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Examining Public Key Infrastructure - Sophia Belnap - Blog

Examining Public Key Infrastructure

When it comes to the internet, people insist on security. For people to use such a world-altering tool with such regularity proves that it is efficient and safe. You might qualify the word 'safe' with 'generally'. The internet is a safe place, generally speaking. Safe enough for billions of people to commune with the world in myriad ways upon it. 

Banks, mortgage companies and loads of other business entities online offer their services via the internet. Money and sensitive data are manipulated every day by internet users and the websites they frequent. Sometimes, too, that information is stolen or otherwise manipulated by hackers whose interests are fraudulent. People need to balance the freedom and convenience of doing business online against taking precautions against fraudsters. On their end, it is up to them to keep passwords and account information private. Public key infrastructure helps users and businesses by securing the internet in ways that ensure that users can conduct their business online with minimal risk of cyberattack.

What Is Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)?

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Public key infrastructure is the system that manages public-key encryption. It involves procedures, policies, software and hardware that creates, manages, distributes, stores and revokes public keys and digital certificates. It is essential for internet security because it protects communications between the servers that host websites and the users, or clients, who visit them.

PKI establishes and reinforces digital trust in an environment where data can be verified and exchanged between parties online. There are three components to PKI: digital certificates, certificate authority and registration authority.

What Are Digital Certificates?

Digital certificates are a form of digital identification employed by online businesses and organizations. They let users know that the site is valid and protected and that you are where you think you are, rather than on some fraudulently created imitation webpage. Commercial sites, among others, obtain these certificates from Certificate Authorities.

 What Are Certificate Authorities?

Certificate Authorities are the trusted entities that establish authentication of individual users, computer systems or servers. The Certificate Authorities have processes that they go through to check a website's validity before they issue the certificate. Through their services, websites are not only deemed valid and safe against theft or corruption, but the information, including the duration of that established validity, is stored away. 

A good way to think about Certificate Authorities is to consider how bona fides are issued to different types of people and agencies. When you visit your doctor, you might see important documents hung on the wall, representing their educational history and professional status within the medical community. Likewise, a law firm is not only filled with bright humans that have strong semantic and compartmentalizing skills, but each has undergone the extensive training to obtain a law degree, and has passed the bar exam. It gives you peace of mind when you know that you're doing business with the appropriate people. Certificate Authorities give websites their bona fides, which are recognized and trusted by the online community. 

What Is Registration Authority?

Registration Authority is a means by which to foster a particular standard for online entities. It issues digital certificates and stores all data related to these certificates in a secure location. It's important to note that some online entities do not get approved for digital certification or it is revoked. This information is also stored securely. 

How Can PKI Help Your Business?

PKI is an asset to your business because it verifies your identity to clients and it utilizes encryption technology to keep all data secure. It uses public and private keys to encrypt and decrypt information. Effectively, the owner of a website holds a private key, which is the only means by which to decode information coming in from clients' (users') public keys. When the website sends data to the client, the private key encodes it and the client's public key decodes it. 

As information is zooming around the internet, people try to reach out and grab it. Once they get it, they can commit fraudulent acts like identity theft, or selling personal data to unsavory organizations. However, information that's been protected by PKI is useless to fraudsters because, without the proper key, it looks like a string of seemingly random letters and numbers. 

The importance of online security is crucial to the success of the internet. People and institutions will only utilize it if they can do so with minimal risk of cyberattack. If operating systems can continue to rely on such trusted entities as the public key infrastructure, there is hope that honesty and trust will always have a virtual home. 

Publish Date: April 7, 2022 2:09 PM

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