August 1, 2022

AES-256 Encryption: How It Works (And Why It Matters)

Nabeel Keblawi

AES-256 Encryption: How It Works (And Why It Matters)
TEXT: "AES-256 Encryption How It Works & Why It Matters" with chat bubble

The need to keep our data safe becomes more of a priority as the world becomes increasingly digital. Encryption, one of the primary methods for keeping our data safe, is vital for maintaining our overall online security.

However, not all encryption methods are made the same, and there are nuances among them that can make or break the security of our data.

That's why we decided to provide you with a detailed overview of what encryption is, what types of encryption there are, and why you should consider implementing AES-256 encryption in your system.

What Is Encryption? Types and Where AES-256 Comes In

To put it simply, encryption is a method of converting data into secret code to hide its true meaning. During the encryption process, scrambled data can be understood only by the authorized parties. The main goal of data encryption is to preserve the information from cyber-attacks.

There are several types of encryption. However, they all work by the same principle of altering data into an unreadable text known as “cipher text.” With cipher text, the true meaning of the scrambled data can only be accessed via the decryption key.

Generally speaking, there are two ways we can scramble data: symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric involves the use of a single password to encrypt or decrypt data. Asymmetric encryption means there are two keys: one for encryption, which is public, and one for private decryption. The public key is usually shared among all business users, and it allows them to scramble any data they choose, while the private key is used only for decryption and it’s shared only among a few people. While symmetric encryption is faster, it’s less secure compared to asymmetric.

AES encryption falls into the symmetric encryption category, meaning it uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt data. This is one of the most common encryption standards used today, and it’s available in three key sizes: 128, 192, and 256 bits.

Besides being a symmetric type of encryption, AES is called a “block cipher” since this type of cipher divides the information that should be encrypted into sections called blocks. More precisely, AES uses a 128-bit block size, meaning that data is divided into a 4-by-4 array containing 16 bytes, with each byte containing 8 bits. 

Regardless of this division, the size of the encrypted data remains the same. In other words, 128 bits of plaintext yield 128 bits of ciphertext.

While making the AES algorithm, creators used the Substitution Permutation Network (SPN) algorithm that applies multiple rounds of key expansion to encrypt data. To be more precise, multiple rounds of modification generate a new round key every time. And with each round, data becomes more secure, making the AES impenetrable.

How Was AES Developed?

Now, when we know what AES encryption is, let’s see how it developed and why. AES got its name in 2002, but it was developed much earlier as a response to the needs of the U.S. government.

In the late 1970s, before AES was developed, federal agencies used another encryption method: Data Encryption Standard (DES) as their main encryption algorithm. DES was created by IBM and was used for over 20 years. 

In the 1990s, DES became obsolete, as IT specialists proved it’s easy to break through. Thus, the need for a more sophisticated encryption standard arose. In response, the government announced a public competition, which was when AES was developed.

The NSA first used AES for handling top-secret information, but the rest of the tech world soon took notice. This is how AES became an industry standard for encryption and how it experienced widespread adoption.

Today AES libraries are developed for programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++, used by file compression programs such as WinZip and RAR, and by file systems like NTFS. It’s also used in VPN systems, password managers such as LastPass and 1Password, and messaging software such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Three Types of AES: How Secure Are They?

There are three types of AES: 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit. While all three use the same 128-bit blocks, their difference lies in the length of their key. Since AES-256 has the longest key, it offers the most substantial level of encryption. 

To put it into perspective, a hacker would have to try 2256 different combinations to ensure they have the right combination since the correct number has 78 digits. Understandably, the U.S. government requires 128- or 256-bit encryption to deal with sensitive data.

The three types of AES also vary by the number of rounds of encryption. AES-128 uses 10 rounds, AES-192 uses 12 rounds, and AES-256 uses 14 rounds. The more rounds there are, the safer the encryption. This is why AES-256 is considered the safest encryption there is. Furthermore, AES-256 uses far more system resources compared to the other two versions, which makes it best suited for environments where safety, and not speed, is the biggest priority.

Is AES-256 Crackable?

We can confidently say that AES-256 is impenetrable and that it would take billions of years to break through it using the current technology.

However, it’s important to mention no encryption system is entirely secure. Every system has vulnerabilities, especially if hackers access the key itself. That said, it’s important to use strong passwords, firewalls, and multi-factor authentication.

Luckily, the open nature of AES-256 makes it one of the most secure encryption systems, as developers are continuously studying it to uncover any vulnerabilities.

Why Is It Important to Have AES-256 Encryption?

As we mentioned before, keeping our online privacy intact is vital today as everything becomes increasingly digital. Opting for the most secure encryption system like AES-256 should be a no-brainer.

Keeping private information safe is especially important for businesses. It allows them to build trust, strengthen relationships with their customers and clients, reduce liability, and avoid paying hefty fines if vital information leaks.

Many businesses today are dependent on instant chat solutions. Sadly, this opens up new opportunities for cybercriminals who’re continuously looking for new ways of gaining digital information. 

Using safe chat solutions that have the highest encryption methods becomes imperative. However, by using a ready-made solution, a business is never sure about its security. Luckily, businesses can make their instant messaging solutions easily and quickly using CometChat’s SDK.

CometChat’s AES-256 Encryption

With CometChat, you won’t have to worry about security and compliance, as all security and compliance features are built-in and require minimal effort to integrate into your messaging solution. Given CometChat’s robust extension library, developers of any level (even non-coders) can create safe and modern chat solutions and integrate them into their existing tech stack.

With CometChat’s SDK, you won’t have to worry about the privacy of your information, as all files saved with AES-256 are stored in CometChat’s private cloud, where access is closely restricted. Moreover, CometChat continuously conducts third-party penetration testing to ensure security and immediately address any potential vulnerabilities.

Interested in how we can make your chat solution more secure? Get in touch with our development team!

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