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The role of cryptographic algorithms in encryption and decryption

The role of cryptographic algorithms in encryption and decryption

In healthcare, cryptographic algorithms protect sensitive patient information and ensure secure communication. These algorithms encrypt patient data, such as medical records and personal details, turning them into a secure, unreadable format only authorized personnel can access with a decryption key. This process protects the data against unauthorized access during storage and when transmitted across networks, like telemedicine consultations or electronic health record exchanges. Additionally, cryptographic algorithms are used to verify the authenticity and integrity of healthcare data, ensuring that the information remains unaltered and accurate from the point of creation to its final use. 

See also: What happens to your data when it is encrypted?


How do cryptographic algorithms work?


Encryption converts plain, readable data (plaintext) into an unreadable format (ciphertext). When you want to secure information, a cryptographic algorithm takes your plaintext. It transforms it using a key (secret information) according to its mathematical rules. This key could be a string of letters, numbers, or a combination of both.


Types of cryptographic algorithms

  • Symmetric-key cryptography: Here, the same key is used for both encryption and decryption. The sender and receiver must both have access to this secret key. The process is like a lock and key mechanism - the same key locks (encrypts) and unlocks (decrypts) the data.
  • Asymmetric-key cryptography (Public key cryptography): This involves two keys - a public key, which is available to everyone, and a private key, which is kept secret by the user. The public key encrypts the data, but only the corresponding private key can decrypt it. It's akin to a mailbox with a mail slot (public key) and a locked door (private key). Anyone can drop a letter through the slot, but only the person with the key can open the door and read the letter.


This is the reverse process of encryption. The recipient uses a key to decrypt the ciphertext, transforming it back into the original plaintext. In symmetric-key cryptography, this is the same key used for encryption. In asymmetric-key cryptography, the private key is used for decryption.


Integrity and authentication

Apart from just encrypting data, cryptographic algorithms often ensure the integrity and authenticity of data. This means they confirm that the data hasn't been tampered with and verify the sender's identity.

See also: How to encrypt your email and why you should


How are cryptographic algorithms applied in healthcare communication?

There are several areas where cryptographic algorithms can be used to protect sensitive patient information. This tool is beneficial, from securing electronic health records between providers to safeguarding telemedicine sessions where doctors and patients interact over video and audio calls. When doctors send electronic prescriptions to pharmacies, these algorithms ensure the transmission is secure and tamper-proof, preventing prescription fraud. They also play a vital role in patient-doctor messaging platforms, such as HIPAA compliant email. In medical research, cryptographic methods anonymize patient data, allowing for the study of health trends without compromising individual privacy. Furthermore, in emergency medical situations, they enable secure and immediate communication, allowing patient information to be transmitted safely and swiftly from emergency sites to hospitals. 

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