Public Key Infrastructure: A Quick Overview
Public Key Infrastructure: A Quick Overview

Public Key Infrastructure: A Quick Overview

Although it is impossible to prevent cyber-attacks, it is possible to reduce the attack surface and implement controls that make it difficult for the attackers to break into the network. Today, most organizations are looking for internal PKI to provide Secured Socket Layer (SSL) authentication certificates for client and server communication, digital certificates for signing and encrypting email, access to remote services, etc. Microsoft PKI is one such PKI Solution that ticks all the needs. 

  • What Is Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)?

What Is Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)

Public key infrastructure (PKI) refers to hardware, roles, policies, software, and procedures to manage, create, store, use, distribute, and revoke digital certificates and public-key encryption. The prime purpose of a PKI is to facilitate the secure electronic transfer of information for a vast range of network activities such as internet banking, e-commerce, and confidential email. 

You require PKI for transactions where simple passwords are inadequate authentication methods. In such scenarios, more rigorous proofs are needed to confirm the identity of the parties involved in the communication and validate the information being transferred.

PKI is built into all web browsers today and helps secure public internet traffic. Organizations use it to secure two-way communications internally and ensure secure connectivity between the connected devices. The fundamental concept associated with PKI is that the cryptographic keys are part of the encryption process and serve to authenticate different devices or people attempting to communicate with the network.

  • How Does PKI Work?

PKI works by implementing two prime factors: keys and certificates. A key is a long number used for encrypting the data. The key is used for encrypting each element of a message. PKI has two keys, namely a private key and a public key. The public key is available for all who need it and is used for encoding a message that someone sends to you.

You will use a private key to decrypt the message after you get it. A complex equation connects the public and private keys. Thus, it is challenging to ascertain the private key using public key data.

PKI certificates assist in encrypting data and communication while transmitting on an untrusted network. These certificates are issued by the Certificate Authorities (CA) and perform the primary operations. The device is considered authentic when the correct certificate is associated with the device. A system can authenticate the certificate's validity.

  • What Are PKI Certificates?

What Are PKI Certificates?

PKI certificates refer to documents that grant permission to an entity to engage in the exchange of the PKI keys. You can think about them as similar to passports, which serve as a unique identifier for the holder. The entity cannot participate in the exchange of PKI-encrypted data without a passport.

The public key is included in the certificate and is used to share between two parties. It also contains official attestation from a trusted source. This confirms the identity of the entity engaging in the digital interaction. The certificate's authority is referred to as the Certificate Authority CA.

PKI certificates involve a registration authority (RA). RA receives the signing requests for certificates. These signing requests facilitate the issuance and renewal of certificates. Credentials are stored within a certificate database, which is on the server that is hosting the CA. The local device or the computer keeps the CA information that is used to engage in the communication. The certificate storage for the CA is called the certificate database, and the local computer or device storage is called a certificate store.

Another essential facet of PKI certificates is the certificate policy. Certificate policy refers to a document that aims to identify each entity involved in a PKI interaction and outline the respective roles of entities. The certificate policy is published within the PKI perimeter. 

  • What Are The Uses Of PKI Certificates?

PKI certificates are similar to passports which provide an identity unique to the holder. Without this passport, the entity may not even participate in exchanging PKI-encrypted data. A certificate includes the public key. The certificate shares the public key between the two communicating parties.

  • How To Get A PKI Certificate?

How To Get A PKI Certificate?

There are several logical steps in the process of acquiring a certificate. The first step involves the creation of a private key, which is used to calculate the public key. Then, the CA needs the private key owner's attributes to be presented for verification.

In the next step, the owner's attributes and the public key are encoded into a digital signature known as a certificate signing request (CSR). The CSR then gets signed by the owner of the key. The owner’s signature proves they are the rightful possessor of the private key. The final step involves the CA. The CSR is validated by the CA, which then adds its signature to the certificate using the CA's private key. The certificate is considered legitimate at this point, and communication can commence.

Final Thought

PKI is crucial because the authentication and encryption it manages help ensure reliable and secure communication. For your enterprise, PKI authentication can make the critical difference between an intruder gaining malicious access to the network via a connected device and keeping potentially dangerous threats away.

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