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Asymmetric Encryption: What It Is & Why Your Security Depends on It

From securing websites to signing software, you’ll find asymmetric cryptography (including encryption) in use virtually everywhere online. Here’s what you need to know about the cryptographic process that helps keep your data secure online

asymmetrical encoding is the spine of internet security. Without it, stealing your critically sensitive data is a easy as taking sugarcoat from a baby for most cybercriminals. We ’ ve seen plenty of the painful reminders over the last few years in datum breaches that resulted from expired SSL/TLS certificates. ( Hence why we always talk about the importance of security management to avoid these issues. )
But what is asymmetrical encoding ? We ’ ll begin with a quick public key encoding definition before moving on to explore this more technical topic at length. Don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate worry, we ’ ll sample to keep this brief than our common tome-style explanatory posts .
Let ’ s hash it out .

What Is Asymmetric Encryption? Public Key Cryptography Defined & Explained

To put it just, asymmetric encryption encrypts and decrypts the data shared between two parties in public, insecure channels ( like the internet ). This process involves using two separate but related keys. In a nutshell, it ’ second all about securing your sensitive information to keep it out of the hands of unauthorized users or entities ( for example, cybercriminals ) when you need to upload it to a web site, send it via electronic mail, etc .
asymmetrical encoding is besides separate of what ’ s known as asymmetric key cryptography and public key cryptography because the two keys used are mathematically related but alone ( hence, asymmetrical ) :

  • One key, which is called a public key because it’s known by everyone, typically encrypts data.
  • The second key, aptly named a private key because it’s only known to the key holder, decrypts data.

here ’ s a basic front at how this work occurs using the two keys :
A graphic that illustrates a basic overview of how asymmetric encryption works between two parties. It shows a sender encrypting data using the recipient's public key. Data transfers  to the recipient, who uses their corresponding private key to decrypt the data.Asymmetric encryption can be used for encrypting data and/or for digitally signing data. The process shown in this graphic illustrates how asymmetric cryptography is used to encrypt data.
honestly, asymmetrical encoding is a term that sounds more complex and intimidating than it actually is. once you understand the basics, the wholly thing will make a batch more common sense. But if all of this is a moment hard to grasp, let ’ s imagine that you have a special safe that uses two locks — one key locks the safe and the other opens it. Likewise with asymmetrical encoding, anyone who has access to the public samara can use it to encrypt data, but lone the person who has access to the secret key can decrypt that information .
asymmetrical encoding is at the heart of a framework known as public winder infrastructure. We aren ’ t going to get into the specifics of how PKI works because, honestly, describing it in every article is a bit of a “ time suck ” and gets humdrum. sol, we ’ ll equitable give you a flying summary before moving on : PKI is the foundation of technologies, policies, and processes that enables us to send sensitive data securely across the internet. It relies on a combination of public- and private-key algorithm, digital certificates, and policies .

Purpose of Using Asymmetric Encryption for Data Security Online

The determination of encoding is to ensure that any sensible data you want to share with a specific person is kept secret to everyone except your mean recipient role. This is necessary because we live in a clock time when we share and impart data via multiple ISPs and routers, and many miles of cables beneath the oceans .
historically, you used to have to meet up with person expression to face to exchange messages or secret keys to unlock future communications. ( This is known as key distribution. ) This process typically required taking a sawhorse, boat or train to meet up with the other party to give them a replicate of your secret samara. But with the internet, these time-consuming rendezvous needed to exchange communications have been replaced with near-instant digital communications via the internet .
This is all fine and yawl except for one ( not so bitty ) little offspring : the internet is fabulously insecure. Without a way for users to securely exchange keys to encrypt their data, then anyone could intercept the communications in transportation system. Asymmetric encoding solves this key distribution issue by creating a room to securely exchange keys ( or key-related data ) without always having to meet the other party in person .
encoding works by applying a complex numerical rule to your original plain text ( clear ) data to convert it into a long, indecipherable data string. sol, if you took the message “ I can ’ thyroxine expect for season 4 of “ Stranger Things ! ” and encrypted it using a 2048-bit RSA public key ( more on RSA late ), you ’ d wind up with a gibberish message that looks like this :


