Asymmetric encryption – Simply explained

Encryption is the process of taking a message and scrambling it’s contents so that only  certain people can look at your message.

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There are two types of encryption: symmetric and asymmetric encryption.  Let’s first take a look at symmetric encryption to understand why asymmetric encryption was  created.  To do that, let me introduce you to Alice and Bob.  Alice has a sensitive document that she wants to share with Bob.  She uses an encryption program to protect her document with a password or passphrase  that she chooses.  She then sends the encrypted document to Bob.  However, Bob cannot open this message because he doesn’t know the passphrase that Alice  used to encrypt the document.  In other words: he doesn’t have the key to open the lock.

Now comes a real problem: how does Alice share this passphrase securely with Bob?  Sending it through email is risky because others might find the passphrase and use it  to decrypt any messages between Alice and Bob.  This is exactly the kind of problem that asymmetric encryption intends to solve.  It’s compareable to a mailbox on the street.  The mailbox is exposed to anyone who knows its location.  We can say that the location of the mailbox is completely public.  Anyone who knows the address can go to the mailbox and drop in a letter.  However, only the owner of the mailbox has a key to open it up and read the messages.  Let’s go back to technical details.  When using asymmetric encryption, both Alice and Bob have to generate a keypair on their  computers.

A popular and secure way for doing this is by using the RSA algorithm.  This algorithm will generate a public and private key that are mathematically linked  to each other.  Public keys can be used to encrypt data and only the matching private key can be used  to decrypt it.  Even though the keys are linked together they cannot be derrived from each other.  In other words: if you know someone’s public key, you cannot derrive his private key.  If we retake our mailbox example then the mailbox’s address would be the public key  something that everyone is allowed to know.  The owner of the mailbox is the only one who has the private key and that is needed to  open up the mailbox.

Let’s now take a look at how Alice and Bob can use asymmetric encryption to communicate  securely with each other.  They start by exchanging their public keys.  Bob gives his public key to Alice and Alice gives her public key to Bob.  Now Alice can send her sensitive document again.  She takes the document and encrypts it with Bob’s public key.  She then sends the file to Bob, who uses his private key to unlock the document and read  it.  Because they use asymmetric encryption, only Bob is able to decrypt the message.

Not even Alice can decrypt it because she doesn’t have Bob’s private key.  The strength and security of the asymmetric encryption now relies on Alice and Bob to  keep their private keys well protected.  If an attacker steals Alice’s private key, it can be used to decrypt all messages that  are intended for Alice.  However, the attacker cannot decrypt messages that where sent by Alice because that requires  Bob’s private key.  Asymmetric encryption is used in a lot of places where security really matters.

You might not be aware of it, but everytime you visit a secure website via HTTPS, you’re  actually using asymmetric encryption.  It’s also being used to securily send emails with the PGP protocol.  And one last example: Bitcoin also uses asymmetric encryption to make sure that only the owner  of a money wallet can withdraw or transfer money from it.  So now you know how asymmetric encryption works and what the differences are between  asymmetric and symetric encryption.  If you liked this video, consider supporting me by sharing it and subscribing to my YouTube  channel and as always: thank you very much for watching!

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Asymmetric encryption – Simply explained