Encryption might sound like something just hackers, spies, and criminals use. And yeah, those groups of people probably do use it. But this doesn’t mean they are the only ones that have a good reason to do so. You might be thinking that when you have nothing to hide, there’s no need to worry. You couldn’t be more wrong.
The concept of encryption is to turn plaintext into cyphertext – apparent nonsense – which could be reverted back to normal only by using a secret key that only the two communicating sides know. Without that key, eavesdroppers cannot decipher these communications – so they remain truly private. Not only shady people need this kind of protection. Here’s why.
1. You do reveal valuable information online
You might think none of your information is of particular interest to anyone. Think again. Do you shop your mobile device? What about online banking? Doing this over an unencrypted connection is almost basically screaming you credit card number and banking account password out in the open.
2. Even your other data is of value to thieves
Funny enough, on the dark web market for stolen data, medical records could be ten times more valuable than your credit card info. That’s because they offer a quick access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as name, address, salary, vehicle registration plate, social security number… This can result in absolute identity theft.
3. Data theft can have serious consequences
What happens if someone steals your phone while you’re logged in all types of services like social media, retailers, your bank, and whatnot? The answer is “identity theft.” About a third of smartphone users don’t lock their devices with a password, PIN or a lock screen pattern – the latter being way too easy to crack anyway. Well, don’t be like them. Encrypt your phone and make it as useless as a piece of rock to anyone who steals it.
4. Restoring a phone to factory settings doesn’t wipe data
While we’re on the topic of your phone ending up in the wrong hands, keep in mind you might give it to those people voluntarily. What do you do with an obsolete phone? Probably sell it on eBay and get a newer one. The thing is that, even if you restore the phone to factory settings before you sell it, a backlog of your data remains buried on the device. A determined hacker could easily retrieve it if it is not properly wiped. This is not possible if the data is encrypted in the first place.
5. Encryption can prevent blackmail
And then there’s information that you don’t want other people to see. Like your browser history (wink), or certain pictures you may have sent to acquaintances (wink, wink). In the hands of the wrong people, these things could be used to blackmail you – pay up or we make this public. I would be much harder to end up in this kind of situation if you exchange only encrypted files over a secure connection. You ought to do just that.
6. The government is also watching you
The events since the turn of the century have made more and more governments equate security with surveillance. Chances are, law enforcement is collaterally listening in on you – the way most widely-used stingray wiretapping devices work is they eavesdrop on everyone in a certain radius, suspect or not. And government agencies are also prone to leaks of information, so it is not impossible for data of yours that they somehow collected to end up in the hands of criminals. It is of your interest to protect it.
7. Encryption doesn’t affect performance
There’s also the “why not?” argument for using encryption. Yes, on some older devices the process of encrypting and decrypting everything all the time may have burdened the processor and affected performance. But if you are using a device manufactured in the last few years or so, the effect is not noticeable. Why not have protection for all the reasons listed above?
8. The more people use encryption, the better
You might be thinking that by using encryption you’re raising suspicion. And yes, if you use encryption only for important secrets, that would be like flagging every message that adversaries should be after. But what if you do it about everything? Both for your banking info, and for telling a friend you’ll be 15 minutes late for a meeting. This levels the playfield and makes the job of cybercriminals much harder.
9. Privacy matters
Last but not least, your privacy does matter. It is an important enough of a human right, that it is protected, for example, by the US constitution. And there is a good reason for that. Privacy is a fundamental right. Like everything else we sometimes we take for granted, privacy is something that we have to stand up for. The political aspect of this is advocacy. The technical side of it is impossible without encryption.