillion years! Such a big difference between key lengths is based on the fact that each addition of one bit doubles the number of possible keys. One popular implementation is 3DES (or Triple-DES), which is used by Ipswitch’s Instant Messenger with a 168-bit key for securing data end-to-end.

Using products that are capable of encrypting your network data is a relatively easy way of protecting your network traffic. Typically, these products have taken the learning curve out of the equation by being easy to use. So why wouldn’t you encrypt your network traffic? There is no time like the present to start taking this precaution and protecting your data.