How PKI Works

Perhaps helpful to understand the term encryption and how PKI has evolved. The history of general cryptography almost certainly dates back to almost 2000 B.C. when Roman and Greek statesmen used simple alphabet-shifting algorithms to keep government communication private. Through time and civilizations, ciphering text played an important role in wars and politics. As modern times provided new communication methods, scrambling information became increasingly more important. World War II brought about the first use of the computer in the cracking of Germany’s Enigma code. In 1952, President Truman created the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. This agency, which is the center of U.S. cryptographic activity, fulfills two important national functions: It protects all military and executive communication from being intercepted, and it intercepts and unscrambles messages sent by other countries.

Although complexity increased, not much changed until the 1970s, when the National Security Agency (NSA) worked with Dr. Horst Feistel to establish the Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman introduced the first public key cryptography standard. Windows Server 2008 still uses Diffie-Hellman (DH) algorithms for SSL, Transport Layer Security (TLS), and IPSec. Another major force in modern cryptography came about in the late 1970s. RSA Labs, founded by Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, furthered the concept of key cryptography by developing a technology of key pairs, where plaintext that is encrypted by one key can be decrypted only by the other matching key.

There are three types of cryptographic functions. The hash function does not involve the use of a key at all, but it uses a mathematical algorithm on the data in order to scramble it. The secret key method of encryption, which involves the use of a single key, is used to encrypt and decrypt the information and is sometimes referred to as symmetric key cryptography. An excellent example of secret key encryption is the decoder ring you may have had as a child. Any person who obtained your decoder ring could read your “secret” information.

There are basically two types of symmetric algorithms. Block symmetric algorithms work by taking a given length of bits known as blocks. Stream symmetric algorithms operate on a single bit at a time. One well-known block algorithm is DES. Windows 2000 uses a modified DES and performs that operation on 64-bit blocks using every eighth bit for parity. The resulting ciphertext is the same length as the original cleartext.

For export purposes the DES is also available with a 40-bit key. One advantage of secret key encryption is the efficiency with which it takes a large amount of data and encrypts it quite rapidly. Symmetric algorithms can also be easily implemented at the hardware level. The major disadvantage of secret key encryption is that a single key is used for both encryption and decryption. There must be a secure way for the two parties to exchange the one secret key.

In the 1970s this disadvantage of secret key encryption was eliminated through the mathematical implementation of public key encryption. Public key encryption, also referred to as asymmetric cryptography, replaced the one shared key with each user’s own pair of keys. One key is a public key, which is made available to everyone and is used for the encryption process only. The other key in the pair, the private key, is available only to the owner. The private key cannot be created as a result of the public key’s being available. Any data that is encrypted by a public key can be decrypted only by using the private key of the pair. It is also possible for the owner to use a private key to encrypt sensitive information. If the data is encrypted by using the private key, then the public key in the pair of keys is needed to decrypt the data. DH algorithms are known collectively as shared secret key cryptographies, also known as symmetric key encryption. Let’s say we have two users, Greg and Matt, who want to communicate privately. With DH, Greg and Matt each generate a random number.

Each of these numbers is known only to the person who generated it. Part one of the DH function changes each secret number into a nonsecret, or public, number. Greg and Matt now exchange the public numbers and then enter them into part two of the DH function. This results in a private key—one that is identical to both users. Using advanced mathematics, this shared secret key can be decrypted only by someone with access to one of the original random numbers. As long as Greg and Matt keep the original numbers hidden, the shared secret key cannot be reversed.

It should be apparent from the many and varied contributing sources to PKI technology that the need for management of this invaluable set of tools would become paramount. If PKI, like any other technology set, continued to develop without standards of any kind, then differing forms and evolutions of the technology would be implemented ad hoc throughout the world. Eventually, the theory holds that some iteration would render communication or operability between different forms impossible. At that point, the cost of standardization would be significant, and the amount of time lost in productivity and reconstruction of PKI systems would be immeasurable. Thus, a set of standards was developed for PKI. The Public-Key Cryptography Standards (PKCS) are a set of standard protocols sued for securing the exchange of information through PKI. The list of these standards was actually established by RSA laboratories—the same organization that developed the original RSA encryption standard—along with a group of participating technology leaders that included Microsoft, Sun, and Apple.

Source of Information : Syngress The Best Damn Windows Server 2008 Book Period 2nd Edition

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