University of Southern California

What Is Encryption?

Posted on by mechling

What is encryption?

Encryption is a security measure that scrambles information so that it becomes unrecognizable. Decoding the gibberish requires a specific key. Encryption is used to protect data sent across networks, ensuring that the data can’t be tampered with in transit and that the receiver can always verify who sent the original message. For instance, shopping websites use encryption to keep hackers from swiping customers’ credit card details.

If my data is encrypted, does that mean hackers can’t access it?

Not necessarily. Encryption makes it much more difficult for hackers to access your information, but it is not foolproof. Encryption cannot protect you if you use a weak password or if your machine is already infected with malware.

How can I tell if a website is encrypted?

Before you share confidential data such as social security numbers or credit card information over the Internet, make sure that the website is encrypted and therefore secure. The easiest way to check if a website is encrypted is to look at its URL. Website URLS that begin with https are secured using an SSL certificate. You should also look for a closed padlock icon in your web browser next to the URL. If you click this padlock, you will receive information about the website and whether your connection is secure.

How can I tell if my device is encrypted?

Many devices come with basic encryption. Check the data encryption documentation on the ITS website to look up information about your specific device.

Do I need more advanced encryption?

If you need to meet regulatory requirements for your data, such as HIPAA, FERPA, or PCI, you may need stronger security measures. Please contact infosec@usc.edu or call the Information Security Office at 213-821-2614 for more information.

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