How to Back Up Your Computer

Today’s businesses are faced with many challenges, including regulation and compliance, customer service, and financial management. One major challenge is the growth of company data. Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if all the files on your computer disappeared? Have you thought about how much down time and lost sales an incident like this would cause? These are simple questions that both business owners and employees should be asking themselves on a regular basis. If you did lose data, does your company have a plan in place to restore lost data?

Hopefully the answer is yes. If not, there are steps you can take to make sure your business is backing up data in a proper manner. One method of backup is to use an external hard drive and perform a backup on a daily or weekly basis as you see fit. This method of backup is not recommended because there are too many variables. What happens if you misplace the external drive? What happens if you forget to back up your important files one night? The next best solution would be backing up to tape.

Tape is an inexpensive way to back up your data (though a little out dated). Tape’s biggest advantage is price. Tape backups have a very low price per gigabyte, making tape a viable option if you are trying to keep your IT costs at a minimum. That said, tape backups have been around for a while and have a few problems of their own. Tape drives consist of many moving parts both in the media and the drive, meaning parts will break in time. Also, tape access speeds are dismal when compared to drive-based backup. Tape drives can take several minutes to load and position before you can even begin to access their data. Last but not least, manual tape backup is associated with security risks. Losing a tape with important business information or worse, customer information, would not be good for a company’s reputation.

In order to properly and efficiently back up your data, jumping to the cloud is probably your best bet. The best word to sum up cloud-based backup is “simple.” That’s true in part because most cloud-based backup is now run as a service. The end user performs a one-time full system backup over the public Internet. After that the provider will run incremental backups, only capturing the changes since the last backup, making for a quicker backup. Cloud backup can also be automated for business requirements. With backup automation there is no need for employees to set aside time to back up their endpoints; instead, the backup software will run silently in the background.

Cloud backup addresses problems that both external drives and tape cannot. For example, with cloud backup businesses do not have to worry about employees forgetting to back up their data to an external hard drive, or worse, losing the external hard drive. Tape may sound like a viable option, but there are still too many variables. With cloud backup your data is much more secure because data is always encrypted—while it is being transferred to the data center and at rest in the data center, where it is monitored and protected 24/7. And getting your data out of the data center is much easier then performing a tape restoration. Many cloud providers offer a variety of data restore options, including but not limited to right-click restore, web restores, and media restores.

Cloud-based backup is the way forward and has tremendous upside for business owners. Backup technology is no longer a nice to have for business but rather a must have. Developments in technology as well as an increase in cloud backup vendors has helped to significantly decrease prices, making cloud backup much more accessible than you might think. What can cloud backup do for you?

Make Digital Backups of Your Precious Family Photos

One very vivid memory I had growing up was the amount of time I spent looking through my family photo albums. I remember the days when I would sit down with my mother and father looking at photos, asking them questions about the very first apartment that we lived in, or about the time when we got our first dog, and about the pictures of them before I was born. Even to just go back and reminisce on that one summer when we took a family trip to Disney World brought back so many great memories and conversations. I always loved these moments.

The thought of not having these pieces of memorabilia never even crossed my mind. What if my father never had those photos developed? What if my mother never collected those photos and put them into albums? Today, in the world of digital, in the world of the cloud, I wonder the same thing about my pictures, and the moments in time that I have the responsibility to capture for future generations. Every picture that I capture now is taken through my digital camera or my smartphone. With the over abundance of ways that we can capture pictures, the need for digitally backing up these photos to one safe place is more important than ever. While it’s easy to think that by simply keeping your pictures on your camera, your smartphone, or even on your computer is secure, in actuality, it is not. What would happen if that camera or phone gets lost, or if your desktop computer crashes? How many memories will be lost if your printed photos go missing or get misplaced during a move or home relocation?

