Having an SSL certificate for your website makes it secure and beyond the reach of hackers. But do you really know what this certificate is and how this encryption and decryption works? Once you have an idea of all these things, then it will become easy to understand how it works. Public key infrastructure (PKI) is used by SSL certificates to authenticate your website and encrypt the information shared on your site. To know more about PKI and its functioning, read this article carefully.
What is PKI?
Public Key Infrastructure is a framework that enables a user and the server to exchange information securely over the internet using public-key cryptography. As the name implies, the most important component of a PKI is its “key”. Two different cryptographic keys are used for its working- a public key and a private key. The public key is distributed to any user that visits your website. When a connection is made between your site and the user, a private key is generated, and it is kept secret. The user uses a public key to encrypt or decrypt the data during communication while a private key is used by the server only. This process keeps the user information safe from any kind of attack from hackers.
To protect your website from scammers, you should buy an SSL certificate. You can buy an SSL certificate at an affordable price from any certificate authority as there are many trusted CA’s who can provide a cheap SSL certificate. This SSL certificate uses PKI for the authentication of your website and to make sure that the information shared between your server and the user is encrypted.
Key Components of PKI
To better understand how public key infrastructure works, you first need to know about the main components of PKI:
- Digital Certificate:
Digital certificates are issued by third-party certificate authorities. These certificates have their own key, information about the owner, and digital signatures of the CA. SSL certificates, code signing certificates, document signing certificates, are examples of digital certificates.
- Certificate Authority:
CA’s verify the authenticity of an organization and issue the certificates. The whole PKI system relies on certificate authorities. Without CAs no one can issue a certificate to themselves and the PKI structure would not work at all.
- Public and Private Key:
PKI uses a pair of keys for encryption and decryption of data. In symmetric encryption, only one key is used for communication by both the server and the client. In asymmetric encryption, two keys are used- a public key and a private key. The public key is shared between the user and the server during communication while the private key is kept secret.
- Trust Chain:
The trust chain includes root, intermediate, and leaf certificates that connect back with the issuing CA who signed on it.
How Does PKI Work?
At this point, you must have become acquainted with the basics of PKI. Now, let us move ahead to see how public key infrastructure works.
Authentication of Server and the User
PKI works by authenticating your server and the client visiting your site, through the use of digital certificates, using asymmetric encryption. Let’s take a look at an example below to know how authentication works:
- The user’s web client connects to your webserver to get the site’s certificate and public key.
- To check whether the server’s license was issued by a trusted certificate authority or not, the client uses a chain of trust and store of trusted root certificates.
- The client then sends information using the certificate’s public key. If the server is able to decrypt the information, then it is confirmed that the user is connecting to the right server.
To keep the shared information safe and encrypted, the user’s web client and web server do a process known as SSL or TSL handshake. This process lowers the probability of man-in-the-middle attacks and allows the client to:
- Analyze which encryption parameters can be used by both parties
- Check the authenticity of the server (as mentioned above)
- Generate a unique key for communication between the client and the server
This process was for checking the authenticity of the server. But what if the server asks for the identity of the client before sharing any information? In this case, the client will need to provide a certificate that is issued by certificate authorities, trusted by the server. In this scenario, the above-mentioned process will take place but in reverse direction where the server will check for the user’s license before allowing him to visit or access the content on the server.
Encryption of data
PKI encrypts and decrypts the data with the help of keys. This encryption and decryption can be symmetric or asymmetric. The working of symmetric and asymmetric encryption is already explained above. Although, symmetric encryption is not as strong as asymmetric encryption, yet they can prove more useful in different scenarios than their counterparts because they make communication fast and acquire less processing power. Depending on the strengths of both symmetric and asymmetric encryption, PKI uses the combination of both of them which makes them so powerful.
Certifies Data integrity
Public key infrastructure provides you the facility to apply digital signatures to your email, or software, etc. Also, every digital certificate itself is signed using the certificate authority’s private key. In this way, PKI makes sure that the information is coming from a real source and it has not been changed in any way.
How PKI Secures Your Organization?
If you are running an online business, then you must keep your website secure and away from the reach of scammers. Do you wonder how PKI secures your organization and its valuable information? PKI enables your organization to:
- Secure the information transferred to and from your website. So, when a user visits your site, they feel comfortable in sharing their private information on your secured site. This makes your site achieve higher ranks on Google or other search engines.
- Help in reducing phishing scams and other e-mail based information leakages by digital signing or encrypting email communications.
- Digitally sign documents, which ensures that the files are real and have not been altered in any way.
- Sign your software digitally, which indicates the integrity of your software.
- Tests permission only for particular clients or applications.
- Monitor an action a user or application may carry out in particular systems.
- Be assured of the accuracy of your communications and data by a reputable third party.
- Prove to search engines that all the information is transmitted safely from your site.
Cyber-crimes are increasing day-by-day. Hackers are coming up with new tricks and strategies to get sensitive information from your website or the users visiting your site. So, to be on a safe side, you need to stay updated about these scams and ways of protection.
Public key infrastructure for businesses and organizations of whatever scale is increasingly becoming the cornerstone of cybersecurity. If you want to secure your website and user’s information on your site, PKI is here for you to protect the reliability of your data. It is also what makes verification possible by getting your authority checked by a trusted third party. So, for these reasons, you should know how the PKI system works to keep running your online business safely.