written by: Finn Orfano•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/5/2010
The root of encryption goes back centuries, long before anyone even considered the notion of a “thinking machine."
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An endless amount of commerce and financial transactions move online today. These transactions include the ability to pay bills, check bank balances or just simply buy a book from Amazon.com or bid on an item on eBay. The Internet has actually changed the way people shop and conduct business, where you’ll never speak to a clerk and the only shopping cart you’re likely to see is a virtual one on your desktop.
But yet, because of this, it has made it all the more possible for your personal information to be tracked and gathered by third parties. It may sound like something out of a 1980s cyberpunk novel but the Web is filled with highly sensitive information that includes credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account data and other personal details. And because this is flowing through the Web like numbers floating on the screen in The Matrix there is also the risk that it could be hacked and thus used by unauthorized persons. To combat the threat from fraudsters and hackers most major Web sites use some form of digital encryption to protect sensitive data.
So what is encryption exactly? It is actually one of those of often-misunderstood technologies thanks in no small part to movies and TV. But in fact encryption is just something that most Web users encounter quite frequently, and if your business conducts any form of e-commerce encryption is an absolute must.
The root of encryption goes back centuries, long before anyone even considered the notion of a “thinking machine." Encryption has been around for many centuries in the form of ciphers and codes.
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It was only in the last century that encryption even moved beyond mechanical technologies to electronic ones. Just prior to World War II many nations began to use Teletype machines, which could encode and decode machines electronically. The German Enigma Machine is no doubt one of the most famous examples of this electronic encryption.
And it was in the decades following the World War II that encryption reached a digital format. Because computers were massive machines taking up whole rooms, it was primarily only used by government agencies and major corporations – and no doubt this is why it is easy to think of encryption as a tool primary used by black-ops, spies and shadowy organizations. The notion of spies and black-ops has stuck even if it engineers and average Joe’s who are responsible for the bulk of encryption today.
For most people their first connection to encryption came with the advent of the ATM. Until this time most banking customers didn’t even have a PIN (personal identification number), and a signature was all that was required for most transactions when payment was made with a check or credit card. How the times have changed. Today encryption is with us throughout the day!