How to encrypt your Internet traffic

Encryption: key to secured data transmission

Encryption: key to secured data transmission

Not many people realize that the traffic they generate on the Internet as they check e-mail, upload files, chat, and so on are out in the clear. This means that if someone tapped into the network (wired or wireless) where your traffic is flowing, that someone would be able to capture the information flowing through that network, and possibly interpret or maybe even change the account or various confidential information that may be in that flow. One way to keep those Internet peeping toms from seeing your confidential information is by using some form of encryption technology. There are three general scenarios where encryption technology is crucial. The first is the encryption technology you must ensure is used when accessing confidential information online. The second scenario is when you are sending confidential information to someone or some organization. The third is when you are using wireless technology to access your network or someone else’s in the process of connecting to the Internet.

When accessing confidential information online, you must make sure that the site you are connecting to uses TLS/SSL (Transport Layer Security, the successor to SSL–Secure Socket Layer). You can tell this in three ways:

1) The URL for the sites starts with https://

2) There is an indication in your browser that your connection is secure—typically symbolized by a padlock icon (in Internet Explorer 8, it can be found to the right side of the address field)

3) Your browser indicates that it trusts the site you are visiting (in Internet Explorer 8, the address field background turns green)

For example, when you access your bank online, you will see that their URL begins with “https://”, and that there is a padlock symbol somewhere on the bottom or top of your Internet browser. When you’re browser is using TLS/SSL to communicate with a web server on the Internet, you are doing two things by convention—ensuring that the site you are visiting is who they say they are through the use of an SSL certificate which is certified by a trusted authority (for example Verisign) , and the data you are transmitting are encrypted and thus protected from eavesdropping exposure.

What if you need to send something to someone—like a file or an email containing very confidential information (e.g. a set of social security numbers tied to their corresponding owners’ identity)? If trust and confidentiality are important attributes needed in your communication, then there is a product called PGP Desktop that you and your receiver can use. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy. The way it works is as follows:

1) Each user creates two kinds of crypto keys—one key is the secret key, the other the public key

2) The public key can be used to encrypt data. The data can then be decrypted using its corresponding secret key.

3) Say that user A and B have each created their PGP key pairs. User A wants to transmit data to B, and he wants only B to be able to read A’s message. They would first need to exchange public keys. User A would then use B’s public key to encrypt his data before transmitting it. When B receives the message, he can use his secret key to decrypt the message. No one else can decrypt A’s message because B is the only one that has the corresponding secret key to decrypt the message.

The use of PGP in the above example is just one of the many ways people can use the pair of crypto keys to encrypt their Internet traffic. By the way, the existence of PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) facilitates the exchange and certification of public keys.

The third and final scenario where you can encrypt your Internet traffic is WI-FI technology use. If you are using some form of wireless technology, you need to make sure you encrypt your wireless network lest you invite your neighbors to see everything you do on the Internet. Currently, the best form of encryption one should use for your home wireless access point is WPA2. WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access. It is more secure that the previous WEP (wired equivalent privacy) or the WPA standard. By using WPA2, you are ensuring that your neighbors cannot see your private Internet traffic.

Remember, Internet traffic is generally not secure. To help keep your confidential data secured when it has to traverse it, you will need to put into effect the habit of only using web sites that support TLS/SSL. And if you need to transmit data to someone, you can use PGP. Lastly, make sure to use WPA2 encryption for your wireless access point to keep your neighbors from seeing your wireless traffic.