How White-box Cryptography Can Secure Your Apps


White-box Cryptography

Have you noticed how in spy movies, messages are transferred in hidden codes? The messages could be in plain sight, but only the person who knows the decoding method can extract their meaning, thus keeping the messages almost indecipherable when they fall into the wrong hands. In real life, you might not need to secretly transfer any missile formula or secret code that will save the world from some apocalyptic event. However, when you are transferring vital personal information like credit card numbers, bank details, passwords, or emails in an open channel, such as the internet, you certainly need to make sure your data is secured. And that’s where cryptography or encryption comes into the equation. 

You can keep your data secret by encryption- scrambling or changing the message to hide the original text. And when anybody needs to extract that message, they can decrypt it by unscrambling that data. This whole process of encryption and decryption is known as cryptography. White-box cryptography is a type of encryption that provides software or app-based security. Read on to learn more about how it works and why it’s important.

What Is White Box Cryptography?

Before we dive into white-box cryptography, you need to know how cryptography works and how white-box cryptography is different from standard cryptography.

How Cryptography Works: Cipher and the Key

There are various methods and algorithms for encrypting your app data. However, in this article, we are not going to delve into all of them. You can visit to have a better grasp of how those methods can secure your apps.

Despite new methods and algorithms, the actual process of encryption, the scrambling and unscrambling of messages is nothing new. They were used even long before computers were invented.

Let’s understand cryptography with the simplest algorithm in encryption- the Caesar cipher. It was first used by Julius Caesar to send secret military strategies to his commanders.   

In this algorithm, you replace each letter of your text with another letter that’s a certain number of steps down in the alphabet. This number should be a secret between you and the receiver of your message. The number is called the key and the text after encryption is called ciphertext.

For example, if your key is number 3, after encryption, the letter A will be D, B will be E, and C will be F, and it will continue like that. If your text is “five”, with a key of 3, the message will be “ilyh”. 

However, with this algorithm, you can only get 26 combinations for each letter, as there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. So, it’s fairly easy for any person to extract the meaning.

Now, if you use a 10-digit key instead of a single digit, it will be hard for a person to crack but not hard for a computer. To make it even more secure, today’s encryption uses 326-bit keys. With this, you get so many combinations that even hundreds of supercomputers won’t be able to crack it.

How Is White Box Cryptography Different from Standard Cryptography?

As you know, there are two parts of any encryption: the cipher and the key. In standard cryptography, the ciphertext and the key are separated in the algorithm, making it obvious to figure out which one is the key. So unless you have a strategy to hide the key, there’s a high risk of attackers getting their hands on that key. White-box cryptography hides the keys. To decipher a code in plain sight, you embed the keys in the algorithm so an attacker can’t tell it apart from random codes.

Before white-box encryption, apps used hardware encryption. But as our hardware and devices are no longer a secure platform, when you can’t be sure whether your windows update is actually coming from Microsoft, white-box cryptography is the only way to keep your data secure even in a compromised environment. From mobile contactless payment systems, medical apps to OTT streaming platforms, everything needs white-box encryption to provide the user a safer use of the internet.

Why Do We Need White-box Cryptography?

Just similar to the layers of protection around a castle, there are several layers of security required in internet operation. Out of all security attacks out there, web applications might be the most prone to violations. The information we share via apps can easily be tampered with if someone can access it from outside. While encryption might sound like a viable means to secure those app data, in reality, they are only secured as long as the encryption key is secured.

If an attacker gets access to the key, they can easily unlock and tamper your app data. When you use any app on devices, the key to that encryption usually is stored in that device, such as in your laptop, tab, or smartphone. Now, what happens when your device gets hacked? An attacker can easily retrieve the app encryption key and can steal your personal data that is only privy to that app.

An attacker can easily scan the memory to find out a pattern used in encryption or apply reverse engineering to unravel how the software works to manipulate it. So, to stop these attacks, you need to hide your key. And what better way to hide it than to merge it with other random codes? 

White box encryption does just that by hiding the key right at the app code. The key is not exposed in memory, so memory scanning or pattern recognition won’t work for the attacker. So there is no chance of an attacker getting access to it.

The Bottom Line

White-box cryptography is hands down the best way to secure app data. At present, a 256-bit key might sound nearly infallible to secure data. However, with the advancement of technology, our computer chips are getting smaller and faster. They are getting half the size and twice as fast every year. This exponential growth is inadvertently a threat to key-based encryption. So what is uncrackable to today’s computer might not be impossible for a computer hundred years in the future.

To get around this, we need to make sure there are more combinations in our encryption than any computer can ever crack. In simple terms, you need to increase the key length. Fortunately for us, increasing the key length is a simple process, but it complicates the problem for computers tenfold. It exponentially increases the number of combinations to crack a cipher. So as our computer gets faster, we need to complicate our encryption to have secured use of web apps.


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