Advanced Encryption Standard (AES): A Practical Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is AES?
  2. Why AES matters in cryptography
  3. How AES works
  4. How to apply AES in security
  5. AES implementation: challenges and solutions
  6. AES encryption and decryption process
  7. Real-world AES applications
  8. AES limitations and alternatives

Picture this: you're sending an important email to your co-worker. You want to ensure only they can read the content. How can you make sure this happens? The answer lies in a special way of scrambling your data, called the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Let's dive into understanding the advanced encryption standard (AES) together.

What is AES?

AES, or Advanced Encryption Standard, is like a secret code language that computers use to keep your data safe. When you send an email, AES is like a secret box that only the person you're sending to can open. For everyone else, it just looks like gibberish. But how exactly does AES work?

Think of AES like a game of mix and match. It doesn't just scramble your data once, but several times. This process involves three main steps:

  1. Substitution: The first step is to replace, or substitute, each piece of your data with another. It's like swapping out the pieces of a puzzle.
  2. Transposition: In this step, AES mixes up the order of your data. Imagine if you took the words in a sentence and rearranged them. The sentence wouldn't make sense to anyone else, right? That's the goal here.
  3. Mixing: Finally, AES combines the substituted and transposed data together. This additional mixing step makes it even harder for anyone else to understand your data.

Now, you might be wondering, "how can the person I'm sending to understand my data if it's all scrambled?" Well, that's where the magic of AES comes in. AES uses a secret key — kind of like a password — that both you and the person you're sending to know. This key is used to scramble your data and then unscramble it again.

So, the next time you send an email, or even when you're just browsing the internet, remember that AES is working hard in the background to keep your data safe. Understanding the advanced encryption standard (AES) is a crucial step towards ensuring your digital security.

Why AES matters in cryptography

You may ask, "Why do I need to know about AES?" The answer is simple: in the digital world, AES acts like the trusty lock on your front door. Just as you wouldn't leave your house without locking the door, you shouldn't venture online without understanding the advanced encryption standard (AES).

Let's break this down. Say you've written a secret note to your friend. In the real world, you'd fold up the note and seal it in an envelope. But in the digital world, that's not enough. Just like a physical note can be intercepted and read, so can an email. This is where AES comes in.

AES is a vital part of cryptography—the science of writing and solving codes. It's like having a super secure envelope for your digital note. Without it, your note is just out there, for anyone to read. With it, your note is safe and secure, only accessible to the person you intended for it.

Think of AES as your digital safety net. It protects your online transactions, your emails, and even your chats and calls. It's the unsung hero of the digital world, tirelessly working behind the scenes to ensure your secrets stay secret. So, the next time you go online, remember, understanding the advanced encryption standard (AES) is not just for tech geeks—it's your first line of defense in the digital world.

How AES works

Now let's roll up our sleeves and take a closer look at how AES actually works. Don't worry, I promise not to get too technical. It's like learning to bake a cake: you don't need to understand the chemistry behind it, just the steps and ingredients.

AES operates on a system of keys and blocks. Picture a treasure chest, your data, and a key, your password. AES takes your data (the treasure), splits it into blocks (smaller chests), and then uses the key to lock each block. It's like having a bunch of mini treasure chests, each with its own unique lock.

What makes AES different from other encryption methods is the size of the block and the key. AES uses 128-bit blocks, which means each block can hold a whopping 128 characters. That's a lot of room for all your secret notes!

And the key? It can be 128, 192, or 256 bits long. The longer the key, the more secure the encryption. It's like choosing between a simple padlock and a high-security lock. Both will keep your treasure safe, but one is a bit harder for thieves to crack.

So, what happens when you want to read your encrypted data? The process simply reverses. The key unlocks the blocks, and your data is pieced back together. Voila, your secret note is revealed!

Remember, understanding the advanced encryption standard (AES) is like understanding a recipe. It might seem intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a piece of cake!

How to apply AES in security

So, you're starting to understand the advanced encryption standard (AES)—great! But how do you actually use it to improve your security? Let's walk through it together.

First off, AES is a tool in your toolbox, not the whole workshop. It's best used alongside other security measures. Think of it as the security guard for your data, while firewalls and antivirus software are the fences and CCTV cameras. They all work together to keep your data safe.

Now, to apply AES, you'll need encryption software. There are many options out there, like BitLocker for Windows or FileVault for Mac. These tools have AES built-in, so all you need to do is enable them. They'll then use AES to encrypt your data automatically.

What if you're sending data over the internet? Well, that's where secure protocols like HTTPS and SSL/TLS come in. They use AES to encrypt the data before sending it, then decrypt it on the other end. It's like sending your data in a secure armored van instead of a regular mail truck.

And what about your passwords? They can be encrypted with AES too! Password managers like LastPass or 1Password use AES to keep your passwords safe and sound. Just remember to pick a strong master password—after all, it's the key to your treasure!

So, there you have it! Now you not only understand the advanced encryption standard (AES), but you also know how to use it to beef up your security. Remember, AES is a powerful tool, but it's most effective when used as part of a broader security strategy.

