Summary
A key in cryptography is a piece of information, usually a string of numbers or letters that are stored in a file, which, when processed through a cryptographic algorithm, can encode or decode cryptographic data. Based on the used method, the key can be different sizes and varieties, but in all cases, the strength of the encryption relies on the security of the key being maintained. A key's security strength is dependent on its algorithm, the size of the key, the generation of the key, and the process of key exchange. The key is what is used to encrypt data from plaintext to ciphertext. There are different methods for utilizing keys and encryption. Symmetric cryptography refers to the practice of the same key being used for both encryption and decryption. Asymmetric cryptography has separate keys for encrypting and decrypting. These keys are known as the public and private keys, respectively. Since the key protects the confidentiality and integrity of the system, it is important to be kept secret from unauthorized parties. With public key cryptography, only the private key must be kept secret, but with symmetric cryptography, it is important to maintain the confidentiality of the key. Kerckhoff's principle states that the entire security of the cryptographic system relies on the secrecy of the key. Key size Key size is the number of bits in the key defined by the algorithm. This size defines the upper bound of the cryptographic algorithm's security. The larger the key size, the longer it will take before the key is compromised by a brute force attack. Since perfect secrecy is not feasible for key algorithms, researches are now more focused on computational security. In the past, keys were required to be a minimum of 40 bits in length, however, as technology advanced, these keys were being broken quicker and quicker. As a response, restrictions on symmetric keys were enhanced to be greater in size. Currently, 2048 bit RSA is commonly used, which is sufficient for current systems.
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