Learn about the inner workings of AES 256 encryption, symmetric cryptography, and the most effective encryption algorithm.
Before we get to AES 256 encryption, have you ever been curious about how the US government stores its nuclear codes?
It could be on a document in an Oval Office vault with the warning “EXTREMELY TOP SECRET.” Who knows? Maybe it’s tattooed on the president’s—never mind.
One thing that’s certain is that government secrets and military-grade information are encrypted using a variety of encryption protocols—AES 256 being one of them.
And the best part about it is that AES 256 isn’t a privilege of the state alone; it’s a public software that you can use to reinforce your Data, OS and firmware integrity.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about your data, AES 256 and everything in between.
It will also explain why AES 256 is the closest your organization will ever get to a data security magic wand (and why it’s not one).
What is AES 256?
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256 is a virtually impenetrable symmetric encryption algorithm that uses a 256-bit key to convert your plain text or data into a cipher.
That’s a lot of jargon but don’t despair—it gets a lot easier from here.
How Does the AES 256 Encryption Work?
To understand the intricacies of AES 256 encryption, you have to detour onto the operations of basic encryption protocols like the DES.
Encryption is an excellent option for mitigating file sharing security risks. It works by taking plain text or data and using a key to convert it into a code called a cipher. Cipher code is an unreadable and effectively indecipherable text that neither humans nor computers can understand.
With that out of the way, let’s delve into the complicated workings of AES 256 encryption. Hold your hats because this is where things get interesting. AES works in the following steps:
- Divide Information Into Blocks
The first step of AES 256 encryption is dividing the information into blocks. Because AES has a 128- bits block size, it divides the information into 4x4 columns of 16 bytes.
- Key Expansion
The next step of AES 256 encryption involves the AES algorithm recreating multiple round keys from the first key using Rijndael’s key schedule.
- Adding the Round Key
In round key addition, the AES algorithm adds the initial round key to the data that has been subdivided into 4x4 blocks.
- Bite Substitution
In this step, each byte of data is substituted with another byte of data.
- Shifting Rows
The AES algorithm then proceeds to shift rows of the 4x4 arrays. Bytes on the 2nd row are shifted one space to the left, those on the third are shifted two spaces, and so on.
- Mixing Columns
You’re still there. The AES algorithm uses a pre-established matrix to mix the 4x4 columns of the data array.
- Another Round Key Addition
The AES algorithm then repeats the second step, adding around key once again, then does this process all over again.
What Makes AES 256 Special and Why Should You Use It
That’s enough blabber and technical jargon for today; let’s get to what brought you here in the first place.
Presumably, you want to know what makes AES 256 special, what distinguishes it from the rest and what it brings to your table.
AES 256 brings a lot to your cyber security strategy, including:
1. AES 256 is Unbreakable by Brute Force
Saying that it’s impossible to crack AES encryption is a misnomer. A combination of the perfect brains, the most powerful computer and sheer hacking talent can crack through AES encryption.
But it will take, get this, 10-18 years to do that.
This makes AES 256 and the subsequent data that you protect it with unbreakable for the unforeseen future. Take that, hacker.
However, this is on the condition that you don’t share your cryptographic keys with anyone, your dog included.
2. AES 256 Uses Symmetric Keys
As you’ve seen, encryption uses a cryptographic key to turn your plain text and data into indecipherable and unreadable text.
Subsequently, it also uses a similar key to decrypt your encrypted data into cipherable text. There are two types of keys in encryption, these are:
- Symmetric keys.
- Asymmetric keys.
A symmetric key is a type of encryption where you use the same key for encrypting and decrypting data.
On the other hand, asymmetric keys use different keys for encrypting and decrypting data. If you’re wondering which one of two is better, there isn’t—both have their uses.
AES 256 is symmetric-based encryption. Not just that, it’s the most capable symmetric encryption available today. Some of the benefits of using symmetric keys are:
- Has faster encryption speed.
- It is good for internal or organizational data.
- It is excellent for encrypting large volumes of data.
- Requires less computational power to run.
3. Stopping a Security Breach from Turning into a Data Breach
If you go around reading breach blogs and reports, you might get the impression that a breach is the end of the world for any business.
You’re not entirely wrong. According to statistics, 60% of small businesses that face a cyber-attack are out of business within six months.
Nonetheless, there is a lot that goes on between your systems getting breached and you going out of business. It all comes down to:
- How soon you identify the security breach.
- Your ability to contain the breach and prevent its spread.
- The contingencies you have in place.
AES 256 encryption allows you to contain the spread of a breach from getting to your data. Take the worst-case scenario and assume that hackers compromise your infrastructure.
With encryption, the chances of this security breach turning into a data breach are significantly reduced.
That’s one less thing to worry about because on one end, your systems are on fire but on another, your data is in safe hands. This possibility reduced the chances of:
- Compliance issues.
- Data theft.
- Ransomware attacks.
4. AES 256 is the Most Secure of AES Encryption Layer
Remember the complex encryption process you read earlier. Well, it doesn’t happen in just a single round.
It can happen eight, nine, ten, or 13 times depending on the AES layer.
This is because we haven’t mentioned two other layers in the AES protocol. They are AES 128 and AES 192.
Both AES 128 and AES 192 are extremely capable encryption layers. So capable that back in 2012, there was an argument about whether AES 256 was necessary given the capability of AES 128.
It’s crazy how fast things change.
In 2022, there is no longer much of a discussion. It’s clear that quantum computers are on the horizon, and AES 256 is the only way to base your secure file transfer infrastructure on a future-proof framework.
By choosing AES 256, you’re going for the gold standard, the best in the game, military-grade and future-proof encryption layer.
What It Will Take for a Hacker to Crack Your AES- Encryption
For a hacker to gain access to your data protected with AES-256 encryption, they will have to try 2^ 256 combinations with a pool of the most powerful computers in the world.
To put this into perspective, this is a number so large it’s more than the number of atoms in the observable universe.
And if by some miracle, a hacker is able to decrypt an AES 256 and wreak havoc on your systems, that will be the second most impressive feat they achieve in their lifetime.
Why? Because they’ll have to live a billion years first to get even close.
Can AES Work in Isolation? No, and Why You Need Managed File Transfer (MFT)
This is one of those few data security pieces that don’t warn of impending doom. It might even have left you with a little hope and the feeling that the good guys are winning for once.
You’re not wrong. AES encryption is probably the best thing to happen to file security since the Firewall.
But there’s a bigger picture; AES encryption cannot exist in isolation. In fact, your AES system encryption is only as strong as its environment and the infrastructure surrounding it.
Hackers may not be able to brute force your AES 256 algorithm, but they don’t give up that fast. They can (and will) still be able to try and:
- Gain access to your AES 256 cryptographic keys.
- Leverage side-channel attacks such as mining leaked information.
- Accessing your data right before and after encryption.
That being said, you need a data security ecosystem around your AES-256 encryption, and for that, look no further than Managed File Transfer (MFT).
The MFT-AES 256 is akin to a Brady Gronkowski duo. In addition to the foolproof nature of your encryption, MFT will bring:
- Strict access control so that no one gets hold of your cryptographic keys.
- Multi-Factor Authentication to prevent unauthorized access to your AES infrastructure.
- Real-time visibility and reports into file access.
To protect your cloud data in transit and at rest, you need both AES 256 encryption and Managed File Transfer (MFT). You need a system that brings you the best of two worlds, and this is where MOVEit comes in.
With MOVEit, you get AES 256 encryption, multi-factor authentication (MFA), strict access controls, and much more.
For more information, view our MOVEit Transfer Datasheet.