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Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) Explained

What is PKI?

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a combination of hardware, software, policies, standards, and procedures that work together to provide a framework for secure communications and digital transactions. At its core, PKI uses asymmetric cryptography to secure confidential information, authenticate users, and validate the integrity and origin of a message.

What are the five main components of PKI?

  1. Key Pairs: The foundation of PKI is the asymmetric cryptographic key pair, which includes a public key and a private key. The public key can be shared with anyone, while the private key remains confidential. Data encrypted with one key can only be decrypted with the other key.
  2. Digital Certificates: These act like digital ID cards and bind a public key to an individual/entity. Issued by a Certificate Authority (CA), they verify that the public key belongs to the person or entity named in the certificate.
  3. Certificate Authorities (CAs): CAs are trusted organizations responsible for issuing and managing digital certificates. Before handing out a certificate, the CA must authenticate the identity of the requester.
  4. Registration Authorities (RAs): RAs serve as verifiers for the CAs before a digital certificate is given to the end user. They accept requests for digital certificates and confirm the individual’s identity before the CA issues the certificate.
  5. Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs): These lists comprise certificates revoked by the CA before their expiration date.

How Does PKI Work in a Typical Scenario?

  1. Alice wishes to send Bob a confidential message. She encrypts the message using Bob’s public key.
  2. Bob gets the message. Using his private key, he decrypts it, guaranteeing confidentiality since only he possesses his private key.
  3. To verify the message’s integrity and authenticity, Alice can digitally sign the message with her private key. Bob can then validate the signature with Alice’s public key.

Benefits of PKI

As cyber threats grow and the necessity for secure communications intensifies, understanding and implementing PKI becomes vital for any organization.
  • Authentication: Confirms the identity of parties in a communication.
  • Integrity: Assures that a message hasn’t been tampered with during transmission.
  • Confidentiality: Encrypts data so that only the intended recipient can view it.
  • Non-repudiation: Proves a specific action taken by a user, making it challenging for them to deny it later.

Check out more information here: Netrust PKI Solutions


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