Some of our best moments in our personal history are captured through photography. Pictures give us the ability to share stories that are most important to us. It’s important to safeguard our photos so that our memories are not lost forever. Luckily there are digital backup tools that have been created to make digital storage easy and automatic. These advanced tools leave out the unnecessary manual process and time that it used to take to back up files and photos. Digital storage options that are available today allow you to access your files from your home computer or from your smartphone and download at the simple click or tap of a button. In this day and age, I wouldn’t even think twice about not backing up my important pictures.

Digitally backing up your photos allows you to save, store, and preserve everything from old family photos to those amazing, in-the-moment photos taken from your smartphone. I couldn’t imagine having my kids miss out on the cherished memories that I had as a child, looking through old photos, and reminiscing on old times. Having a digital backup system assures me that my family photos will be passed on safely for future generations to keep and share for decades to come. What methods are you using to back up your most cherished family photos?

Social Media – The New Face of Disaster Response

A few weeks ago I received a notification from Facebook to let my friends know that I was safe from a bomb that apparently went off near me. I live in rural Utah and couldn’t find anything related to the bomb in the local news outlets. Unfortunately, a real bomb went off in Pakistan nearly 8,000 miles away. I later found out that Facebook had a glitch in their system, causing the same notification to be sent to many throughout the world. This made me realize that social media is a quick new way to communicate during a disaster.

As early as 2007, residents where a disaster hit started using hashtags in Twitter as an organized way of tracking what was happening in the aftermath of a disaster. You can easily find updates to a disaster when you know which hashtag is being used. Today we have a better understanding that social media is a quick way to communicate the effects of a disaster to a broader audience. The infographic below from our friends at the University of San Francisco demonstrates just how beneficial social media has been during different disasters. After perusing, let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


USF Online MPA Program

Fun and Professional Casual Friday Looks for Spring

Ah, springtime is here! Time for renewal, purge cleaning, and the welcomed freedom from winter’s bitter temperatures. With that sweet sunshine also comes the opportunity for some fun new style picks. And, for those working in the corporate world, you can use Casual Friday as your runway. Unfortunately, some can get carried away with their own interpretation of what is truly “casual” and make it look more like a Saturday morning at home. Here’s some do’s and don’ts for fresh sartorial picks that show off your personality at the office while still keeping it professional.

Shoes

DON’T: flip-flops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, it’s nice to give your precious little piggies some air, but flip-flops are one flimsy strap away from basically being barefoot and therefore they have no place in the office—unless your office is a beach, in which case carry on, you lucky devil.

DO: flat strappy sandals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opt for a low-key yet classy strappy sandal look instead. Your feet will feel less restricted while also ensuring they don’t flop out or make obnoxious noises walking past a co-worker’s desk. There’s nothing more obnoxious than the ol’ “flip-flop” sound. Equally important: maintained toenails!

DON’T: platform heels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Platform heels are all the rage right now, but there’s really no place for them in the office whatsoever. There’s no need to tower over everybody to make your presence known! Save these for the Friday night after Casual Friday!

DO: vintage-inspired T-straps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A go-to look this spring is to kick it old school with classic vintage styles. A cute ’40s-esque heel is just feminine, comfortable, and adds a sweet touch of playfulness.

DON’T: your gym shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course your running shoes are no doubt the most comfortable pair of kicks you own, but unless you’re anticipating quitting your job and jetting out the door as you thumb your nose at the boss, these just don’t look good in a corporate setting.

DO: flats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although flats doesn’t have the support of tennis shoes, some would argue their smooth and snugness to be just as comfortable. Plus, you can more easily slip them off under your desk without anyone noticing.

Pants

DON’T: ripped jeans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our modern times love to drop a pretty penny for a pre-shredded pair of denim, but as weed-whackers are typically not allowed in board meetings, neither should these babies.

DO: cuffed skinny jeans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we’re not taking denim away from you! It is Casual Friday, after all. Choose a sleek pair of straight-legged jeans and roll them up to pair with a nice heel or flat for a relaxed but chic statement outfit.

