New survey data reveals what—and how much—Americans understand about encryption

Entrust, an Entrust Datacard company and provider of trust, integrity and control for business-critical information and applications, announces the results of a new survey exploring how much the average American knows about encryption.

One of the most interesting findings of the survey, fielded by Entrust to more than 1,000 U.S. adults, found that Americans are familiar with—and trust—the concept of encryption, even if they are a bit fuzzy on exactly how it works.

“Encryption is a key technology in protecting sensitive information such as social security numbers, government IDs and financial data,” said Peter Galvin, chief strategy officer, at Entrust Security. “It is also an important part of personal data privacy. Owing to domestic and international compliance regulations and ongoing policy debates, we expect the conversation around encryption to reach a crescendo this year.”

What Americans understand about encryption

Almost three-quarters (72.1%) of Americans surveyed know that encryption is the process of making data unreadable to anyone other than those holding the encryption keys. Even more Americans (87.4%) know that encryption is important.

When asked what encryption is able to secure, most Americans thought of financial data and transactions. Top answers included online banking (55.7%), financial information (52.6%), mobile payments (46%), mobile phone data (43.1%), and mobile wallets (42%).

In terms of the average American’s relationship with encryption, the survey also revealed that:

  • Americans are most likely to learn about encryption at work (22.5%). After that, they are almost equally likely to learn about encryption on TV (17.7%), from friends or family (17.6%) or at school (17.3%).
  • Over half (53.3%) correctly believe that individual consumers can encrypt their own personal data, but nearly a third (32%) aren’t sure.
  • Almost half (45.9%) can correctly identify cryptographic keys as the series of codes needed to unlock an encryption.

A formal seal of encryption would carry weight with consumers

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents say a formal seal of encryption (like the green check used with secure e-payments) would make them feel that their private information was secure online.

Likewise, 47.9% of Americans would trust a company that used such a seal, and 30% would expect that the data security of such a company was validated by a third party.

Among institutions, Americans most trust the financial services industry to encrypt their data (54.9%), followed by healthcare (38.7%) and technology (36.1%) industries. In contrast, only 10% of Americans trust that companies in the travel and tourism industry encrypt their sensitive data.

Trust in encryption is high—with a caveat

More than half of Americans (55.5%) believe their private data is safe in the cloud as long as it’s encrypted. A little more than a quarter (29.4%) aren’t quite sure. Only 15.1% believe it isn’t.

However, 65.2% believe hackers can access confidential info even if it’s encrypted.

Hackers aren’t the only threat to Americans’ peace of mind when it comes to encryption and cybersecurity, however. Only 14% of Americans believe that artificial intelligence can’t “outsmart” encryption. The rest either believe it could (45.6%) or don’t know (40.4%).

“For all of the hype around artificial intelligence, it’s unlikely that we’ll see an AI sophisticated enough to outsmart encryption in the near future,” added Galvin. “Encryption is as water-tight as cybersecurity gets.”

Have questions about how encryption works, or general questions about data protection? Visit Entrust’s encryption FAQ page to find out (almost) everything you need to know.