13 Apr 2020

End-to-End Encryption – Why it is so Important

End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) ensures the confidentiality and privacy of the parties to a particular communication. Irrespective of the medium chosen, be it text, voice, or video, this technology prevents third-parties from accessing any interaction while it is in transit or at rest. As the vast majority of today’s intercommunication occurs across the Internet, encrypting your information is vital. Users typically leverage a variety of third-party apps and services to interact with their friends, family, and colleagues. Due to the sensitive nature of most interpersonal communications, it is critical they take additional steps to secure their data.

End-to-End Encryption Ensures Confidentiality and Integrity

Confidentiality and integrity are two of the three vital components in the security model that guide secure information practices within an organization. The third element, availability, completes the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA) triad. End-To-End Encryption offers genuine information confidentiality and data integrity. As this technology ensures that no third-party can intercept, alter, or read the messages sent between legitimate parties to a particular communication, its role is crucial in providing the applicable information security guarantees.

How Does E2EE Differ from Traditional Encryption?

Typically, most encryption implementations only encrypt the message between two parties while it is in transit. The encrypted traffic commonly starts when the data leaves your device and ends when it arrives at the receiving party’s server. If we take email as an example, when you send your message, your email client, whether it is an app or your browser, encrypts the data until it arrives at its destination. The receiving party then opens the message in their client or browser without needing to decrypt it first. The organization hosting the recipient’s mail service can read the information as they hold the encryption key. End-to-End encryption differs from this traditional example in that the service provider cannot access any encrypted information. In this scenario, only the two parties to the interaction hold the decryption key, ensuring data confidentiality and integrity between the sender and receiver.

How Does End-to-End Encryption Work?

End-to-End Encryption, as well as traditional encryption, typically uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of information. It also verifies the identity of people, devices, and services. At the core of any PKI service lies the Root Certificate Authority, an entity or service that issues digital certificates. Individuals, organizations, services, or devices requiring a digital certificate to enable encryption, and provide their recipients with a verified identity, issue a certificate request to a designated Certificate Authority (CA). The CA then processes a certificate request generated by the requesting party and issues a digital certificate once they have verified the identity of the requester.

Asymmetric encryption lies at the heart of any PKI solution. The underlying mechanism that forms the foundational architecture of any PKI platform is a pair of encryption keys, one public, and one private. When you send a message or create a secure communication channel, you encrypt the data with your private key. As its name suggests, a private key is only known to the creator of the communication. The recipient receiving the data then decrypts it using the sender’s public key. Root Certificate Authorities hold public keys so anyone can decrypt a message encrypted with a certificate issued by a public CA. For highly confidential information or one-to-one personal communications, a private key pair published on the sender’s device, and not issued by a public CA, is typically utilized.

E2EE leverages the encryption afforded by the asymmetric mechanism that forms a core component in the PKI architecture. Instead of relying on a public Certificate Authority that service providers typically use to encrypt traffic in transit, End-to-End Encryption solutions encrypt the traffic on the user’s client before it leaves their network. When it arrives at the recipient, the service provider is still unable to decrypt it as only the final recipient holds the public key. In this way, the confidentiality and integrity of the communication remain intact.

The Benefits of E2EE

As most communication in today’s digitally-driven society leverages the Internet, End-to-End Encryption is vital in protecting the transmitted information’s validity and sanctity. The principal benefit of using this security standard is that it ensures your data remains secure and private. With fewer parties having access to the unencrypted data, it provides confidentiality and integrity even if a hacker or unauthorized party compromises services used to send or receive the message. End-to-End Encryption also guarantees your privacy. With most individuals using public messaging services hosted by third-parties, encrypting your messages ensures no one, not even an administrator at the hosting provider, can access your personal information.

Privacy is at the heart of everything on the Internet. With major data breaches making the headlines daily and more services moving online, encrypting your data adds a critical layer of protection. However, as with every technology, some use it for criminal or subversive activities. Governments across the world often argue against End-to-End Encryption as they are unable to intercept messages sent by criminals or other radical elements in society. Many are in the process of trying to pass legislation that provides them with a ‘backdoor’ so that they can decrypt any messages at will. Although there may be merit in this legislation, the argument against creating any encryption backdoors far outweighs the potential benefits.

End-to-End Encryption Underpins the Right to Privacy

End-to-End Encryption ensures the integrity and confidentiality of all communication. It accomplishes this level of security by leveraging the asymmetric architecture of a public/private key pair built into Public Key Infrastructure platforms. By ensuring any data is secure from its original source to its final destination, it protects the parties from any unauthorized access to their information. There are objections from governments and other law enforcement bodies against this technology as criminals can leverage it for nefarious purposes. Many have called for encryption backdoors they can utilize to decrypt the messages of their citizens or constituents. However, as with any level of power, what would happen if this ability fell into the wrong hands? If criminal organizations could decrypt any information at will, or if a democratic government is replaced with a totalitarian regime, the results would be catastrophic. The fact is the right to privacy is a fundamental human right and End-to-End Encryption enables this freedom in the digital age.