With data leaks making the headlines every so often, privacy and security are all that most people can talk about. Encryption is an important factor contributing to online safety.
Encryption involves converting data into a cryptographic code to evade unauthorised access. A key is a code that sets off the decryption algorithms.
A recipient’s public key is one that is available to anyone who wants to send them an encrypted message. A private key, on the other hand, is secret and known only to the recipient. Based on these keys, two significant forms of encryption have taken shape.
Private Key Encryption
Also known as symmetric encryption, this system employs only private keys.
This algorithm uses the same key to both encrypt and decrypt data. Hence, it is a swift process.
However, this system is vulnerable to attack.
It is possible for malicious elements to steal or leak private keys. There is no guarantee of your message reaching only the intended recipient if the message passes through unsafe channels.
The only possible way to counter this is by regularly changing and distributing the encryption key. Key management hence becomes a logistical nightmare.
Public Key Encryption
Also known as asymmetric encryption, this system employs both private and public keys.
Every user has a private and public key which are distinct from each other but are mathematically linked.
The sender uses the public key of the receiver to encrypt the message. This encrypted data can be decoded only by the user’s private key, which is a complete secret.
Hence the message can pass through unsafe channels as nobody, but the intended recipient has the means to decode it.
Furthermore, it is impossible for a malevolent user to determine anyone else’s private key, even if they know the public key.
The longer a private key is, the less susceptible the system is to fall prey to a brute force attack — however, significant computational power for the generation of strong private keys.
Due to high computational requirements, asymmetric encryption is slower than secret key cryptography.
One can digitally sign their content using their private key. This signature is then verified by their public key. Digital signatures help to determine the authenticity of documents and data.
Neither system is perfect yet, but asymmetric encryption is generally regarded as the superior form. Though it requires more time and power, it does a great job of protecting your data and privacy.
Akshaya is an aspiring cardiac surgeon who writes both content and creative pieces at any given juncture. As a powerful orator, a voracious reader, and a bit of a know-it-all, she is usually found with a book in hand. A self-labelled fangirl, Akshaya considers herself a connoisseur of all things nerdy.
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