What is Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)?

If you’ve ever heard of encryption, you’ve probably heard the term ‘AES’. But for those of us who aren’t cryptographers, what exactly is it?

We answer just that in this blog article. along with who uses it and how hard it is to crack. (Spoiler: Got all the computers in the world at your disposal?)

What exactly is AES?

AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, but it’s also known as Rijndael (Pronounced ‘rain-dahl’). It was developed by two Belgian cryptographers, Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen in 1998. As you can probably guess, Rijndael is a mix of the creator’s last names.

Since its creation in the late 90’s, AES has effectively replaced every other encryption standard and is now used worldwide. It’s also the U.S. government standard of encryption. They have a lot of faith in it, because it’s the first (and only) publically accessible cipher approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) for top secret information.

When the NSA feels secure using a cipher everyone in the global community has access to, you know it’s got to be good. Especially since AES has been nigh-unbreakable for almost two decades. (And in IT years, that’s amazing)

So What Does AES Do?

The mechanics of AES would make your head spin. That’s half the point. But the ‘simplest’ way to explain it is that it encrypts your data behind a key, sends it somewhere, then uses the same key to decrypt it. Both locations need the key in order to decrypt the data.

aes encryption method

The data key really is the key to the whole thing—pun intended—and it’s measured in data bits. AES keys come in 128, 192 or 256 bits. The longer the key, the better the encryption.

That doesn’t mean a 128-bit key is anything to sneeze at. For instance, the NSA in particular use 128 bit encryption or above to protect classified information up to the SECRET level. That said, TOP SECRET information requires the 192 or 265 AES key lengths.

The neat thing about AES is that it has built-in flexibility of key length. That means there’s a degree of ‘future-proofing’ if anything higher than 256 bits is needed in years or decades to come.

How Hard Is AES To Crack?

Honestly? Next to impossible. And I mean ‘next to’ in the sense that the sun going out tomorrow is ‘next to’ impossible, but we still can’t rule it out.

Since it came out almost two decades ago, nobody has been able to come up with a practical means of attacking and properly reading AES encrypted data—so long as it’s correctly implemented. Yes, even a nigh-perfect encryption protocol can be screwed up if you leave the keys on the table.

In 2011, three cryptanalysts attempted key-recovery attacks on AES. It was four times faster than a brute force approach, but it was still not fast. They calculated that it would take billions of years to steal a 126-bit AES key (two bits short of the lowest standard) on current and available hardware.

Just to take down the lowest 128-bit AES key, they estimated it would take 38 trillion terrabites of data. That’s more than all the data stored on all the computers on the planet in 2016. As you can imagine, this isn’t a pressing security threat.

Microsoft is also another avid supporter of AES encryption. They incorporated into Bitlocker and took AES a step further, if you can believe that.

What is BitLocker?

BitLocker is a full-disk encrypter that uses either 128 or 256-bit AES. This software has a lot of features, but the neatest by far is to create a USB Key that is required to boot a protected operating system (OS).

That means on top of having to crack impossibly tough encryption, any would-be crackers also require a physical USB key to access your data. There’s a reason Microsoft used the codename ‘Cornerstone’ when they were building BitLocker.

AES and Backup Protection

Encryption is a vital component of any backup plan. Why? Because your business data is all in one place. This is particularly important if you store it off-site, where someone can could break in and make off with a physical hard drive. That means sensitive information like your time-sheets, passwords, transaction data and user information are ripe for the taking.

Using AES Encryption—especially with BitLocker—means you can rest assured your backups are safe, even if they’re stolen physically or digitally. I mean, if it takes billions of years and all the computers in the world to crack the lowest level bit key, what are the chances your business data will be compromised?

That’s why BackupAssist offers 128 and 256-bit AES encyption for your backups, as well as support for BitLocker so you can protect your data with a USB key. We’re serious when it comes to protecting your data—whether that means backing it up for data disasters or making it impossible for crackers to get their hands on your files.

Try out our trusty software with a fully featured and free 30-day trial. Protect your backups behind military-grade AES encryption and make sure nobody can get at your business data!

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