What is End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) and How Does it Work?

Intermediate 3m

What is End-to-End Encryption (E2EE)?

Due to nature of today's digital communications, you rarely communicate directly with your peers. It may appear that you and your friends are exchanging private messages, but they are being recorded and stored on a central server.

You may not want your messages read by the server that relays them between you and the receiver. End-to-end encryption (or, more simply, E2EE) may be the solution for you in that case.

End-to-end encryption is a method of encrypting communications between the receiver and sender so that only they can decrypt the data. Its roots can be found in the 1990s, when Phil Zimmerman released Pretty Good Privacy (better known as PGP).

How does End-to-End Encryption Work?

Endpoints store the cryptographic keys used to encrypt and decrypt messages. This method employs public key encryption.

Public key encryption, also known as asymmetric encryption, employs a public key that can be shared with others and a private key. When a public key is shared, others can use it to encrypt a message and send it to the owner of the public key. Only the corresponding private key, also known as the decryption key, can be used to decrypt the message.

Messages are almost always passed between two parties involved in an exchange via an intermediary in online communications. Typically, that intermediary is a server belonging to an ISP, a telecommunications company, or a variety of other organizations. The public key infrastructure used by E2EE ensures that intermediaries cannot listen in on the messages being sent.

To ensure that a public key is the legitimate key created by the intended recipient, embed it in a certificate that has been digitally signed by a recognized certificate authority (CA). Because the CA's public key is widely distributed and known, its veracity can be relied upon; a certificate signed with that public key is presumed to be authentic. Because the certificate includes the recipient's name and public key, the CA is unlikely to sign a certificate that includes a different public key with the same name.

The Pros and Cons of End-to-End Encryption

Pros of End-to-End Encryption

  • The decryption key does not need to be transmitted with E2EE since the recipient already has it. If a message encrypted with a public key is altered or tampered with while in transit, the recipient will be unable to decrypt it, rendering the tampered contents inaccessible.
  • End-to-end encryption employs public key cryptography, with private keys stored on endpoint devices. Messages can only be decrypted using these keys, so only those who have access to the endpoint devices can read them.
  • Many industries are governed by regulatory compliance laws that necessitate the use of encryption-level data security. End-to-End encryption can assist organizations in protecting their data by rendering it unreadable.

Cons of End-to-End Encryption

  • Government and law enforcement agencies are concerned that end-to-end encryption will protect people who share illegal content because service providers will be unable to provide access to the content to law enforcement.
  • Although messages in transit are encrypted and impossible to read, information about the message, such as the date sent and recipient, is still visible and may be useful to an intruder.
  • At certain points during transmission, some E2EE implementations allow the encrypted data to be decrypted and reencrypted. As a result, it is critical to clearly define and distinguish the communication circuit's endpoints.

Closing Thoughts

In a nutshell, what is end-to-end encryption? The most secure method of transferring data from sender to recipient, preventing data theft, protecting against hackers, and meeting compliance requirements through secure data handling and maintenance.

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    What is End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) and How Does it Work?