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Exploring the Differences Between Symmetric and Asymmetric Encryption

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  • Encryption is the process of scrambling data to make sure unintended recipients are not able to make any sense of the data.
  • Two common encryption types are the symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

The basic difference between these two types of encryption is that symmetric encryption uses one key for both encryption and decryption, and the asymmetric encryption uses public key for encryption and a private key for decryption.

Let’s explore each of these encryption methods separately to understand their differences better.

Symmetric encryption

This is said to be the simplest and best-known encryption technique. As discussed already, it uses one key for both encryption and decryption.

  • Because the algorithm behind symmetric encryption is less complex and executes faster, this is the preferred technique when transmitting data in bulk.
  • The plaintext is encrypted using a key, and the same key is used at the receiving end to decrypt the received ciphertext. The host in the communication process would have received the key through external means.
  • Widely used symmetric encryption algorithms include AES-128, AES-192, and AES-256.

Asymmetric encryption

This type of encryption is relatively new as compared to symmetric encryption, and is also referred to as public-key cryptography.

  • Asymmetric encryption is considered to be more secure than symmetric encryption as it uses two keys for the process.
  • The public key used for encryption is available to everyone but the private key is not disclosed.
  • This encryption method is used in everyday communication over the internet.
  • When a message is encrypted using a public key, it can only be decrypted using a private key. However, when a message is encrypted using a private key, it can be decrypted using a public key.
  • Digital certificates in the client-server model can be used to discover public keys.
  • The drawback of this encryption is that it takes more time than the symmetric encryption process.
  • Common asymmetric encryption techniques include RSA, DSA, and PKCS.

Key differences

Now that we have a basic understanding of both the encryption types, let’s glance through the key differences between them.

  • Symmetric encryption is an old technique, while asymmetric encryption is the newer one.
  • Asymmetric encryption takes longer to execute because of the complex logic involved. For this reason, symmetric encryption is used when transmitting data in bulk.
  • Asymmetric data is more secure because it uses different keys for the encryption and decryption process.

While both of these have their own pros and cons, asymmetric encryption is definitely a better choice from the security perspective.

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