Advanced Encryption Standards (AES) is a cryptographic cipher that facilitates security to a significant amount of information you enjoy today. AES forms a symmetric block cipher used by the American government to encrypt sensitive data. What’s more, it is also used by individuals and corporations to protect classified or valuable information. AES 256 encryption is the most widely used method of encrypting and decrypting sensitive information.

AES 256 encryption explained

If you’re wondering what AES 256 encryption is, how about we get a little bit more technical? AES comes from a group of Ciphers known as block ciphers. A block cipher refers to an algorithm that encrypts data on a per-block basis. The blocks are measured in bits. For instance, AES is 128 bits long. That means AES can operate on 128 bits of plaintext to produce 128 bits of ciphertext. Here’s how the cycles break down:

  • 10 Rounds are required for a 128-bit key
  • 12 Rounds are needed for a 192-bit key
  • 14 Rounds are necessary for a 256-bit key

Similar to all modern encryption algorithms, the AES requires the use of keys in encryption as well as decryption processes. AES supports 3 keys with varying lengths; 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit keys. The range of the keys determines the strength of the encryption. Hence, the longer the keys, the stronger the encryption. AES 256 encryption is the strongest. However, when it comes to performance, AES 128 encryption is faster than 256 encryption.

The common uses of AES 256

AES is free for any public, private, commercial, or non-commercial use. However, one ought to be careful when implementing the AES in software since the algorithm was designed on a big-endian system. Majority of personal computers run on the little-endian order. Among the typical uses of AES include:

    • Archive and Compression Tools: Ever downloaded a file off the internet only to realize that it was compressed? That implies that you’ve installed software that relies on AES encryption. Interestingly, common compression tools such as WinZip, 7 Zip, and RAR allows you to compress and decompress files to optimize space. Most if not all compression tools utilize AES to ensure file security!
    • Disk or Partition Encryption: Perhaps you’ve heard of the concept of cryptography and have taken preventive measures such as a disk or partition encryption to secure your data. The encryption software you’ll use will use the AES algorithm. Whether it’s BitLocker, FileVault, or CipherShed, all this encryption software run on AES to keep your information private.
    • VPNs: Interestingly, the AES algorithm is also applied to the development of Virtual Private Networks. VPN involves encryption and tunneling of data on a server operated by the VPN provider. VPNs make users anonymous when undertaking any browsing activities. Most VPNs rely on an AES 256 encryption.
    • Mainstream Applications: AES is also used in a plethora of software and applications you’re familiar with. For instance, master password tools such as LastPass and 1Password uses the AES 256-bit encryption. Ever played Grand Theft Auto? The game engine uses AES to avoid Multiplayer hacking. What of the social media applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger? It’s AES in action!

Behind the scenes: how safe is it?

As mentioned earlier, AES 256 is a symmetrical encryption algorithm that is becoming ubiquitous, probably because it was chosen by the US government. AES encryption will take quite some time for a malware hacker to perform a dictionary attack.

AES 256 is quite straightforward for developers to use. Much of its plumbing has already been done for you in the form of numeral libraries. It presents the encryption methodology in a way that is simple to implement.

Hashing data makes it more challenging to be revealed. Well, more hashing is better. For instance, hashing data 14 times, as done by AES encryption may consume a lot of CPU time. A system with more cores is faster and transparent in use for at least the client side with desktop, tablet, or smartphone. While it’s so easy to use the software, it’s tough to crack without unobtainable muscularity! Notwithstanding, the extensive support for implementations means that you might run into the software sooner than later.