There are many companies that like to claim that your data is protected by military grade encryption. To anyone unfamiliar with the tech-savvy jargon, this will sound like an impenetrable storage where your data is never afraid of compromise. After all, if it’s good enough for the military, then it should be amazing.
I want to refer to the elephant in the room, which does not really exist “military grade”. Well, at least not in the way you think. When companies use the term military grade, it’s primarily for marketing and little else. What they really mean is that their company provides Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256 encryption.
Although the military may use the AES encryption algorithm, it was actually the first public and open cipher approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) to protect information at the “top secret” level. Attaching a military grade to it only promotes sales. So, having dealt with this, we can move on to the important question.
HDG explains: How secure is the military-grade AES encryption algorithm?
We believe that before we can dive into the AES-256 encryption algorithm, it would be better to start with what encryption is.
Encryption is, in essence, splitting information into something incoherent. Then, to decrypt the encrypted information, a “key” is required to complete the encryption. A cipher is a complete end-to-end process involving encryption or decryption.
An example of this would be working with websites encrypted with HTTPS When you try to log in with a password or provide a credit card number, this personal data is encrypted first before sending. This means that only your computer and website can understand the information. Think of your visit to an HTTPS site as a handshake before starting a private conversation (encryption).
Other Levels of Encryption
Military grade encryption – AES-256, which differs from AES-128 and AES-192 in that it has a larger key size in the AES encryption algorithm. Essentially, AES-256 uses a lot of processing power to encrypt and decrypt information, making it difficult for attackers to hack.
When you hear the term “bank-level encryption,” it’s pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that banks tend to use different types of AES encryption from AES-128 to AES-256.
AES-256 is clearly better, but AES-128 is still not over anything. Both are incredibly good encryption protocols for protecting sensitive and personal data. Chances are, you’ve used one or both options quite often without even realizing it. This is because AES-256 has been adopted in many different services and software that does not qualify as military grade encryption.
The US military uses military-grade AES encryption on two fronts. The first secret (unclassified) information is specific to AES-128. The second is for top-secret (classified) information that uses AES-256. When information is processed at both levels through a single entity, AES-256 is adopted as the standard AES encryption algorithm.
Is the AES encryption algorithm unbreakable?
There hasn’t been a single AES-256 hack yet, but it wasn’t due to a lack of attempts. The first attempt at AES hacking was made in 2011 against AES-128 encryption, which used the biclique attack. Biclique attacks encryption about four times faster than the most common standard brute force attack. Failed.
An attack would take over a billion years to break through a 126-bit key, let alone AES-128. As long as data encryption is implemented correctly, there are no known attacks that could compromise the protection provided by AES.
256-bit encryption is equivalent to 2256 keys capability. To put this in perspective, here’s an example. Let’s say one billion supercomputers around the world decide to team up to abandon the AES encryption algorithm. We’ll also assume that they can scan 250 keys per second, which is very good, as it allows them to process roughly one quadrillion keys per second. A year in seconds is about 31,557,600 people.
So this means that with a billion supercomputers doing continuous computation over the course of a year, they will only be able to verify about 275 keys. You would rate the rate at 234 to see less than 0.01% of all key capabilities available. You can rest assured that no one will steal your data anytime soon, as long as it is protected by AES-256 or “military grade encryption”.
How long this protection will last is unknown. It is almost impossible to determine if AES encryption will become obsolete and when it will. The National Institute of Standards and Technology created the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which lasted about twenty years before it was deemed vulnerable to hacking.
AES supports significantly larger key sizes than the one that supports DES, which means that AES can pass the twenty-year mark.
Is military-grade coding necessary?
There are other encryption algorithms that can help protect your personal data perfectly. Just know that there are no industries or services that are 100 percent safe from attacks. Since most people are not accustomed to disclosing their personal information unless it remains secure, services should never apply anything less than the recommended standard. This is AES-256 or something else.