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What is a public key infrastructure (PKI)?

A public key infrastructure, often referred to by its acronym PKI, is the most secure solution for ensuring that shared data is only accessible by authorized recipients. A PKI uses a key pair (a public and private key) to encrypt and decrypt data, through asymmetric encryption. The public key cannot decrypt data, only encrypt it, and so it can be widely distributed without fear of exposing sensitive data. The private key must be kept secure as it is used to decrypt the data that was originally encrypted by the public key. When users or devices wish to communicate securely, they begin by exchanging public keys. Each party uses the public key they received to encrypt the message, then sends that encrypted value to the other person. Once that value is received, it is decrypted with the corresponding private key. This process allows for information to be shared easily while maintaining full security, because if the message falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be read.

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