February 15, 2022

The Best Encryption Algorithms for Cyber Security

Due to the growing need for more robust encryption, both the private and public sectors have continued developing more advanced data encryption methods. 

In this industry, it's challenging to determine the best encryption algorithm currently available. Throughout this article, I will shed some light on a few of the most popular encryption algorithms available. 

This article will take a closer look at some of the best algorithms available for companies and governments to use when attempting to encrypt their data. 

If you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out our article, how to use encryption which explains a lot of the fundamental terminology I will be using. 

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What is an encryption algorithm?

An encryption algorithm is a mathematical procedure or set of rules that can either perform or determine how data is to be encrypted. An algorithm converts information into meaningless ciphertext and requires a key to transform the data into its original form.

Simply put, the best encryption algorithms are programs that easily allow a sender to scramble their data and then permit a receiver to unscramble it on the other end.  

What are the best encryption algorithms?

There are many different encryption algorithms that rely on various methods of encryption. The following are the best encryption algorithms worth looking into or employing in your encryption framework.

  • 3DES Algorithm
  • AES Algorithm
  • RSA Algorithm
  • ECC Algorithm
  • BlowFish and TwoFish

It’s important to note that these algorithms primarily rely upon the properties of mathematics. The more complex and intricate the mathematical models used, in theory, the more robust the encryption algorithm should be.

I know it’s a lot of acronyms but sit tight because, in just a minute, I will break down the fundamentals of all of the above encryption algorithms.

DES Encryption Algorithm

We’ll start with the grandfather of encryption algorithms for some quick background. In 1976 the DES algorithm or “Data Encryption Standard” was developed by IBM. For most of the late 20th century, the DES was deemed one of the strongest algorithms around.

Data encryption standard (DES) | Set 1 - GeeksforGeeks
DES Encryption Algorithm

In essence, the DES takes 64-bit blocks of plaintext and divides them up into 32-bit blocks. One of the mathematical processes used is known as “XOR” for encrypting and decrypting the plaintext. However, after a long career, DES retired from commercial use in 2005.

3DES vs AES algorithms

These encryption algorithms are still in use today and are some of the more advanced encryption methods used widely throughout the tech industry. 

Both have their merits, but it’s important to understand the fundamentals and to appreciate these encryption algorithm examples. For the most part, AES has outgrown 3DES and is more widely adopted throughout the tech industry.

Using a 3DES Algorithm 

3DES, or “Triple Data Encryption”, was developed to overcome the weaknesses found in the DES Algorithm. 3DES was first released in the late 1990s, during the height of the dot com bubble.

Symmetric Encryption Algorithms: Live Long & Encrypt - Hashed Out by The  SSL Store™
3DES Algorithm 

3DES was designed to apply the DES algorithm at least three times to each block of plaintext data. Due to this repeated level of redundancy, it proved to be much stronger and thus has found its way into other security protocols, like Secure Shell (SSH), OpenVPN, and IPSec. 

However, this algorithm is set to retire in 2023, as mandated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which oversees encryption algorithm deployment.

AES Algorithm: the best VPN encryption algorithm

AES stands for “Advanced Encryption System” and was first approved for use by the NIST in 2001. The AES algorithm works primarily by the principle of mathematical substitution. 

For example, all of the plaintext data is converted into blocks, and the encryption takes place using different types of smaller processes on the blocks. Depending upon the actual block size, there can be as many as fourteen rounds of encryption on the blocks. 

What Is AES Encryption? [The Definitive Q&A Guide]
AES Algorithm

As a result, the AES has become one of the most widely used algorithms today. For instance, it is commonly used in securing websites, e-commerce stores, securing wireless communications and is considered one of the best VPN algorithms.

RSA vs ECC algorithms

The RSA and ECC are two of the oldest and best encryption algorithms used today and are based on mathematical models to encrypt data. However, each algorithm approaches encryption from its own unique angle. For decades, both the RSA and ECC algorithms have been extensively in the cybersecurity industry. 

RSA Algorithm

The RSA algorithm was developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman in the late 1970s.  The mathematical premise for this algorithm lies in the power of prime numbers. 

Essentially, this involves multiplying two large prime integers to yield a much larger prime integer.

Why Does RSA Work - YouTube
RSA Algorithm

The goal is to figure out the reverse process by figuring out the original two prime numbers. It sounds more straightforward than it is, as doing this backward calculation is an extremely difficult task to accomplish.

When used for cyber security, the objective is to make any cyber attacker simply give up due to the time and resources it would take to calculate the initial prime numbers.  Because of the robustness of this algorithm, it is still used quite heavily today.

ECC Algorithm

EEC stands for “Elliptical Curve Cryptography”.  It follows the same mathematical premise as the RSA, but instead of using prime numbers, an elliptical curve is created and used. The elliptical curve uses a parabolic mathematical function such as 

y^3 = ax + b

For instance, an integer representing a segment on the curve is multiplied by another integer to yield the next point on the curve. To break this algorithm, a malicious actor would have to precisely compute every subsequent integer, which would take a serious amount of time to figure out.

What is Elliptic Curve Cryptography? Definition & FAQs | Avi Networks
ECC Algorithm

Like the RSA algorithm, the amount of time it would take a cyberattacker to crack the data of an ECC encryption would be so significant that they would give up out of sheer frustration. In reality, the amount of time and resources needed to break these types of algorithms is just too large and that is what makes them so secure.

Blowfish encryption and TwoFish encryption algorithms

This mathematical algorithm can break large chunks of plaintext data into various 64-bit formats and then encrypt each one individually. It should be noted that the successor to this is known as “Twofish” and can break up the plaintext into differing 128-bit formats.

Blowfish encryption
TwoFish encryption algorithm

This algorithm has been deemed to be lightning-fast and is available for free in the public domain for anybody to use.  

Reviewing the best encryption algorithms

As we covered a few of the best encryption algorithms, I hope it became evident that each algorithm has its particular use cases. From webpage SSH to VPNs, the algorithms are just as unique as the use case they can be used for.

Let’s do a quick recap of the algorithms we touched on and their most popular use cases.

  • DES Algorithm - one of the original algorithms created by IBM but has since been retired
  • 3DES Algorithm - a more robust version of the DES this is used for SSH, IPsec and a few VPN services
  • AES Algorithm - far more robust than the previous two, this is used for web security, wireless communication and a lot of VPN services
  • RSA Algorithm - an older algorithm that uses prime numbers and is still employed in cybersecurity
  • ECC Algorithm - Using a parabolic mathematical function to create an elliptical curve, this algorithm is also still the backbone of many cybersecurity frameworks
  • BlowFish and TwoFish - a conversion of plaintext into a 64-bit or 128-bit format these algorithms are lightning-fast, publicly available and widely used for all kinds of encryption use cases.

With a better understanding of these algorithms, you should now better appreciate the use cases for each algorithm and the best algorithm for each job.