clearly, this international relations and security network ’ t something that any human being can make heads or tails of in terms of deciphering the message — that ’ s a good thing when it comes to keeping your sensible information secret. The dependable news is that computers allow us to use encoding keys this size — and larger — to encrypt data in a plug way so that unauthorized users can ’ triiodothyronine access it .
What makes this even better news is that even if a bad guy tried using a modern supercomputer to try to crack the key, they ’ d hush be out of luck. This is because the swerve computational process resources and time required would span far longer than their entire life and the lifetimes of many generations of family members that follow — i, we ’ re talking millions of years here .
We ’ ll lecture you through the procedure of how asymmetrical cardinal encoding works later in the article. But for now, we want to point out that asymmetrical key encoding international relations and security network ’ t the only tool we have up our sleeves when it comes to PKI…

Asymmetric Encryption Typically Works Hand-in-Hand With Symmetric Encryption

technically, asymmetrical encoding could be used on its own as a manner to send and receive data. But why would you want to do that ? It ’ s just excessively bulky and resource-intensive to be used for that purpose at scale. ( not good for big businesses that handle a set of connections to their websites and services. ) This is why, in many cases, asymmetrical encoding is used initially as a manner to securely exchange sensitive data between two parties before they switch to using symmetric encryption for the rest of the exchange .
symmetrical encoding, or what ’ south sometimes called symmetrical key encoding, uses just one samara for both for data encoding and decoding. This means that there ’ second entirely a single key that must be kept plug — hence, why this method of encoding is known as private winder encoding or hidden key encoding .
symmetrical encoding is faster and besides is thought to be more impregnable than asymmetrical encoding when the parties are using smaller winder sizes. ( When using large key sizes, asymmetrical encoding wipes the floor with symmetrical encoding but does so at the cost of amphetamine. ) But each cryptanalytic approach path has its uses and applications. Check out our other article to learn more about the deviation between asymmetrical volt symmetrical encoding .

Where You’ll Find Asymmetric Key Cryptography in Use

so immediately that we know what asymmetrical keystone encoding is and have a basic estimate of what it does, let ’ s explore a few examples of how you can use it to improve your organization ’ randomness data security :

  • Website security: Asymmetric encryption is used as part of the SSL/TLS handshake. The handshake is the virtually instantaneous process in which a server authenticates to the browser that tries to connect with it. The two parties exchange data they can use for key exchange or generation. (After that, they use that shared key to establish a secure, symmetrically encrypted communication channel.)
  • Email encryption: When you encrypt sensitive messages and attachments, you’re using the recipient’s public key to digitally sign everything so that only their corresponding private key can decrypt it. So, in case you’re wondering, yes, both parties (sender and recipient) need to have email signing certificates to exchange encrypted messages.  
  • Digital signatures (documents, software, emails, etc.): Asymmetric encryption also is integral to digital signatures (not to be confused with electronic signatures). These cryptographic signatures are used to assert the identity of the document, executable, or email creator.
  • Blockchain: A blockchain is a long, sequential line of data blocks that “chain” (tie) back chronologically all the way back to the first data block. Each new block contains data from the previous block, which helps to serve as a historical record. Ever heard of Bitcoin? This cryptocurrency is an example of a digital currency that’s built upon a blockchain. But blockchains have other uses as well, such as providing an avenue of decentralized financial transactions, inventory management, and supply chain management.

5 Asymmetric Encryption & Digital Signature Algorithms

Algorithms are, basically, the instructions that computers use to solve a trouble. Asymmetric key encoding algorithms come in different “ flavors ” or varieties for you to choose from. But you can ’ t take a one-size-fits-all set about when it comes to selecting the right asymmetrical encoding algorithm to meet your needs .
Of course, there are clear differences between many of these asymmetrical key algorithms — how they operate, what their particular key lengths and security system strengths are, etc. You have to choose the right field one based on your needs or use cases. Let ’ s promptly explore two of the most common public key encoding algorithms :

  1. Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) — The ECC algorithm uses something known as an elliptic curve (mathematical structures) to generate public-private key pairs. Basically, it looks slightly similar to a wonky bell curve resting on its side. The advantage of ECC is improved performance due to smaller key sizes and the amount of computational overhead involved.
  2. RSA (Rivest Shamir Adleman) — RSA is considered one of the most secure (and commonly used) asymmetric key encryption algorithms. It’s virtually uncrackable using modern computers. RSA uses two unique, large prime numbers in elaborate algebra to generate its public-private key pairs. RSA also is used as a key exchange algorithm in TLS 1.2, but it’s been deprecated as a key exchange algorithm in TLS 1.3.

