End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) Explained

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End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) Explained


End-to-end encryption is a technique in cybersecurity that hides messages from unauthorized eyes by using encryption techniques. The message will be obfuscated in the sender’s device and only the receiver have the required key to open the message and read it.

E2EE is used by messaging apps to provide a more private communication experience for their users. With E2EE, any service provider that works on transferring messages from sender to receiver, including the messaging app itself, won’t be able to read the messages shared between users.

In this article, we will explore the fundamentals of end-to-end encryption and will see how it’s used in today’s messaging applications.

What is encryption?

Encryption is a data security technique that allows users to protect their data from unauthorized access. To put it simply, encryption changes the plain text into unreadable codes called ciphertext or encrypted text.

A decryption key is then provided to the authorized users which allows them to decode and open the ciphertext. In this way, even if the data is compromised, it would do no good to the attackers as they cannot read the data without having the decryption keys.

With encryption, organizations can secure their data and provide access to authorized users only. It is quite useful when sensitive data is saved on a remote storage or needs to be transferred from one system to another.

Encryption comes in two major types: symmetric and asymmetric. With asymmetric encryption, we will have two separate keys for encrypting and decrypting our data while with symmetric encryption, only one secret key is used for both encrypting and decrypting sensitive data.

The secret keys for decryption in both methods are the only way someone can access the encrypted data and turn it into readable text. Therefore, it goes without saying that the security of these keys is also of paramount importance.

How does end-to-end encryption work?

End-to-end encryption can work with symmetric and asymmetric encryption alike. WhatsApp, the well-known E2EE messaging application uses a combination of both symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

Let’s see how end-to-end encryption works with an example. Please keep in mind that we have simplified this example for better understanding:

“Alice and Bob are using a messaging application that applies E2EE for better privacy. Upon installing the application and creating a profile, both Alice and Bob were automatically assigned keys that are used for encrypting and decrypting communications.

Any communication between Alice and Bob is encrypted in the sender’s device and decrypted in the destination. Of course, Alice and Bob wouldn’t know this process as everything is happening automatically and behind the scene.

When Alice sends a message to Bob, this message is automatically encrypted using Bob’s public key. This key is shared with Alice in a secure manner, ensuring that the key truly belongs to Bob. This message won’t be readable without the corresponding private key which exists on Bob’s device only. As a result, any middlemen like the ISP (the internet provider) won’t be able to read the actual message and will only see a scramble of code.

The encrypted message is then delivered to Bob and decrypted using his private key. The same process happens when Bob sends a message to Alice. The message is encrypted using Alice’s public key and then decrypted on her device once delivered using her private key.”

Where is end-to-end encryption (E2EE) used?

As mentioned earlier, end-to-end encryption is mostly known for its application in securing communications in messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal. However, communications aren’t limited to only messaging applications.

Any other form of communication, such as emails, video calls, and VoIP can also integrate E2EE to provide a more secure and private experience for users.

E2EE encryption can also be used for online storage solutions like cloud services. Cloud storage is becoming increasingly popular among businesses and organizations and E2EE can ensure a safe transfer and storage of sensitive data using a third-party service provider.

In general, end-to-end encryption is used whenever data security and privacy are required in communications and storage and can be helpful in any industry.

Benefits and limitations of end-to-end encryption (E2EE)

End-to-end encryption secures your data and information against prying eyes and helps you to securely transfer and store your data in unsafe setups. It can also provide more privacy to our day-to-day and business communications, making sure that they will remain private for only the authorized parties involved.

End-to-end encryption is also preferred over encryption-in-transit which allows service providers to be able to read the communications as they have access to the keys used for encrypting and decrypting the data.

However, the E2EE is only providing security if the data is compromised online. If the perpetrator gets their hands on the physical device, they can simply gain access to all the data they need. Additionally, the metadata like the details of the sender and receiver and the time will still be available even though the messages are encrypted.

End-to-end encryption has raised some concerns as well as it can be used by criminals and won’t allow authorities to get access to communications during investigations.