What is Encryption?

Encryption is the science of encoding and decoding secret messages.  It began as cryptography—the ancient Greeks used it to protect sensitive information that might fall into the hands of their enemies. More recently, governments have used encryption for military purposes, but these days the term if often used in reference to online security.

Encryption is important because it allows technology providers such as website owners to convert sensitive information, such as your credit card number, passwords and other financial details, into a code that cannot be read by cybercriminals or other unauthorized third parties. As an Internet user you should be aware of when encryption is being used, and when it is not, since it can help protect your personal information when doing sensitive transactions.

So, when you’re doing online banking or online shopping, or registering with a site that requires your personal information, look to see that the website address begins with “https:” instead of just “http:” since this indicates that this site is using encryption. You can also look for the lock symbol, since this is another indication that the site offers improved security.

In addition to online shopping and banking destinations, other sites have started offering the option of switching to a secure “https:” page.  Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for example, now offer encryption since their users are sharing so much of their personal information. Keep in mind, however, that not all websites need this kind of security. Don’t be alarmed if you are on a news site, for example, that doesn’t offer encryption since you generally read content on these sites but do not send or share personal details.

Knowing about encryption and how it can protect you is important, so remember to follow these tips to protect yourself online:

Look for “https:” and the lock symbol when making sensitive transactions online

Always be careful about how much personal information you share online

If you use social networking sites, check your privacy settings to make sure that your information stays private

Use comprehensive security that protects your identity, data and all your devices, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service

Encryption may sound complicated but it is just a high-tech way of creating a code to protect your information, just as the Greeks did long ago. Now that you know what encryption is, be on the lookout for secure sites that can increase your Internet security.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  Disclosures.

Stop, Think and Connect on Public Wi-Fi, co-managed by the Federal Trade Commission, is the federal government’s website to help you be safe, secure and responsible is a partner in the Stop Think Connect campaign, led by the Department of Homeland Security, and part of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


I, for one, am a big fan of the Department of Homeland Security, so I wanted to provide some DHS perspectives on wireless, its vulnerabilities and encryption–such as that obtainable through Hotspot Shield VPN—straight from the government’s mouth: “Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities and other public places are convenient, but they’re often not secure. When using a hotspot, it’s best to send information only to websites that are fully encrypted.

“You can be confident a hotspot is secure only if it asks you to provide a WPA password. If you’re not sure, treat the network as if it were unsecured.”


You’ve heard it from this blogger before, but this is what Homeland Security has to say about encrypting your web communications:

“Encryption is the key to keeping your personal information secure online. Encryption scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code so that it’s not accessible to others. When using wireless networks, it’s best to send personal information only if it’s encrypted—either by an encrypted website or a secure WiFinetwork. An encrypted website protects only the information you send to and from that site. A secure wireless network encrypts all the information you send using that network.” Homeland Security further states: “Don’t assume a Wi-Fi hotspot is secure. Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send over the internet and are not secure.”

Hence, get yourself a wireless VPN! And use it. Advice straight from the DHS’s mouth.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield VPN. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was StolenSee him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.