Public-key cryptography was invented in 1976 by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman in order to solve the key management problem. In the new system, each person gets a pair of keys, called the public key and the private key. Each person's public key is published while the private key is kept secret. The need for sender and receiver to share secret information is eliminated: all communications involve only public keys, and no private key is ever transmitted or shared. No longer is it necessary to trust some communications channel to be secure against eavesdropping or betrayal. Anyone can send a confidential message just using public information, but it can only be decrypted with a private key that is in the sole possession of the intended recipient. Furthermore, public-key cryptography can be used for authentication (digital signatures) as well as for privacy (encryption).
Here's how it works for encryption: when Alice wishes to send a message to Bob, she looks up Bob's public key in a directory, uses it to encrypt the message and sends it off. Bob then uses his private key to decrypt the... [continues]
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