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128 vs 256-bit SSL Encryption – What are Differences?

When you are searching for SSL Certificate, you will find 128-bit encryption and 256 bit encryption certificates. What’s that?

Below questions comes to your mind.

  • Is 128 bit SSL encryption secure?
  • Is 256 bit SSL encryption secure?
  • What 128 or 256 bit encryption means?

Don’t panic, we have answers.

Let’s start with Encryption:

To help you understand which you should choose, you must also know how data encryption works.

Note that any data shared between two computers is saved in plain text. The primary risk with this is that it can be intercepted and the confidential information either stolen or maliciously changed.

For the digital security certificates to be able to convert plain texts like login details into values or codes that a hacker cannot interpret, they rely on complicated mathematical instructions. The converted information, which is technically known as cipher text, can, however, be decoded and only by the authorized users’ web servers.

The encryption here now works in this way: If you have an active SSL Certificate installed on your website, then a customer lands on the site; the digital certificate will forward public key information to the customer’s browser. This is to ensure that all the information shared between the browser and website server is decoded.

There are two popular encryption options, i.e., Asymmetric encryption and Symmetric encryption.

Symmetric encryption

It is an encryption method that uses just one key to help in both encrypting(encoding) and decrypting(decoding) data.

It is one of the safest encryption methods and one of the oldest models. During encryption with an SSL Certificate, a secret key is used to encode and decode private data.

The secret key here can either be a mix of words and numbers, letters, or numbers that are applied to a specific message. Symmetric encryption is mainly preferred with these digital certificates because it is not only fast but also easily implemented by hardware–it can also easily handle bulk data.

Perhaps the only downside of using this encryption model is the key. It uses just one key, meaning that if anyone exposes the key, then hackers can access the complete information.

Asymmetric encryption:

This refers to two keys out of one is to encrypt the message while the private key is meant to decode the information.

The asymmetric key is also used for exchanging symmetric key. Asymmetric key takes more computational time because the verification and functions of both sides are involved. It may slow down the process while symmetric key saves time in the encryption process.

Advanced Encryption Standard:

AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) being a cryptography standard and an encryption standard announced by the NIST is used all over the world. However, AES is not used in asymmetric cryptography but utilized in symmetric encryption. Symmetric encryption uses a single key for encoding and decoding the information. AES is faster than DES standard and requires low memory usage. Belgian cryptographers have developed AES and it works on 128-bit,192-bit and 256-bit encryption blocks. The reason to apply strong encryption to avert brute force attack happened in 2006.

Why is Data Encryption Essential?

There are many grounds why you should encrypt your data. Here is a rundown of the top five reasons why data encryption is crucial for you and your business.

  1. It will help keep you off possible non-compliance penalties by state agencies. Like we mentioned before, there are specific industries like financial industries and health care industries where data encryption is mandatory. Failure to encrypt data, there are chances that you will get slapped with huge fines in case of data breaches.
  2. It ensures maximum safety if you work remotely. Working remotely is quickly gaining more fame because of the flexibility that comes with it and increased productivity. However, there are a lot of risks that come with allowing employees to work remotely. To ensure maximum safety, it is highly recommendable that you encrypt all your devices.
  3. It also improves faith in your business. When you use the best encryption method, for example, using a verified SSL Certificate on your site, you get trust badges to display on your website, which will make clients trust your brand with their data even more.
  4. It safeguards your privacy. If you wish to keep your sensitive information from leaking to the internet and potentially landing in the dark web, data encryption is the way to go.
  5. It also gives you a competitive advantage. You get this competitive edge on two fronts. Firstly, search engines like Google frown on websites without encryption when ranking their competitors. They also warn off web visitors from your site. Therefore, if you use encryption, especially SSL Certificates, you stand a better chance of gaining a competitive advantage over competitors.

Due to the increase in cyber-attacks and newly techniques, higher encryption is needed so 256-bit encryption should be at least there to secure data.

128 and 256-bits are just key lengths, and in as much as website security is concerned, these key lengths are not directly proportional to your website’s security. Instead, website security is determined by your server capabilities and technologies that have been put in place. These keys are, however, still crucial.

Difference between 128-bit vs. 256-bit encryption:

  • If you see the beneath table, it takes 31 x 1056years to crack it compare to 128-bit encryption.
  • 256-bit key takes 14 rounds of AES compare to 10 AES rounds in 128-bit key.
  • The speed issue for ISP will be solved with a 256-bit key.
  • With the advancement of computational power, 128-bit is easy to crack compared to 256-bit key.
  • Most certificate authorities have moved to 256-bit encryption nowadays.

When you buy a 128-bit encryption SSL Certificate, it means that the certificate can encrypt secure connections up to 128-bits. The same pertains to a 256-bit certificate.

The length of the key here (either 128 or 256-bits) is a representation of how resistant the encrypted connections are to be guessing.

Key Size Average Time to Crack
56-bit 399 Seconds
128-bit 1.02 x 1018 years
192-bit 1.872 x 1037 years
256-bit 3.31 x 1056 years

From the table above, you notice that 128-bit may take too long to crack while 256-bit will take lots of decades to crack.

That is a lot of numbers that even if the hacker dedicated all his life guessing each of them, he would not complete guessing all of them. Even for the current quantum computers, it would still take very many decades to try all these combinations and get the right one.

Besides, SSL Certificates have a very short lifespan and Google is even pushing for the lifespan to be slashed down from 825 days to just 397 days. That means the renewals ratio will be on high rate equipped with modern algorithms so even before a hacker could crack the first one.

Final Word

Both certificates, which offer bit-128 and bit-256 encryption, provide high-level security that is very difficult to crack. However, the option that most people prefer is going the certificates which provide bit-256 encryption because they take even more time to guess and are the hardest to break.

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