DON’T: sweatpants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This should go without saying, but for some reason sweatpants at work still persist. No matter how much certain brands try to dress them up and make them trendy, at the end of the day, they are still sweatpants and it will always say you gave as little effort as possible. You can and will put real pants on—the weather’s too nice to still be this lazy!

DO: vintage-inspired high-waisted slacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pants with a high waist and a wide leg are the secret weapon for dressing incredibly comfortably while still appearing very composed and calculated. The perfect solution to having to part with your sweatpants for just one more work weekday.

Skirts

DON’T: bodycon mini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While this can be toned down with some tights, body con skirts are simply too snug and short for the office—like a tube top for the bottom half.

DO: A-line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A classic A-line skirt is always as romantic as proper and put-together. Pick out a floral one to perfectly ring in springtime!

 

DON’T: strappy tanks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure they’re cute and comfortable, but letting too much of the guns out at the office still doesn’t cut it for workplace appropriate. Not to mention it’s always freezing! Aren’t you cold? We’re always cold!

DO: patterned blouse over a strappy tank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sophisticated way to still have a bit of a sleeveless look is to wear a camisole over a patterned sheer blouse. And yes, a camisole. Incorporating your bra into your outfit should not be a thing. Ever.

T-shirts: do or don’t?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dress up a T-shirt by tucking it into a pair of high-wasted pants or skirt and adding either a collared shirt underneath, or a cardigan or blazer overtop. When it doubt, you can never go wrong with adding a blazer and a clean pair of shoes. Simple and chic!

There you have it, my fashionable little professionals! Welcome springtime’s temperatures and pastel palettes in these tasteful choices and be sure to start the season off with a hopefully raise-inducing style!

How Cloud Backup Options Benefit a Small Business

Depending on the size of your business, the cost of lost data could total in the millions. A 2015 Ponemon Institute Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis found among 350 companies in 11 countries, the average cost per lost or stolen record is $154. The average complete data breach cost is $3.79 million, while unexpected damage caused by natural disasters, physical hardware theft and lost hardware or employee error are other factors that make small business digital data so vulnerable to threats. Off-site backup options that use cloud storage technology and encryption security help ensure data protection and peace of mind when dealing with sensitive company material.

Besides the high cost of permanent loss of data, temporary data loss can be debilitating. The Data Center Journal reported in 2013, the average cost per minute of unplanned downtime was nearly $8,000, which was an increase of more than 40 percent compared to 2010. The average reported outage length was nearly an hour-and-a-half in 2013, which would cost a business nearly $700,000. For e-commerce sites, downtime not only results in loss of sales, but negative sentiment and loss of trust in a company, as breaches against companies like Target have shown. The company has agreed to reimburse financial institutions more than $100 million for a 2013 breach, according to The Wall Street Journal. Cloud backup is constantly monitored against breaches and provides uptime guarantees, while keeping data safe, secure and easily recoverable.

What is cloud backup?
Cloud backup is simply data storage located on an external server away from the business, with security functions in place to make sure the data stays safe, and with immediate backup that allows data to instantly be recovered should something negative happen to the physical servers. It also helps alleviate in-house IT needs, since data is backed up and accessible with user permissions from any device, from anywhere.

Research and advisory firm Gartner reported an increase of nearly 5 percent in worldwide spending on information security in 2015 over 2014, to reach more than $75.5 billion. As hackers become more sophisticated, and businesses need to protect customers’ personal information, data protection is of increasing importance to both large and small business enterprises. The Ponemon Institute report states a 23 percent increase in total cost of data breach since 2013, while the Breach Level Index reports more than 3.7 billion records lost since 2013 as of March 2016. As data protection becomes more affordable, and breaches do more damage, return on investment for off-site backup makes sense.

