Tech 101: How Does PKI Protect Your Online Information

Data theft has become a severe issue as everything today, from personal information to business data, is stored and accessed online. Hackers are always actively looking to steal your personal and enterprise data. 

In recent years there have been numerous incidents where hackers hacked into online accounts of large companies, government organizations, and many renowned people, leading to massive financial losses. After these incidents, organizations worldwide have developed numerous cyber security solutions to protect personal data. PKI is one of them. It is a framework of encryption and cyber security that safeguards your online personal information. 

In a short time after its inception, PKI has become an essential part of every business around the globe. It has secured tons of online information and data, thus restricting data hacking and improving cyber security.  

With such trusted online security, PKI has become so vital to cyber security that all organizations must adopt it to secure their data. But before implementing, it is crucial to understand all aspects of PKI so one can use it to its full advantage. 

Therefore, if you are looking for any PKI solution for your enterprise, this article will help you understand how PKI protects your online information, its components, and common use cases. 

What is PKI?

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the security framework that governs the issuance of digital certificates to protect sensitive data, provide unique digital identities for users, devices, and applications, and secure end-to-end communications. In technical terms, it is a two–key cryptosystem that helps all IT (Information Technology) systems maintain high levels of information confidentiality, encryption, and confidence. 

The most common form of PKI encryption businesses use today involves a public and private key. Anyone can use a public key to encrypt a message. Whereas the private key, also known as a secret key, is used only by one person to decrypt a message. Bot these keys can be used by people, devices, and applications. 

The best example of PKI security today is SSL certificates. You will find these certificates on all websites. SSL certificates on websites ensure visitors access a secure server by keeping their information confidential.

How Does PKI Works To Protect Your Online Information?

To understand how PKI works, you must first understand the two types of cryptographic algorithms – Symmetric Encryption and Asymmetric Encryption and digital certificates.

 

  • Symmetric Encryption

In symmetric encryption, a typed message goes through mathematical permutation and gets encrypted. The encrypted message is so secure that it is difficult to break. It is because the plain message during encryption is converted into a different code language and doesn’t always come out the same. For example, the message “LLLLL” would be encrypted to the five other characters.

You need the same key to encrypt and decrypt the message during symmetric encryption. Though decrypting messages is significantly tricky without a key in symmetric encryption, using the same key for encryption and decryption carries a significant risk of the message being broken. That’s because the encryption system fails to secure the message if the distribution channel is compromised. 

 

  • Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric encryption eliminates the risk of a message being broken by creating two different cryptographic keys. These keys are – Private Key and a Public Key. 

In asymmetric encryption, a message also goes through mathematical permutations to get encrypted. But it requires a private key to decrypt a message. 

 

  • How are Symmetric and Asymmetric Encryption Used Together?

As asymmetric encryption is much slower than symmetric encryption, they are often used in combination. For example, a person can encrypt a message using symmetric encryption and then send the key to decrypt the message using asymmetric encryption. Using both encryption methods in combination speeds up the entire decryption process. 

 

Role Of Digital Certificate in PKI

The symmetric and asymmetric encryption have one major loophole: How do you confirm that the public key you received belongs to the actual person?

PKI fixes this loophole by issuing and governing digital certificates. These certificates confirm the identity of people, devices, or applications that own private keys and corresponding public keys. To sum up, PKI assigns identities to keys so the recipients can verify the owner. This digital certificate verification process helps the user ensure that if they send an encrypted message to a particular person or device, no one else will receive it. 

Digital certificates are also known as X.509 certificates or PKI certificates. All the digital certificates have the following qualities:

  • Contains information related to an individual
  • A trusted third-party issue it
  • It is tamper-resistant
  • Contains information for authentication
  • Has an expiry date
  • Can be traced back to the issuer

 

Introducing Certification Authorities 

PKI introduces a trusted third party for creating digital certificates, forming policies, practices, and procedures for screening recipients, and issuing certificates. These trusted third parties are called Certification Authorities (CAs). A certification authority determines:

  • Screening methods for certificate recipients
  • Different types of certificates issued
  • Both security and operations procedures
  • Parameters within the certificate

 

Process Of Certification Creation

The certificate is created in the following way: 

  • First, a private key is created, and then the corresponding public key is determined.
  • Then the Certification Authority requests to identify attributes of the private key owner and assess that information.
  • Afterward, the public key and identifying features get encoded into a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). 
  • Then the CSR is signed by the key owner to prove possession of that private key. 
  • Finally, the issuing CA validates the request and signs the certificate with the CA’s private key.

What Are the Common Uses Cases For PKI?

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is used in various business cases. Some of the most common uses of PKI are:

  • Digital signatures on software
  • Email and personal data encryption
  • Restricted access to enterprise VPNs and intranets
  • SSL/TLS certificates to secure websites 
  • Password-free Wi-Fi access based on device ownership
  • Securing IoT devices

 

Conclusion

PKI secures your personal information and the online world by encrypting communication channels and protecting sensitive data. It has become an essential part of cyber security and has grown in importance as the use of devices and applications continues to explode. But building and maintaining a solid PKI program isn’t easy and requires lots of research and implementation effort. You can use the above article to guide yourself in implementing PKI for your enterprise.