What is an Encryption Key? (http://www.wisegeek.org)
Technology – What is an Encryption Key?
Encryption is a form of security that turns information, images, programs, or other data into unreadable cipher by applying a set of complex algorithms to the original material. These algorithms transfer the data into streams or blocks of seemingly random alphanumeric characters. An encryption key might encrypt, decrypt, or perform both functions, depending on the type of encryption software being used.
The algorithms used are considered very secure, with one of this type adopted as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) used by the U.S. Government for storing classified and top secret information. The one weakness of symmetric encryption programs is that the single key must necessarily be shared, presenting an opportunity for it to be leaked or stolen. Part of key management involves changing the key often to improve security.
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My Two Cents: I have been writing a lot of Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256 bit Encryption controls within our systems from data sources to email. The private key is the only scary part of the Encrypted object(s). I have come up with a solution that encrypts, scrambles, and embeds the private key in the Encryption itself, thus removing the need to have the private key to decrypt the object(s). You would have to have our software to encrypt and decrypt it on both ends. Other applications could not decrypt the object(s). The only downside I see if our software was destroyed it would be impossible to decrypt the object(s)…highly unlikely. With all the loss of data these days based on Cyber Attacks I feel Encryption is the way to go.