What to look for in off-site backup data protection
When considering backup options for your small business, consider the following qualities:

•     Automatic backup protections. With automatic cloud backup, you won’t have to worry about remembering to backup            your data — the off-site backup does the work for you. Services that offer the option to time backups throughout the day            give your small business continuous protection and safeguard your data.
•     Multi-device capabilities. In today’s mobile age where increasing numbers of employees conduct business activities on            mobile and tablet devices, and more employers allow a bring-your-own-device landscape, backup from devices beyond            desktops is essential. ZDNet reports 74 percent of organizations            currently use or plan to allow employees to bring their own            devices to work, so it’s vital to look for a data protection provider            that works on any device.
•     Instant restoration. To decrease the amount of downtime your            business might experience, cloud backup should offer one-click            data restoration to keep you moving.
•     Industry grade security. Besides guaranteeing 99 percent            uptime for data, a data protection service should offer the same            security standards that are used by institutions such as the            military and banks to give a business the highest quality security            available. Multi-encryption standards make sure data is protected            from breaches.

Security issues can happen at any time, which is why 24/7 customer support is also a critical consideration. There are backup options to fit any business budget, and when you weigh the costs of data loss, investing in off-site backup makes financial sense for your business and your customers.

How the Internet of Things will Change Your Business

Small businesses across many industries are using the Internet for more devices now than ever before. Beyond point of sale terminals, tablets, laptops and desktops, the Internet is now collecting and transferring data from:

Touchscreen self-serve kiosks
     •     Metering and monitoring devices on equipment and machinery
     •     Barcode readers
     •     Trucks and company vehicles
     •     Drones for cameras and transport
     •     Lighting
     •     Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
     •     Building security
     •     Wearable devices
     •     Product inventory

Though all of these devices, sensors, and items will cost your business money, there are tremendous savings opportunities to be discovered.

Here are six areas of your business where the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive down cost, create efficiency, and lighten your workload.

1. Operational Building Costs
Let’s say you are a Chartered Accountant, and you needed to work late at the office. You were the last out of the building, and forgot to do the rounds and turn off corridor lighting. Fortunately, you are equipped with a smartphone enabled device, so you can turn off the lights from your driveway, instead of driving back to the office.

Climate control, security systems and other environmental infrastructure can also be interfaced with a mobile application. You’ll benefit from the system’s convenience, and the cost savings of being able to regulate your office even when you’re not at the office.

2. Self-Serve Kiosks and Devices
Here are a few more scenarios. Let’s say you run a restaurant, or a retail store. Your employees work hard, yet there are often long line-ups, or your employees can’t be in every aisle. Self-serve touch screen devices can take food orders, help shoppers find what they are looking for, and even find out about promotional offers you have in your establishment.

If you your business is in an area where it is difficult to get qualified employees to serve your customers, or if your business is growing rapidly, IoT connected kiosks, tablets and other devices will increase the accuracy of customer orders, increase the productivity of your staff on the floor, and improve customer satisfaction.

Cashier-less check-out machines have helped to process express lane customers for several years. Since fewer customers are using cash, and turning to credit and/or debit cards, so it seems fairly certain retail transactions will continue to evolve to automated systems.

3. Connected Equipment Monitoring Devices
If your business is in the manufacturing or construction business, you will have machines and equipment which require regular maintenance. Connecting these company assets to the IoT ensures they are maintained either on a usage cycle, when they are due for some down time, or in case a sensor identifies some sort of performance or safety issue.

4. Telematics
Telematics sensors can be equipped on transport trucks or fleet vehicles, to monitor for maintenance, performance, or on-site/off-site location. Although telematics gear and related apps historically have been geared towards large enterprise and public sector, the technology cost is now affordable for small and medium businesses.

5. Wearable Devices
The use of fitness bands, smart watches and IoT enabled garments continues to evolve for personal and business use. For healthcare-related businesses, patients with diabetes, dementia or other mental/physical challenges can be outfitted with connected devices which will alert loved ones or medical professionals in case of an emergency.

