Over 6 billion text messages are sent in the U.S. each day, and the number of application-to-person messages is expected to reach 2.19 trillion in 2019. But how many of these messages are secure and encrypted? Meaning, how many of these messages are shared exclusively between the sender and the receiver?
In simple terms, encryption is the process by which messages are scrambled so that no third-party can access or understand the information. It’s synonymous with privacy and free speech.
Our technology-driven era means information is free-flowing and often uses third-party channel (ie a messaging app) to get to its intended destination.
Encryption takes an even higher priority for customer communication. Customers want to be able to trust the communication tools they’re using. In addition, they want to feel safe when they reveal sensitive information like their bank account details and social security number.
The essence of good business is creating an environment where there is a mutual trust between a brand and its clients, particularly in the digital age. So to provide your customers with the comfort of knowing their information is safe, here’s what you need to know about encryption.
How Modern Encryption Works
When information is sent online, whether a personal message or account credentials, for instance, that information is exposed to potential hackers and digital trespassers.
It’s the equivalent of writing a note to a friend and having it passed to 6 different people before it finally reaches the intended person. Anyone can read that note and do what they will with the information.
However, if you and your friend come up with a secret code that only you two can understand, then that information becomes illegible to others and remains secure. In effect, the message is encrypted on one end by the sender, only to be decrypted on the other end by the recipient – i.e end-to-end encryption.
This means that until your message reaches the desired recipient, the actual content makes no sense to anyone, keeping it safe from prying eyes.
Asymmetric & Symmetric Encryption
Encryption works in two ways – asymmetric and symmetric encryption:
When using asymmetric encryption, everyone owns two keys: one public and one secret. To communicate or exchange information with Nick for instance, one uses Nick’s public key (which is theoretically accessible to anyone) and encrypts a plaintext message. Once the message is encrypted, only Nick can decrypt the message using his own private key, which no one else can obtain.
Put simply, asymmetric encryption allows anyone to communicate with a specific person. Once the message is sent and encrypted, only the recipient can read the content, meaning no one in between can access the information.
Symmetric encryption works differently in that parties who want to communicate together all own the same private key – it is accessible only by the sender and the receiver. The keys to encrypt and decrypt are the same, therefore whoever wishes to open the message must have the same key as the person who sent it.
So if ‘Nancy’ wants to communicate with ‘Nick’ using symmetric encryption, they both need to have the same private key, which they’ve mutually agreed to keep secret. Nancy encrypts a plaintext message using her private key, which is then decrypted with Nick’s (same) private key. This can be a bit of a challenge – Nick and Nancy need to mutually and securely establish their private key.
An example of this in practice would be when Nancy sends an email to Nick, and she uses a password to encrypt it. Then Nick would need to use the same password to decrypt it.
Symmetric encryption is faster than asymmetric but it’s much less practical as it limits the amount of open-ended communication one can have. For example, if Nick wants to communicate with someone else other than Nancy, he needs to establish another private key for each individual he wishes to communicate with.
In contrast to encryption is, of course, non-encryption. A non-encrypted message means that the sender’s message is not altered or jumbled using a secret code. A message sent and received without encryption is easily read or intercepted by a third party.
Encryption For Your Business
Encryption is a very important factor to consider when choosing a customer communication platform. The channels you choose depend on your industry, the business objectives, company policy and the preferences of your customers.
Moreover, you need to consider the content that will be exchanged with customers and through which channels. Confidential information such as credit card details or account logins is certainly more sensitive than two friends chatting casually, and therefore more likely to align better with a secure, end-to-end messaging platform. However, general customer service related inquiries, such as stockist information may be ideal for more social-focused channels that aren’t encrypted.
At a time when so much information floats in the confines of virtual walls, it’s important to assess the role you want technology to play for your company. End-to-end encryption provides a way for your customers to feel safe and comfortable delving into the digital age, but at what cost?