Of course, RSA isn ’ t the only asymmetrical key exchange algorithm. here are a few other luminary algorithms worth mentioning for secure distant key distribution as well :

  1. Diffie-Hellman — This key exchange protocol or, more accurately, a key generation protocol (although the terms are often used interchangeably) is based on exponential calculations. What we mean by that is instead of exchanging keys, DH enables the two parties to exchange public values that are used to calculate secure, symmetric session keys. When an ephemeral key is used, it creates what’s known as perfect forward secrecy because the keys are generated for each session. Qualys SSL Labs reports that only 0.6% of surveyed sites on Alexa’s list of the world’s most popular websites don’t support forward secrecy (as of May 18, 2022).
  2. Digital Signature Standard (DSS) —This digital signature and encryption algorithm is based on elliptic curve cryptography and is the newer version of the digital signature algorithm (DSA). However, both DSS and DSA have been deprecated and should no longer be used for remote key exchange.
  3. Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) — This key exchange protocol, which builds upon the digital signature algorithm, uses elliptic curves to derive its small cryptographic keys. The advantage here is that because the keys are smaller than, say, RSA, it helps make them more efficient.

To learn more about each of the different types of asymmetrical algorithm, be certain to check back with us over the future few months. We ’ ll publish an article that will focus on that claim topic ( much like what we did with symmetrical encoding algorithm ) .

A Quick Overview of How Asymmetric Encryption Works

asymmetrical encoding between two parties works by using a populace samara to encrypt data and a private winder to decrypt it. The march looks something like this :
A more in depth graphic that shows how asymmetric key encryption helps secure dataAn overview of how asymmetric encryption works to keep sensitive data secure against prying eyes. The sender uses the recipient’s public key to encrypt sensitive data and the recipient uses their corresponding private key to decrypt it. With SSL/TLS encryption for HTTPS-enabled websites, this process involves exchanging symmetric key data that can be used to create a secure, encrypted communication channel.
If you were to break down what this process looks like, let ’ s consider the Stranger Things exemplar from earlier. Let ’ s say I want to send you the succeed message : “ I can ’ metric ton wait for season 4 of “ Stranger Things ! ” ( not indisputable why this message would be sensitive enough to require encoding, but let ’ s precisely run with it. ) In this case, I ’ ll use your populace keystone ( which looks something like this when using a 2048-bit RSA identify ) to decrypt the data :


When you apply it to the message, you ’ ll scent up with the data string we showed you earlier :


obviously, you won ’ thyroxine know what I ’ molarity saying with the message still encrypted. You ’ ll then use your private key, which is well longer to decrypt the data string :


This will then decrypt the datum and allow you to read the original plain text message .
Don ’ triiodothyronine worry, we ’ ll overlay all of this more in depth in a future article. Stay tuned for that !

Final Thoughts on Asymmetric Encryption

Alright, we ’ ve droned on adequate about asymmetrical cryptography and its correspond encoding and key change algorithm. Hopefully, you ’ ll leave this article with greater cognition of asymmetrical cryptosystems than you started with .
asymmetrical encoding and key exchange algorithm are the cornerstones of advanced public key infrastructure. Without them, there would be no means to remotely exchange medium or otherwise confidential information via populace channels like the internet. We ’ d even be using clandestine face-to-face meetings like stereotyped spies from Hollywood films.

Understanding what asymmetrical encoding is and how it all works is the first dance step to helping strengthen your arrangement ’ s cyber defenses. When you realize the importance of managing your certificates and protecting your cryptanalytic keys, it ’ ll help you avoid many of the pitfalls that help companies make unflattering headlines due to data breaches and other security incidents .

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