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Encryption Glossary

Bit - the unit in which encryption key-length, or strength, is measured. The more bits, the stronger the encryption.

Brute Force Search - a method of attempting to break encryption by simply trying all possible keys. Strong encryption must have a large enough keyspace to ensure that a brute force search is not feasible.

Cryptanalysis - the art of decoding text. Cryptanalysis is a complex process, involving statistical analysis, analytical reasoning, math tools and pattern-finding.

Decryption - the art of decrypting text - the process by which encoded text is made readable.

DES - the U.S. Government's Data Encryption Standard. It is 56-bit.

Encryption - technology that encodes computer files to protect peoples' privacy.

Escrow Agent - an entity that holds encryption keys for other users.

Key - similar to a password, allows you to access or decrypt encrypted data.

Key Recovery or Key Escrow - system by which encryption users deposit the keys to encrypted information with a third party for storage and/or retrieval.

Keyspace - the span of available keys. The longer the key-length, the more possible combinations a potential code-breaker would have to test. The table below shows the number of possibilities for common key length (Source: FreeMarket.Net: Policy Spotlight, October-November 1997.)

Key Length Possible Keys
40 bits 1,099,511,627,776
56 bits 72,057,594,037,927,900
90 bits 1,237,940,039,285,380,000,000,000,000
128 bits 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Public-Key Cryptography - a technique that uses a pair of asymmetric keys for encryption and decryption. One is the public key (that can be distributed widely) and the private key (which is held by its owner and never distributed). When data is encrypted using the private key, it can only be decrypted using the public key; conversely, data encrypted using the public key can only be decrypted using the private key.


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