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We all use the internet in one way or another, to transfer personal and professional information to other people, to obtain updates on current events and for many other uses. However, even if we are using a "secured" wireless network to access the web, we never know who might intercept the data we send and receive. We hear about the hackers who shamelessly steal people's sensitive information and often even their identities. So some of us decide to take action and employ some software to encrypt all inbound and outbound traffic from our computers.
Nowadays there are several encryption programs that can provide a layer of security to the internet traffic of the user. Yet, many people are not convinced about their necessity and their value. They promise to make all internet transactions safe by implementing an encryption/decryption stage between the program one uses to access the internet and the server it connects to, but is this worth the drawbacks the whole process entails? Let's examine this more in depth.
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The Plus Side
Encrypting inbound and outbound traffic on the internet definitely has some advantages (otherwise the programs that offered this would be impossible to sell). The most apparent of them is that encryption provides security to your data, meaning that if someone intercepts your internet packages, they won't be able to make much sense out of them since all the data will seem like gibberish in the encrypted form. It is like sending a parcel using an armored vehicle, or a safe. For some types of information this is really worthwhile, as it is very sensitive and if it were compromised, it would be quite perilous.
Another advantage of encrypting internet traffic is anonymity. Many people don't realize how important this is, but those who do are very keen on it. If someone monitors internet traffic (and it is very likely that someone does), they are able to derive information about the individuals and the internet community as a whole, based on some statistics. However, if the relevant data are encrypted, this is not possible.
Finally, encrypting internet traffic can be a big plus when it comes to business transactions due to the respect it implies. A business partner or a client, somewhat knowledgeable in the risks of internet fraud, would appreciate your attempt to make the information you exchange with them secure, even if it is just a digital signature. This shows professionalism and responsibility.
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Encrypting internet traffic though comes at a price. Despite the benefits it offers, it is evident that it slows down the information exchange process. This is a disadvantage that cannot be avoided, as a good encryption requires a lot of computer power, which translates to a delay in both ends of the channel.
Another disadvantage is that encrypted data can be useless without the encryption key, which may give you a hard time to transfer securely. Of course, there are ways to get around this issue, using asymmetric encryption for instance, but still, if you misplace your key, the whole process becomes a burden.
Finally, encrypting internet data can be a minus because of the extra cost it often implies. If you want decent encryption, you are most likely to rely on a commercial program that offers this feature, which will cost you both money and time (in order to learn to use it). This can be a deterring factor for many people.
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Internet traffic encryption is a worthy issue, but going for it is not a clear-cut decision. It makes more sense to use it for information that is vital, for business deals and for generally small amounts of data, to minimize the computational cost. If you have a compression program (e.g. Winzip) it is worthwhile looking into the encryption options and use them when uploading or sending sensitive information to others. Also, if the people you communicate with over the web are knowledgeable in this field, it might be worthwhile agreeing to all invest in a web encryption package for your communications. It's better to be safe than sorry.