What Is “Military-Grade Encryption”?

Two men in military uniforms in a data center.
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Many companies tout “military-grade encryption” to protect your data. If it’s good enough for the military, it must be the best—right? Well, kind of. “Military-grade encryption” is more of a marketing term that doesn’t have a precise meaning.

Encryption Basics

Let’s start with the basics. Encryption is, essentially, a way to take information and scramble it, so it looks like gibberish. You can then decrypt that encrypted information—but only if you know how. The method of encrypting and decrypting is known as a “cipher,” and it usually relies on a piece of information known as a “key.”

For example, when you visit a website encrypted with HTTPS and sign in with a password or provide a credit card number, that private data is sent over the internet in a scrambled (encrypted) form. Only your computer and the website you’re communicating with can understand it, which prevents people from snooping on your password or credit card number. When you first connect, your browser and the website perform a “handshake” and exchange secrets that are used for encryption and decryption of the data.

There are many different encryption algorithms. Some are more secure and harder to crack than others.

RELATED: What is Encryption, and Why Are People Afraid of It?

Rebranding Standard Encryption

Whether you’re logging into your online banking, using a virtual private network (VPN), encrypting the files on your hard drive, or storing your passwords in a secure vault, you obviously want stronger encryption that’s harder to crack.

To put you at ease and generally sound as secure as possible, many services tout “military-grade encryption” on their websites and in advertisements.

It sounds strong and battle-tested, but the military doesn’t actually define something called “military-grade encryption.” That’s a phrase dreamt up by marketing people. By advertising encryption as “military-grade,” companies are just saying that “the military uses it for some things.”

What Does “Military Grade Encryption” Mean?

A hand pulling a document marked "Top Secret" out of a filing cabinet.
Photo Art Lucas/Shutterstock.com

Dashlane, a password manager that has advertised its “military-grade encryption,” explains what this term means on its blog. According to Dashlane, military-grade encryption means AES-256 encryption. That’s the Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key size.

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