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What Is 256-bit Encryption?

In the information age, encryption has emerged as the primary tool to safeguard private and confidential data. Modern day encryption is derived from cryptography that has been in existence since thousands of years. The motive is still the same – to provide access to information only to the intended recipient. The foundations for today’s encryption technology were laid in second half of twentieth century wherein Data Encryption Standard (DES) was developed by IBM. However, this 56-bit encryption system became useless (no longer secure), as computing power increased over the years.

In the 1970s, the US government started looking for a more reliable encryption system. To achieve that, the government launched a public contest. A number of entries were received, out of which the cryptography system developed by Vincent Rijmen and Joan Daemen was chosen as the winner. Based on the name of the developers, the tech came to be known as Rijndael. In 2002, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology renamed it to Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES is now the standard for encryption technology.

How AES 256 bit encryption works?

AES works by replacing each unit of data with a different piece of data using the security key. As the same key is used for both encryption and decryption, AES is referred to as symmetric key cipher. To anyone who does not have the security key, the data will appear as garbled text. Only people who have the security key will be able to access the data in its original form. AES 256 bit encryption is widely used by file compression software systems (RAR, WinZip, 7 Zip), file systems (NTFS), disk drive encryption software (FileVault, BitLocker), VPN systems, database encryption, messaging platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp), Intel and AMD processors, and password managers (KeePass, LastPass, 1Password).

How secure is 256-bit encryption?

If we consider the processing power of current generation computers, 256-bit encryption is almost impossible to crack. The bigger the size of the key, the harder it becomes to decrypt the data using brute force technique. The below table shows the possible combinations of various key sizes.

Key Size Possible Combinations
1 bit 2
2 bits 4
4 bits 16
8 bits 256
16 bits 65536
32 bits 4.2 x 109
56 bits (DES) 7.2 x 1016
64 bits 1.8 x 1019
128 bits (AES) 3.4 x 1038
192 bits (AES) 6.2 x 1057
256 bits (AES) 1.1 x 1077

To crack a 256-bit key, a hacker will need to try 2256 unique combinations. That’s a 78-digit number – 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129, 639,936. Even if the hacker uses the fastest supercomputer in the world, it will take several million years to crack 256-bit AES encryption. That’s why 256-bit encryption is the current standard for protecting confidential data.

As is evident, you can confidently rely on 256-bit encryption to safeguard your data. However, hackers can still compromise a computer system using techniques such as phishing, keylogger, trojan, and other malicious software. So, it is always better to use strong passwords, anti-virus software and advanced firewall systems.

About Satya Singh

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