Following the publication of Senate Bill 4051, there is a lot of confusion over the difference between encryption and cryptography. Some people even fear that, if the bill is approved, it would make Bitcoin illegal. That is anything but the case, but now is a good time to explain the difference.
What is Cryptography?
As an overarching field of study, cryptography tends to draw in people from all strides of life. It does not focus on just one aspect or concept specifically. The two most common studies in the field of cryptography include encryption – explained below – and decryption. Other algorithms and trust models were documented by Gary C. Kessler, and can be found here.
As explained before, cryptography is a field of study, While some of its techniques may dabble in mathematics and algorithms, cryptography is the overarching name for all of these studies.
It remains a very prominent and popular field, as new techniques to achieve cryptographic breakthroughs are still being researched today. Moreover, existing models need to be reviewed constantly and improved upon where necessary.
Applying cryptography can yield to many potential use cases. Common examples include security-related algorithms for corporations, as well as digital signatures. Bitcoin’s transaction process, where a transfer is broadcasted by a public address, is a cryptographic digital signature model.
Overall, the objective of cryptography is to ensure the security of data. It is not necessarily about hiding information from prying eyes. Instead, it wants to ensure data can be stored, accessed, and transmitted in secure ways for all parties involved.
Despite its strong focus on encryption and decryption, cryptography has a wide range of applications. These include, but are not limited to computer programming, information theory, and transmission technology.
What is Encryption?
As the name suggests, encryption indicates how someone – or a group of individuals – is trying to encode data. By using encryption, it will enhance the security of the communication. More importantly, it can keep information safe from prying eyes, such as service providers, communication providers, and governments.
Achieving encryption relies heavily on mathematics. Encryption is, by default, a mathematical operation. Through these complex processes, it can help users attain data security by transforming the information to be relayed.
This is often done through a technique referred to as “ciphertext”. By encrypting the data from its original format, only those with the proper “cipher” or “key” will be able to decode the message upon receiving it. Obtaining ciphertext is achieved by supplying the original data to an algorithm and an encryption key.
One common use case for encryption is to facilitate secret communication. This concept goes well beyond just criminal use, however, Whistle blowers and dissidents trying to get the word about what they discovered will rely on encrypted communication tools and protocols. Ensuring no one can intercept critical information is crucial, even in everyday [business] life.
It is not difficult where the confusion comes from, however. Encryption is a subset of the broader cryptography field. It also uses symmetric and public key systems- in most cases, a concept that has been popularized by the cryptography movement. However, encryption uses an algorithm and a cipher , whereas cryptography encompasses multiple techniques, including this one.
What is Senate Bill 4051 About?
This is not a new discussion among politicians by any means. Over the years, governments have tried to pressure tech companies into installing backdoors into their hardware and software. This would give agencies access to communication and data otherwise inaccessible to them. All of this is wrapped in a bow titled “national security”.
If the bill passes and gets turned into law – which is not a guarantee – it will affect encryption standards used today. The bill will not break cryptography as a field of study. In fact, cryptographers may come up with new and better ways to ensure secure and private communication solutions.
Nor will there be any impact on the everyday use and technology of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Projects leveraging encryption standards to provide extra functionality to cryptocurrency users are in a very different boat, depending on which solutions and standards they rely on..
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