What Is SSL Encryption (256 Bit)?

By G.S. Jackson

Advanced encryption and SSL allow for secure communication channels between computers.
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Regular encryption simply encrypts a file or message and sends it to another person who decrypts the message using some sort of decryption key. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption maintains encrypted channels of communication between computers to facilitate the transfer of secure data. This makes transactions such as online banking a possibility. For such communications, people typically expect strong encryption, and 256-bit encryption standards offer just that.

Advanced Encryption Standard

Since digital communication has become so ubiquitous within the federal government, the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed the Advanced Encryption Standard to safeguard information. This specification dictates a complex encryption algorithm that can use cipher keys of differing lengths of 128-bit, 192-bit or 256-bit. While this process is quite complex mathematically, the AES standard attempts to present an encryption method in which the message is not decipherable from its encrypted form, and that cipher keys are impossible to guess through computational means.

256-Bit Encryption

The resiliency of an encryption method is directly tied to its encryption key. The harder a key is to guess, the less likely that a third party can computationally figure it out and apply it to an encrypted message. For example, it would take roughly a few billion years to break a 128-bit encryption key through brute-force (guessing) techniques, making even 128-bit keys extremely secure. A 256-bit encryption key would be nearly impossible to guess or decipher.

Secure Sockets Layer

Secure Sockets Layer represents a type of encryption based on data "tunneling," where two computers initiate an encrypted communication channel through the negotiation of encryption methods. When connecting to a server through SSL, your browser first requests an authentication certificate. Once the certificate is verified, both computers negotiate an encryption method and then your browser sends an encryption/decryption key to the server. Now, all communications during the session will be encrypted using the agreed-upon technique.

256-Bit SSL

An SSL connection using a 256-bit cipher key for encryption and decryption purposes is 256-bit SSL. This level of encryption is highly secure and used most often for communications with banks and credit agencies to maintain the privacy and security of customers. However, 256-bit SSL requires a bit more computation on both the client and server computer's behalf, which means the connections are slower. Other SSL communications that do not deal with such sensitive material as bank information might use 128-bit encryption just as effectively.