6. Practical Uses for Drones
Internet-connected drones have been getting a bad rap lately for their privacy implications and safety. If you have a large warehouse, or operate farms with livestock, or plants, drones can be very useful.
     •     Want to find out where your horses went when the gate wasn’t            secured?
     •     Looking to find out if you have any forest green gas ranges left in inventory, but don’t want to walk back in the            warehouse?
     •     Interested in creating a video of your car dealership from a few hundred feet above, and stream it to the web?
           There are drones for that!

The Internet of Things offers small businesses many opportunities to save money. The role of employees and management will change as more tasks become automated, small businesses will find ways to benefit, and adapt to the evolution of smart things.

The Automation of Life

The other day I took my niece and nephew to a local McDonald’s for lunch. As we walked in we were greeted by a large touch screen that had an “Order Here” sign above it. Customers can order how they want their food right from the screen. But being a person who would rather talk to a human, I walked up to the counter to place my order. Whether this move to automating the ordering process is in response to demands for a minimum pay increase or if the new generation is more comfortable touching a screen than talking to a human is still up for debate. But it got me thinking about what other processes or jobs are being automated in our new world of touch screens, Internet of Things, and mobile devices.

Dangerous jobs
With the advancements of technology, humans are being removed from situations where they could be hurt or even killed. Sophisticated remote devices are used to check for bombs and life-threatening chemicals. Drones patrol the skies over battle zones and can even attack targets that have been identified by someone in a remote location.

Not long ago the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was badly crippled by an earthquake and then a tsunami. The lingering radioactive fallout as well as the unstable structure of the plant made it nearly impossible for someone to investigate the area without dying. Scientists developed an autonomous drone to fly into the area and investigate. The drone self-guides with the use of lasers to avoid obstacles and can even replace its own batteries and work where GPS doesn’t.

Cashiers
Not only are we seeing the first steps to replacing minimum wage labor at fast food restaurants, the same is happening at grocery stores. One person can now supervise up to 10 registers where customers scan their food and other goods before paying. No longer do we need someone to provide change or scan our card card thanks to the automated payment.

Banks
A few years ago you were out of luck on getting cash if you weren’t fortunate enough to get to the bank during “bank hours.” That was until the Automated Teller Machine, otherwise known as the ATM, became a feature of banking. Along with online banking, you can now deposit and withdraw funds at all hours of the night as well as weekends and holidays without needing a human to handle the transaction.

Warehouses 
Warehouses that fulfill hundreds if not thousands of order per day are improving efficiency by automating the packing and shipping of goods. They have also automated the process of transporting goods from one point to another, saving the company money and improving efficiencies. If Amazon is correct, UPS and FedEx delivery drivers will one day be replaced by drones, which will leave our orders on our doorsteps.

Data protection
So much information has become digitalized! Our music is now files rather than tracks on CDs (or if you’re older, grooves on vinyl). Pictures are now viewed on a computer or mobile device rather than being printed. In the past, in order to protect your photos, you would store them away from moisture and heat. Now we worry about hard drive crashes. Backing up these new digital versions is necessary, especially for preserving family pictures, which can’t be replaced if they are lost or otherwise damaged. Rather than burning copies to DVDs or backing up to hard drives and then safeguarding those copies at mom’s house, we now rely on cloud backup. With a few clicks of a button you can back up your music, photos, and other precious data to an offsite location to ensure that they’re protected in case of an emergency. And to further simplify the process, you can schedule backups to run when your computer is idol.

We might not always like where automation is taking us, but there is no escaping the fact that automation is becoming more and more a part of everyday life.

Now where is my e-reader? I want to check if that bestseller has been automatically downloaded.

Small Business Owners and IT: Yes, You Can DIY

Running a small business requires creativity, a relentless work ethic, and the ability to wear multiple hats at any given time. While regular employees can “turn it off” once they leave the office, owning a business is a 24/7 undertaking and business owners simply don’t have that luxury.

