There are two basic forms of encryption are symmetric and asymmetric cryptography. In symmetric encryption, the same special "key" is used to encrypt and decrypt the data. In asymmetric encryption there are two keys, the public key and the private key, that are used by the sender and receiver.
Examples of symmetrical encryption include DES (data encryption standard), Triple DES, and the Rijndael Cipher (pronounced rain-del). Examples of asymmetrical encryption include RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and El Gamal. A good reference book for encryption technologies is "Applied Cryptography" by Bruce Schneier.
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