Networking / Beginners

Public Key Encryption

Public key encryption, also called asymmetric encryption , uses pairs of keys: One, the public key , is associated with the other, the secret key . The public key is intended to be made public. Any data encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted with the secret key and any data encrypted with the secret key can be decrypted with the public key.

Anyone can get a public key and encrypt some data with it. That data can be decrypted only by the holder of the secret key. As long as an entity can keep its secret key a secret, other entities can be sure that any data encrypted with the public key will be accessible only to the holder of the associated secret key. The holder of the secret key can encrypt something using that secret key and make it available to another entity. That entity can verify the first entity as holding the secret key of a particular public key pair by decrypting the data with the public key.

Public key encryption tends to be computationally intensive and is most often used to encrypt session keys for network transmissions as well as for digital signatures.

The most commonly used type of public key encryption is the RSA algorithm developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman. RSA defines a mechanism for choosing and generating the secret/public key pairs, as well as for the actual mathematical function to be used for encryption.

[Previous] [Contents] [Next]