AES implementation: challenges and solutions

Alright, now that you've got a grasp on how to use AES for security, let's talk about some of the challenges you might face implementing it, and how to overcome them.

First up, performance. AES can be a bit of a resource hog. It needs to run computations on every bit of data you want to encrypt or decrypt. This can slow down your system, especially if you're working with large amounts of data. But, don't fret! Modern processors often come with AES-specific instructions to speed things up. You may also consider streamlining your data—trimming down any unnecessary bits—to make the process smoother.

Next, key management. AES needs a key to work—think of it as a secret password. You need to keep your key safe, but you also need to be able to access it when you need to decrypt data. It's a bit of a balancing act. A common solution is to use key management systems, which can store your keys safely and provide them when required. Just remember, losing your key is like losing the key to your house—there's no getting in without it!

Lastly, compatibility. Not all systems or software support AES. If you're working with older systems, you might run into difficulties. However, most modern systems and software do support AES, so this is becoming less of an issue over time.

Implementing AES isn't without its challenges, but the security benefits it brings are well worth the effort. And now that you understand the advanced encryption standard (AES) and its implementation hurdles, you're well equipped to handle them. After all, forewarned is forearmed!

AES encryption and decryption process

Alright, we’ve covered a lot of ground so far. Let’s now take a closer look at how AES actually encrypts and decrypts data. It's not as scary as it sounds, I promise.

Imagine you've written a secret note you want to send to a friend. You don't want anyone else to read it, so you use AES to turn your note into a bunch of jumbled up letters and numbers—this is encryption. Only someone with the right key can turn it back into your original note—this is decryption.

AES does this in several stages. First, it takes your data and splits it into blocks. Each block is then scrambled up, mixed around, and transformed through a series of mathematical operations. This is where the key comes into play: each operation uses the key to determine how to scramble the data. The result is your encrypted data—nonsense to anyone without the key.

To decrypt the data, AES basically does the reverse process. It takes the scrambled data and the key, then runs it through the same mathematical operations, but in reverse order. The result is your original data, just as you left it.

The beauty of AES is that even though the process sounds complex, it all happens in the blink of an eye. So whether you're sending secret notes or protecting sensitive data, you can trust AES to keep it safe. Now, isn't it nice to understand the advanced encryption standard (AES) encryption and decryption process without needing a PhD in mathematics?

Real-world AES applications

Now that you're getting the hang of AES, let's bring it back down to earth. You might be thinking, "this is all great, but where do I actually see AES in action?"

Well, AES is kind of a superstar in the world of digital security. It's everywhere, even if you don't see it. Have you ever made an online purchase? Logged into a secure website? Sent a private message? Chances are, AES was there, protecting your data.

Here are a few specific places you might find AES:

  • Online shopping: When you buy something online, your credit card information needs to be protected. AES is often the one doing the heavy lifting, encrypting your data so it can safely travel from your computer to the online store.
  • WiFi networks: Ever wonder why you need a password to connect to your WiFi? That's AES at work. It's used in the WPA2 and WPA3 security protocols, which protect your data from being intercepted by someone else on the network.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): If you use a VPN to browse the internet securely, you're using AES. Most VPNs use AES to encrypt your data, keeping it safe from prying eyes.

And these are just a few examples. AES is a workhorse of digital security, and its applications are vast. So next time you make an online purchase or log into your WiFi network, take a moment to appreciate AES. You understand the advanced encryption standard (AES) better now, and it's working hard to keep your digital world secure.

AES limitations and alternatives

Even though AES is a powerful tool in our digital world, it isn't perfect. Just like anything else, it has its limits. But don't worry, this doesn't mean your online shopping spree or private chats are in danger. It just means there are things to keep in mind when using AES, and there are alternatives if you need them.

One of the biggest limitations of AES is its susceptibility to what's called a "brute force" attack. This is a fancy way of saying someone tries every possible key until they find the right one. Sounds tedious, right? It is, but with enough computing power, it's possible. However, this is not a common scenario and typically requires resources beyond the reach of most attackers.

Another limitation is the need for secure key management. The key used to encrypt and decrypt data must be kept safe. If the key is lost or stolen, the encrypted data is at risk. This requires careful handling and storage of the keys.

Now, you might be wondering, "if AES has these limitations, are there other options?" The answer is yes, there are alternatives. One popular alternative is RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman). RSA is another encryption method, but it uses a different approach. Instead of using a single key for both encryption and decryption, like AES, RSA uses two keys — one public, one private. This makes it a good choice for situations where the encryption key needs to be shared.

So there you have it! You now understand the advanced encryption standard (AES), its limitations, and its alternatives. Remember, knowledge is power in the world of digital security. The more you know, the safer your data will be. Happy encrypting!

If you're interested in diving deeper into the world of cryptography and want to learn more about its practical applications, check out the workshop 'Crypto For Creators, Part 1: The Backbone Of The Digital Economy' by Tom Glendinning. This workshop will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of cryptography and its role in the digital economy, making it a perfect companion to our blog post on Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).