Types of Encryption Algorithms – Security Boulevard

How do encryption algorithms work?

Encryption algorithms are mathematical formulas that transform plain text into cipher text. The plaintext is what the message looks like without modification, but the ciphertext scrambles the message to a point where it’s unreadable, unless you have the proper permission to crack the plaintext code. Simply put, algorithms help encrypt and decrypt code, especially between the right users. These algorithms are written in software for computer systems and networks.

Encryption types

Before dissecting the different types of algorithms, let’s review the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

When a message or file is encrypted, it can only be decrypted and read if the recipient of the message has the correct password or code. The codes used to encrypt or decrypt are often called keys, and without the prcryptographic oper key, a recipient has no way to access an encrypted file.

Symmetric encryption

With symmetric encryption, a single key is used by both owner and recipient. Symmetric ciphers use either stream ciphers (encrypting bits of data one at a time) or block ciphers (encrypting a number of bits and combining them into a single unit).

Think of it as sending someone a locked package. No one can open the package without the key, including hackers, but you also need to find a secure way to send or share the key. In the case of computers, both computers would need to have the key to open certain files.

One of the advantages of this type of encryption is the efficiency with which large amounts of data can be sent. Having a single key doesn’t require as much mathematical calculation. Symmetric encryption is also extremely secure if you have a trusted algorithm.

The problem with symmetric encryption is to share the key with others without compromising security. If, for example, the owner of an encrypted file emails the key, a hacker can hack their email and use the key to access the shared information, defeating the purpose of encrypt something to begin with. The key is often shared in person to mitigate this risk, but this is not always a realistic option given the vastness of the internet. This problem requires a key hierarchy or a way to manage the keys used in huge amounts of data.

Asymmetric encryption

Asymmetric encryption, also called public key encryption, involves two keys. The key that encrypts a message or file is public, meaning it can be shared with anyone. However, the second key is private and is the only key capable of decrypting the message or file.

Think of asymmetric encryption as a vault. Anyone can leave a letter, but only the owner of the private key can open the box to access private information. This is most often used to exchange information and data over the Internet.

The most obvious advantage of public key encryption is its security and convenience. Instead of having a “secret code” that only two specific sources know, data can be securely exchanged with more people online. Asymmetric encryption also uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which protects communications between server and client using digital certificateswho are you facilitate verification that the recipient is from the correct sender.

The downside of asymmetric encryption is that the keys only go in one direction, which means that a match would require both parties to have their own keys, one public and one private. In other words, each recipient needing to decrypt a message needs their own vault with a private key. Unlike symmetric encryption, the asymmetric encryption method is also mathematically more complex, which can slow processing time.

3 main types of algorithms

With data constantly being exchanged online, symmetric and asymmetric encryption is used today to verify, authenticate and protect users. Depending on the level of security needed, who needs access to the data, the type of requests made, etc., different encryption algorithms are better for certain scenarios. Some are more advanced than others, but the following systems are the most common and secure types of encryption.

Triple Data Encryption Standard (Triple-DES)

One of the first major algorithms used was the Data Encryption Standard (DES), a type of symmetric encryption. It was the standard for electronic communications, but although DES provided a solid foundation for encryption, it could be hacked in hours and couldn’t keep up with modern computing.

Triple-DES was much more secure because it overcame DES’s small keyspace, and it eventually became the standard symmetric encryption algorithm for a while, especially in the 1990s. in cryptographic protocols, such as SSH and TLS. Triple-DES (or 3DES) uses three times DES encryption to encrypt data, allowing for multiple key lengths despite using 56-bit keys.


  • Symmetric encryption
  • Uses 64-bit blocks, but only 56-bit is secure
  • Runs DES 3 separate times with 3 separate keys

Triple-DES is one of the most efficient algorithms to implement. In its heyday, 3DES changed security and helped fix some of the biggest DES security leaks. It still works for some hardware security encryptions.

Faced with more secure encryption algorithms, Triple-DES is becoming increasingly obsolete. Although it can compute more than DES, 3DES can only work with 64-bit blocks, which is not keeping up with most modern organizations. Most large companies and organizations use different symmetric encryption methods.

During the height of Triple-DES usage, big names like Microsoft and Firefox used Triple-DES for data security. Financial, payment and other private services still use Triple-DES, although they are unlikely to continue to use it.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a type of symmetric encryption that is considered both the most unbreakable algorithm and the global security standard. AES took over Triple-DES due to its superior computing capabilities and advanced security.


  • Compatible with hardware and software
  • Uses 3 different key lengths: 128, 192 and 256 bit keys
  • Symmetric block cipher
  • Encrypted in 128-bit blocks

There are no guarantees in the cyberworld, but as of today, AES has yet to be cracked as far as anyone knows. With the ability to use a 256-bit key length, it is one of the most secure forms of encryption. In fact, it would take billions of years to crack even 128-bit encryption.

Even though it is more powerful than DES and Triple-DES, it is a bit more difficult to implement. It is also slower due to the size of the key, which can sometimes interfere with communication.

The US government uses this algorithm to keep all kinds of information private and secure. From government computers to cybersecurity, AES is an essential tool for keeping data classified. AES is truly used everywhere: SSD drives, Wi-Fi in local networks, cloud storage, Internet browsers, etc.

Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA)

Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) is a public-key encryption algorithm and is the primary means of sending data securely over the Internet. As an asymmetric encryption method, RSA uses two keys, one for public encryption and one for private decryption. A defining element of RSA is how the algorithm is used: by factoring prime numbers.


  • Create and verify digital signatures
  • Supports key sizes from 512 bits to 4096 bits
  • Asymmetric encryption

It’s the best system for communicating with others online, especially when exchanging potentially sensitive information. It is used in particular to verify digital signatures. It is easy to implement and sharing public keys with online users is relatively simple.

Because RSA is an asymmetric algorithm, it is significantly slower compared to symmetric encryption. It also requires more power than single key encryption. Also, while great for security, if the private key is lost, the data cannot be decrypted.

RSA is used everywhere online, including web browsers, VPNs, email, chats, and other communication servers.

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Sharon D. Cole