If you’re not utilising any encryption procedures in your overall network security, can your internet connection be tapped like a telephone line?
In a nutshell (although it’s never that simple); Yes!
If you’re using a wireless network to connect to the internet and browse or perform any other daily tasks, other devices in the vicinity that are using wireless connectivity can technically overhear your packets (byte-sized-message) and if they really wanted to, they can see exactly what you’re doing.
This practice of overhearing a “wireless conversation”, much like overhearing a conversation in real life, is also known as ‘eavesdropping’, and can be quite common for hackers or other people performing malicious activities to utilise.
Your neighbour or a person sitting outside your house or office can eavesdrop on your wireless connection with the right hardware and software. If you’re using a wired connection, someone with the right know-how can even directly wiretap your connection just like a telephone line.
If you want your communication to be private, encryption is the key!
The HTTPS in web browsers, for example, indicates that your communication with the server is encrypted. Technically someone can still eavesdrop, but they can’t understand or interpret the content of the conversation thanks to the data being encrypted.
How does Encryption Work?
To use a simple example, let’s say you lock some confidential information in a box using a unique symmetric key and send it (the key and the box) to the server. The server opens the box using the key it received along with the box. But anyone tapping this connection also receives the box and the key.
To solve this, we use a special type of box at the server side which can be locked using a public key but opened only using a private key. The server provides you this special box and public key but keeps the private key secret from everyone. You can put your original box and unique symmetric key inside this special box, lock it using the server’s public key and send it to the server. Only the server can open this special box using its private key.
Therefore you’ve safely shared the unique symmetric key, which can be used to unlock and lock the original box. Now your browser and server can exchange data in normal boxes and need not share the unique symmetric key again. In a nutshell this is how encryption works (except there is no box really!).