No matter what type of business you own, it’s likely that technology plays a key role. These days more business is done via smartphones and computer screens than ever before. So it stands to reason that in order to remain competitive in the marketplace, small business owners have to stay on top of their technological needs. Generally this means having to pay an expert to manage their IT process.

The problem is, a lot of business owners can’t afford a dedicated IT admin, and as a result many tech issues go unresolved.

But what if there was a way for the small business owner to manage some of these IT needs themselves, without having to hire an outside person? Luckily there is! Here are a few ways that business owners can pick up tech skills that are relatively easy to learn, yet incredibly powerful for helping manage a small business.

Look online
Whether you are just starting out and handling multiple tasks within your company or you are an experienced business owner, every entrepreneur can benefit from continuing education and do so without paying tuition and taking evening classes at the local community college.

These days there are a number of online resources that will help develop skills in any subject matter—information technology included—often for free or at a much lower cost than college or tech school tuition.

Among the most popular options (Udemy, Coursera, and Lynda), business owners can learn from experts in their field the skills needed to become proficient in managing technology issues.

Reach out to your local Small Business Development Center
Small Business Development Centers work in conjunction with local colleges and universities to provide training, advice, and assistance to small business owners. They offer courses, workshops, and seminars on a range of topics from how-to courses on accounting software to Internet marketing and managing tech issues.

While the exact courses and workshops offered may differ from one SBDC to another, they generally will offer some basic instruction on managing technology for small businesses.

Seek out a mentor
Although online coursework and workshops are an invaluable resource for business owners, all learning doesn’t have to be completely structured. Organizations like SCORE match retired executives with small business owners who are in need of advice or help.

These interactions generally take place on a one-on-one basis, and an owner can get help on a wide variety of business topics from general business to specific technology-related questions.

In addition to the one-on-one assistance, SCORE’s website also offers online learning options. These can serve to supplement the other learning options and help reinforce understanding in a particular subject area.

By educating yourself on your company’s technological needs, and working with the correct tools and professionals to help you make sense of it all, you’ll be well on your way toward long-term success—all without a negative hit to your bottom line.

A Look at the Future: Predicting Techological Progress Over the Next Century

In 1989, the movie “Back to the Future II” showed main character Marty McFly traveling to the then far-flung future date of October 21, 2015. While some of the predictions suggested by the movie actually came to be—such as computer headsets, video conferencing, hands-free gaming, and self-tying shoes—flying cars are noticeably missing from modern-day life.

There is a certain impulse in life to skip to the last chapter in the book. In an attempt to get in on the future-guessing trend, in this post we look at the current trends of modern technology to predict what you should expect to see in the next 100 years.

Within the next 20 years

     •     Autonomous cars will be a reality. Autonomous car features            such as automatic brakes, hands-free parallel parking, and            collision avoidance will find their way into more cars (while            engineers figure out a way around the autonomous car’s            biggest hurdle—other drivers).
     •     The first real-world quantum computer will be commercially            introduced (and binary digits will give way to quantum bits, or            qubits).
     •     Internet of Things technology will reinvent how medicine,            clothing, and everyday conveniences work. Imagine a cash            register built into your grocery store shopping cart, where            items placed in the cart are automatically purchased without            the need of a cashier. Imagine your doctor knowing that you            are sick even before you do because she received a message from the ingested computers in your body. With            single-board computers now being as small as 1.5 centimeters, such possibilities are not far off.
     •     3D printing and “bioscaffolding” will make tissue replacement simpler. Regenerative technologies such as            bioscaffolding—or the building of a 3D artificial structure that would encourage tissue growth or even the development of            a new organ—bears the possibility of making tissue donor sourcing and patient organ rejection a thing of the past.

