What is AES Encryption, and How Does It Work?

Aliu Isa Last updated: May 15, 2023 Read time: 21 minutes Disclosure

Your online safety, security, and privacy are of utmost importance, and AES encryption ensures you have all of it.

Today, most services offer data encryption that converts a normal text into a Ciphertext – the unreadable form – to protect the users’ valuable information from prying eyes. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the most reliable, secure, and fastest encryption model, ensuring robust protection against cyber-attacks and data theft. It codes the online information in several rounds and steps, depending upon the key sizes, after which the data appear gibberish to anyone without the required decryption key. Let’s learn more about AES encryption in this guide.

The world isn’t safe anymore. Unfortunately, it’s true not only for our physical space but online too. Hackers and other cybercriminals are always lurking around, looking for ways to gain access to your data. This can be pretty scary.

So, how would you ensure your online information remains safe wherever you may be?

The answer lies with encryption – the transformation of your data from readable to unreadable form to protect it from snoopers.

Today, encryption exists in various forms to protect your data at rest and during transit. Of all the types available, AES encryption is by far the most popular and widely used, such that it’s become the universal standard for keeping communication and information safe.

What makes AES so unique and useful? How does it ensure to provide thorough safety to my data? I hear you ask.

To answer these queries, this article focuses on what AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is all about, its working mechanism, and its history. Also, I will elaborate on some security matters and answer pressing questions.

Let’s begin!

What is AES encryption?

Advanced standard encryption, technically referred as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a safe and fast cipher that keeps your data away from the prying eyes.

Technically, it is the symmetric form of encryption where only a single key ciphers and deciphers the data. While this sounds simple, what makes AES the gold standard is the application of multiple rounds of encryption which makes the algorithm impossible to penetrate.

Currently, AES is the only NSA-approved cipher available for public access.

Owing to its usefulness and security, AES presently backs numerous sectors where encryption is needed. These include hardware technologies, social media, VPNs, data protection tools, and even messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp.

Why the need for AES? Quick retrospective look

Earlier, encryptions weren’t complicated. People used simple tricks and techniques, such as changing the letters to the next alphabet in a sentence, to decipher a message. But as the old methods became known, people had to involve complications.

AES encryption screenshot

As seen above, the code appears unreadable. But despite its apparent unreadability, someone knowing that it’s a code and not gibberish would likely figure it out.

With people becoming more tech-savvy, encryption evolved and became more complex to meet consumers’ demands. This eventually led to interesting inventions like Enigma machines (cipher devices) that first appeared in 1918 when Arthur Scherbius (a German inventor) patented its primitive design.

Rise and fall of DES encryption

During the 1970s, the United States National Bureau of Standards (NBS) adopted Data Encryption Standard (DES) as a means to encrypt sensitive government data. DES was a symmetrical key algorithm created by IBM that served well for a few decades. However, given the rise in security risks, the effectiveness of DES began to diminish until the 90s.

One of the limitations of DES was that it featured a 56-bit key. (This is a shortfall to the 256-bit encryption known with AES today). So, with more technological advancement and better ways of cracking systems, it became feasible to attack DES.