The rise of encryption

Tuesday, 22 October 2002, 12:29 PM EST

Information, as any hacker will tell you, wants to be free. From Web-enabled pdas to wireless networks, new technology is making data freer than ever. But if the data are more accessible to you, they're more accessible to anyone who knows where to look for them. To keep valuable information out of the wrong hands, more businesses are turning to the ancient art of encryption, making security software one of the few growth sectors in business technology. Over the past three years, sales of encryption products have jumped 86%, to $248 million — a figure that will rise to $379 million by 2006, according to the research firm IDC.

New information-hashing techniques are easier to use and harder to crack. But for all the high math that goes into the jumbling of important messages, hackers and security types alike realize that while encryption is hard, people are easy. All too often, the best-scrambled plans of cryptographers are laid waste by an overworked IT guy who forgot to flip the encryption switch or a lazy user who picked a too obvious password.

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