In its simplest form, encryption is the process of encoding messages in such a way that only authorized parties can read it. In order to read the message, the authorized party needs to possess the key to unlock or decode the message.
A brief history of encryption
Encryption grew out of cryptography, the science of secret communication. Secret communication via ciphers has been around nearly as long as written communication. Julius Caesar is said to have used a simple cipher to send messages to his generals over 2000 years ago. While Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson used an elaborate mechanical cylinder that could be used to create coded messages. The recipient needed to possess an identical device in order to decode the message.
These examples should demonstrate several things:
- The desire to protect communications has been around for a long time
- There are physical or mechanical limits to any cipher because even the most elaborate mechanical device can only create a limited number of random combinations
- Both parties needed the same key in order to easily decipher the message
- Creating an effective cipher system required a lot of time and effort
- Once the key was stolen, captured or reverse engineered, the message was no longer secure
In effect, secret communication has always been a balancing act between how secure a message had to be and how easy it was to encode and decode.
Why it matters on an ethical level
Even if encryption is not required in every industry, the reality is that it should be in the technology arsenal of every firm. As an attorney or legal professional, you have a duty to protect information about clients and their data – and encryption protects data. You might also be pleasantly surprised at how readily available, affordable and very easy to use encryption can be when paired with the right software solution.
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