Understanding How Public Key Infrastructure Works

December 28, 2021

Public/Private key encryption is one of the more important systems available to secure sensitive data. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the heart of modern cryptography, and many business owners find themselves wondering just how it works.

The basics of PKI involve using public and private key pairs. The public key is available to anyone who wants it, while the private key must be kept closely guarded. If someone wants to send you encrypted data, they use your public key to do so. Anyone with your corresponding private key can decrypt the information.

For this system to work across multiple servers or users and remain secure from those who might want unauthorized access, each server must have its own set of keys properly stored in a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). In other words, every user has their own unique cryptographic material that makes them distinct from all others on a given system or network. This helps prevent “spoofing” because the system can authenticate the user’s identity.

To get a handle on this technology, here’s what you need to know about the components of PKI.

Digital Certificates

As mentioned above, each server has its own unique public/private key pair. This is known as its digital certificate. For PKI to work, these certificates must be issued by a Trusted Authority. Authorities operate from recognized certification authorities approved by recognized standards organizations or other similar authorizing bodies to operate and issue digital certificates in public key infrastructure (PKI).

Certificate Authority

To have a secure public key infrastructure (PKI), you need somewhere to store the certificates and a means of distributing them. This is where a trusted certificate authority comes into play.

A Certificate Authority is an established entity that issues digital certificates to its members, which are then transmitted securely to those who request them. Before issuing a certificate, the CA verifies that everyone or everything requesting their cryptographic materials has been authenticated before handing over any sensitive information. As such, governments and businesses alike trust CAs with some of their most important information.

Registration Authority

A RA is a subordinate of a CA responsible for verifying the identity of certificate applicants. To do this, RAs typically require some form of identifying documentation, such as a driver’s license or passport. They also may require contact information to verify the applicant’s identity in case the certificate needs to be revoked at a later time.

Revocation Authority

If a digital certificate needs to be invalidated, the revocation authority’s job is to make sure that happens. The authority maintains a list of all certificates that have been revoked and distributes it to everyone who needs it. This helps ensure that attackers can no longer read any data encrypted with those certificates.

Certificate Policy

To be issued a digital certificate by a CA, your organization must abide by the standards set out in that particular authority’s certificate policy. The CP lays out the rules for authentication and how certificates are issued to avoid any confusion or misuse of their services.

Typically, organizations have unique requirements for authentication around their network. Some need only one person to verify their identity before issuing certificates. In contrast, others need multiple staff members to sign off on each issuance to maintain an airtight system of security. Any organization can work with CAs to create a PKI solution that meets their needs.

By establishing who is eligible for what type of certificate at what point in time through proper key management, admins can ensure that every login into servers adheres to their organization’s standards and policies. This results in great security and helps admins stay organized and efficient as they manage their PKI environment.

Final Thoughts

Today’s business owners want to ensure that customers’ data remains safe from all those who would seek to do them harm. The best way to achieve this is through a public key infrastructure (PKI). Using the components of this system, you can make sure everyone accessing your systems and networks has been properly authenticated and issued their own unique cryptographic materials by a trusted authority. This will prevent unauthorized access to the data stored on those servers and help keep your customers happy if any data is breached or stolen.


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