Encryption Keys

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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There are two main types of encryption keys that are used in contemporary encryption software. They were developed during the last few decades of the 20th century, as computers became increasingly powerful and thus able to handle processor-intense computational functions. Both use sophisticated algorithms to encrypt and decrypt data.

Symmetric key encryption is the more simple of the two methods. It uses a single cryptographic key, called a shared secret key, to both code and decode the data. This means that the sender and the recipient use the same key to edit and read the data, a comparatively quick that requires little processor power. The downside is the possibility that someone may discover the shared secret key.

Asymmetric key encryption uses two encryption keys--one to encode, and one to decode. The encoding key is commonly known as the public key, and can be transmitted over relatively insecure channels. The decryption key, however, is private, and is usually known only to the recipient. Using asymmetric key encryption insures that if one key is discovered, the data is still protected by the other key.

Hybrid Encryption Keys

Many common encryption tools use hybrid encryption keys. Hybrid keys generally use a symmetric key to encode the main data, but use an asymmetric key to encode the shared secret key. Though asymmetric algorithms usually take longer to process (many use factorization or elliptic curve cryptography), decoding a shared key is quicker than decoding a whole file or document. Thus the file remains doubly protected, with little possibility of being discovered.

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