Cryptography is a pivotal factor in digital security that can’t be ignored. Encryption is the main concept of cryptography which converts the plain text into a coded (cipher) format to keep it secured from hackers. Thus, the data-in-transit stays encrypted till it reaches the recipient who decrypts the data.
The term “encryption” portrays data privacy and confidentiality. Web owners are now familiar with the SSL/TLS (Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security) certificates used for securing websites with their encryption technologies. But most web owners are unaware that there are two types of encryptions.
- Symmetric Encryption
- Asymmetric Encryption
Before moving to asymmetric encryption, its functioning, and its uses, let’s have a peep into what symmetric encryption is and what makes it different from asymmetric encryption.
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In symmetric cryptography/encryption, the process of encryption and decryption of data is carried out with a single cryptographic key. This cryptographic key is secretly placed and used by the person sending the message (sender) to encrypt the information.
This encrypted information is later passed to the person receiving the message (receiver) for decrypting the same.
The message stays quite secure because of the prevention of unauthorized access, but if a hacker gets hold of the decryption key, the entire message can be exposed.
This security lapse can be taken care of in asymmetric encryption cryptography since dual keys are used in the process.
Uses of Symmetric Cryptography:
The uses of Symmetric Cryptography are:
- The Banking Sector uses this cryptography for encryption credit card details and other PII (personally identifiable information) for making transactions.
- Data Storage in clouds or devices benefits from this encryption by securing the data storage. Here storage security is essential than securing data-in-transit.
Asymmetric Encryption (Public-Key Cryptography):
Contrary to symmetric encryption, in asymmetric encryption, two different cryptographic keys, i.e., the public key and the private key, are used in the process of data encryption and data decryption. The encryption of data is done by the public key, whereas the private key decrypts data.
Let me brief you that the private key is available to all who want to send messages by encrypting their data. Since the private key is exposed to the public for data encryption, this encryption process is also termed Public-Key Cryptography.
The receiver is the owner of both the keys. He will forward the public key to the sender to encrypt and send the message. The receiver will later use the private key to decrypt the message received from the sender.
Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms:
Data confidentiality is important because if the data is exposed in the wrong hands, it can be misused, which is disastrous to your business. Encryption algorithms ensure that the data is passed in a secured tunnel and reaches the intended recipient without being tampered with.
There are varied types of asymmetric algorithms that help in ensuring data confidentiality. Let’s check them out.
The creators of this algorithm are Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman, and hence it’s named the RSA algorithm. This is the most popular and desired encryption algorithm used for digital security.
The RSA algorithm gave an additional layer of security by implementing the asymmetric encryption process and signing documents with digital signatures.
ECC (Elliptic Curve Cryptography) Algorithm:
This algorithm is usually used for small devices like cell phones and tablets because these devices are now used for financial transactions and transferring other crucial data.
ECC grants the same security level as RSA, with less computational overhead and processing power.
This algorithm is used when digital signatures and keys need to be transferred.
DSA (Digital Signature Algorithm):
This algorithm was created by the NSA (National Security Agency) of the United States Government as a substitute to RSA algorithms.
The main use of this algorithm is done for data assigning and signatures, and it’s quick in signing though it’s slow in verifying. DSA is never used for encryption, thus making RSA the most desired algorithm.
Uses of Asymmetric Cryptography:
Asymmetric cryptography is used for:
- Digital Signatures that authenticate the identity for signing the documents.
- Blockchains that authenticate identities for permitting cryptocurrency transactions.
- Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) rules the encryption keys through the issuance of SSL certificates.
- Key Sharing wherein the secret keys are exchanged for symmetric encryption, which needs to be secured.
- Common Uses of Symmetric & Asymmetric Encryption:
Since both these cryptographics have their benefits, there are a few cases wherein both symmetric and asymmetric encryptions are used. These are named hybrid systems and are being used in varied digital securities like:
SSL/TLS certificates wherein the client generates a symmetric session key and encrypts it with the server’s asymmetric public key. The key is then sent to the server.
The server, in turn, decrypts the encrypted session key by utilizing its asymmetric private key to gain the symmetric session key.
Note: SSL protocols were previously used but are now termed insecure and should be suspended. The new version of SSL is the TLS protocol used by most browsers, but since the term, SSL is more familiar than TLS, these digital certificates are named SSL certificates.
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These SSL certificates provide robust 256-bit encryption security using both cryptographic and secure websites when they are installed on servers.
Mobile Chats use asymmetric encryption to validate the sender’s identity at the beginning of a conversation and later use symmetric encryption to encrypt the details of the conversation so that any third party can’t intercept the message.
Benefits of Asymmetric Encryption:
The securities provided and the authentications ensured by asymmetric encryption algorithms are very important in the digital world. The digital signatures which prove the legitimacy of a digital document are pivotal for all organizations, and the same can be attained only with asymmetric encryption.
A few more advantages are:
Helps Retain Confidentiality:
In this encryption, the sensitive data is encrypted by the sender using the public key, and the encrypted data is passed to the receiver, which decrypts the data using the private key. This helps in enhancing confidentiality.
Helps Retain Authenticity:
As stated above, asymmetric cryptography helps in validating digital signatures. The sender sends information with a digital signature attached using a private key.
The receiver of the message authenticates the digital signature using a public key and confirms the sender’s validity.
Ensures Data Security & Data Integrity:
The data is secured, and data integrity is ensured, making this encryption useful in the digital world.
Non-Repudiation of Information:
Since the data/information is digitally signed, non-repudiation (disown) of information is not possible by the sender.
Long Key Lengths:
The long key length of asymmetric encryption algorithms that extend from 1024-bits to 4096-bits provides robust security, enhancing the cipher size.
The data can’t be modified in the transmission process. In case if a hacker manages to modify the data, the receiver will be instantly notified of the same since the private key (used by the receiver) will prevent the decryption of data.
In this way, the data receiver will know that the information is compromised.
When speed is to be taken into consideration, symmetric encryption is quicker as compared to the latter one due to two reasons:
Its short keys and the inclusion of a single key in the process.
But in asymmetric encryption, dual keys are used to secure the data, which makes this encryption a slow process.
But as far as the security factor is concerned, asymmetric encryption has the upper hand against symmetric encryption.
Symmetric encryption is riskier since the same encryption key needs to be shared with the recipients for decrypting the messages. This enhances the risk of interception by intruders.
In the case of asymmetric encryption, the private key used for decryption is never shared by the recipient, and hence the security of the message is assured.
Sophisticated threats continue to evolve, and these cryptographic are essential to defend them. Each cryptography is useful in its way for specific reasons, but when these cryptographies are used in conjunction with each other, they provide the best digital security against cyber-criminals.