Within the next 50 years

     •     Advances in organic processors and in thermal conductivity for artificial muscles will not only make androids            economically feasible, but will also make fully-functional cybernetic limbs possible. The first true cyborg (in which more            than 50 percent of a person is replaced by mechanical devices) will be introduced.
     •     The world’s media will be completely digitized and made available for general download.
     •     Fuel efficiency and new engine designs such as the pulse detonation engine will make affordable commercial supersonic            and subspace flight feasible.
     •     We will have visited Mars multiple times and will be in the process of establishing a permanent colony on the red planet.

Within the next 100 years

     •     Urban living spaces will be redefined with the advent of vertical farms or skyscrapers in which the floors are dedicated to            indoor farming and cities are self-contained in super-skyscrapers.
     •     The first interstellar flight will have successfully launched to Alpha Centauri (the closest star system to our sun).
     •     Gasoline and other consumable hydrocarbon fuels will be made obsolete by renewable energy sources by the advent of            both micro- and macro-scale fusion reactors and by social moves toward local sustainable living.
     •     Everyone who is currently reading this will most likely be dead.

While we hope you enjoy our list, we recognize that to some predicting the future is an attempt to limit and define what is possible. When asked about predicting the future, science fiction author Ray Bradbury said, “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it … You look … around you … and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”

It may be that the best prediction of the future is that the future is unpredictable; the human spirit is infinite and so is its possibilities.

The Basics of Data Encryption

As the world becomes ever more connected, data encryption—once a topic so unsexy it almost seemed taboo—has slowly turned into a hot topic that we’ve come to rely on more and more. With your phone spouting off your credit card number and with people logging into Facebook at every public computer they can find, data about us is everywhere and it’s valuable. Data encryption is how programmers can make sure that our data doesn’t fall into places where it wasn’t intended to go. But how does it work?

Encryption was born out of cryptography, the science of secret codes. Just like if you wrote a note with a cipher and only someone with the same cipher could decode it, encryption requires a key. Quality encryption always has one common feature: the algorithm (aka the process to encrypting something) can be public, but the key will always be private. Even the smartest hackers in the world can’t break into encrypted data if they don’t know the key.

Encryption ciphers of today fall into one of two categories: secret key and public key. Secret key is also known as symmetric cryptography because both people (or computers) must have the same key, and it is usually used for sensitive or private data. Data Encryption Standard (or DES) was one of the strongest secret-key algorithms when it was first made available for public use in the 1970s.

Public-key, or asymmetric, algorithms use a pair of keys: one public key that’s to be shared with other people and one private key that’s kept in secret by its owner. This way, anyone can send the owner encrypted data by using the public key, but only the owner can decode those messages using the private key.

Secret-key ciphers are either stream or block ciphers. Stream ciphers encrypt data one bit at a time by writing a long string of bits with no repeats and hiding the message within it. One common example of this type of cipher is the RC4 (Ron Rivest’s Cipher #4), which is used by a large number of e-commerce stores. Other uses for stream ciphers include cellphone traffic and satellite TV signals.

Block ciphers, on the other hand, encrypt data in blocks of multiple bits. This results in an encrypted data block that is the same size as the original data block. For example, DES takes 64-bit blocks and returns another 64-bit block using a 56-bit key.

Other examples of block cipher encryption methods are Blowfish and AES. Blowfish was introduced by Bruce Schneier and uses huge keys. Its block size is 64 bits and it provides a good encryption rate with variable key length of from 32 bits up to 448 bits. AES, on the other hand, accepts keys of 128, 192 or 256 bits and uses 128-bit blocks—double the size of Blowfish and DES. AES replaced the aging DES in the 1990s as the standard symmetric encryption algorithm for the US government.

Data encryption is a big topic and encompasses the fields of mathematics, computer science, and cryptography. In its simplest form, encryption is just a way of changing information that makes it unreadable by anyone except those in possession of the key, which is what allows them to change the information back to its original form. Because the amount of data the world creates will likely never fail to increase and because that data must be protected from increasingly more sophisticated hackers, data encryption will continue to be a hot topic.