What is Asymmetric Encryption, and How Does It Work?

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what is asymmetric encryption

Understanding Asymmetric Encryption: How it is Used to Protect the Data Along with its Working, Applications & Advantages

The importance of data in today’s world can not be disregarded. It is one of the most crucial things for individuals, corporations, and even nations. Hence, to safeguard the data from leaks, breaches, and viruses, techniques such as Asymmetric encryption are implemented. It ensures that your data is transferred safely to the intended point without any manipulations.

Asymmetric encryption algorithms have come a long way since Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman introduced this technique to the world in 1976. Ever since, this extremely valuable technique has been protecting our data from several threats.

However, with advancements in technology, Asymmetric cryptography too has become modern in its approach and uses advanced technologies like AI and ML to make the encryption process harder.

So, let us move ahead and understand Asymmetric key cryptography and its working in detail. Let us begin!

What is Asymmetric Encryption?

Asymmetric encryption is an encryption technique used to encrypt and decrypt the data that is being transferred between two parties in public. The process of Asymmetric encryption involves using two keys, one for encryption and the other one for decryption.

Unlike Symmetric Key Encryption, both keys used in Asymmetric key encryption are different. Asymmetric encryption is often also known as public-key cryptography, where both the keys are mathematically co-related but unique from each other.

The primary key is known as the public key, which is used to encrypt the data. And the secondary key is known as the private key that is used to decrypt the data. To put it simply, consider having a special vault that requires two keys for closing and opening the door. One key locks the door while the other opens it.

Similarly, in the case of Asymmetric encryption, anyone with access to the public key can leverage it to encrypt the data. However, the person with private key access only can decrypt that data. Apart from the encryption and decryption process, Asymmetric key cryptography can also be used to sign the data digitally.

Learn more about the difference between Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Encryption in details.

Why Do You Need Asymmetric Encryption?

Encryption, in general, is needed to keep your data safe from hackers and breachers while you transfer it to the other party. Traditionally, people used to travel to other parts of the world to deliver the products.

To ensure the person’s authenticity, they often used a torn currency bill to match it with the other half. However, with this new, improved technology medium, the same bill has now become Encryption.  

The internet is full of insecurities and hackers trying to steal valuable information from different data sources. If the data is sent openly without any protection, the probability of anyone stealing it in transit is quite high. Therefore, to ensure that your data is safely transferred without any tampering, Asymmetric encryption is vital.

There are many ways for the encryption and decryption of data. However, Asymmetric key cryptography is in huge demand because it is the most secure form of encryption.

Though it is an elongated process that takes more time, the credibility of security it provides to the data makes it most optimal for use. It leverages asymmetric encryption examples, such as RSA, Diffie-Hellman, ECC, El Gamal, DSA, etc.

In all, Asymmetric encryption is a tested and trusted technique that prevents the data for a long time and continues to do so. 

4 Fundamental Aspects of Asymmetric Encryption Algorithm

Here are the four major characteristics of Asymmetric key cryptography:

1. Asymmetric Encryption is Used to Secure Data and Exchange Keys in Public Channels

The fundamental use of Asymmetric encryption is to securely transport the data over public channels while maintaining its integrity. The key distribution process becomes extremely simple using this technique as it does not require any exchange of keys.

2. Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms Are Robust

Many algorithms can be used with Asymmetric Encryption, such as RSA, DSA, Diffie-Hellman, ECDSA, and ElGamal. Apart from it, its key size is larger, up to 2048 bits or more.

This means there can be 2^2048 possible combinations for decrypting the key, which is extremely hard even for a machine, making this technique highly robust.

3. Asymmetric Encryption Keys Are Large in Size

Asymmetric keys are large strings of random numbers that are completely unique. Besides, they have a large key size that can go from 1024 bits to 2048 bits and more. This makes the key highly unpredictable and provides great security to the data being transferred. 

4. Asymmetric Encryption is a Slower Process

The key size in the process is large, and the algorithms are also complex in nature. This makes the processing of this technique harder for the computer. Hence, it takes more time to process the data than in any other technique. 

Where Asymmetric Key Encryption is Used?

Asymmetric encryption keys is widely used in all world organizations and has multiple areas of applications. Let us explore a few of them:

Email Encryption

We often send private attachments and sensitive messages via emails for work and otherwise. We often encrypt the email data using security options so that no one other than the intended recipient sees it.

So when you encrypt the data by digitally signing it, only the other part with the corresponding private key can decrypt it. Therefore, it means both parties must have email signing certificates to exchange encrypted messages. 

Website Security

You might not know, but Asymmetric encryption is also leveraged in the SSL/TLS handshake process. The handshake is a virtual process in which the server authenticates the browser that is trying to connect with it.

For this purpose, the two parties exchange some data that is encrypted by Asymmetric key cryptography. Many servers also use Symmetric encryption for this process. 

Digital Signatures

Asymmetric encryption is also an integral part of digital signatures. Digital signatures are mostly used to assert the identity of the document. It ensures the information is being transferred to the right person. To successfully execute this process, the Asymmetric encryption technique is used.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain is the latest example of where Asymmetric encryption is used. You all might have heard of Bitcoin, which uses blockchain technology. Blockchains are long, sequential lines of data blocks connected chronologically back to the first data block to make the data complex.

The blockchain encryption algorithm leverages the mechanism of Asymmetric encryption and encrypts the data to make it harder to steal or decrypt.

How does Asymmetric Encryption Work?

The process of Asymmetric encryption is fairly simple. There are 5 major components in the entire process:

  • Sender: One who sends the data from point A to point B and encrypts it using the public key.
  • Receiver: One who is receiving the data and decrypting it using his private key.
  • Plain Text Data: Any data that you send over the internet is plain data when not encrypted.
  • Ciphered Data: When the plain data is encrypted using a public key, it becomes secured and is known as the ciphered data.
  • Decrypted Plain Text Data: When the ciphered data is decrypted using the private key and transferred back to its original form.

Asymmetric Key Cryptography Process

Asymmetric encryption leverages a mathematically related pair of keys, a public key, and a private key, for the encryption and decryption process. There are two participants involved, both having their own set of public and private keys.

Primarily, the sender obtains the receiver’s public key. He then encrypts the plaintext using the receiver’s public key. It generates ciphertext. This ciphertext is further sent to the receiver, which is decrypted by him using his private key.

The cipher text returns to its original form of plain text, and the receiver successfully gets the data without any interference.

Benefits of Using Asymmetric Encryption for Data Security?

There are multiple benefits of using Asymmetric encryption algorithms for data security, such as:

1. It Makes Key Distribution Process Easier

The key distribution process can be challenging as you do not want the key to be shared with an untrusted person. However, in the case of Asymmetric Encryption, you can’t stress-free share the key with other parties as there are two keys involved in the process, making it much safer. 

2. Better Security than Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric cryptography is undoubtedly more secure than symmetric encryption. This is because the mechanism involves two keys in the process. Apart from that, the keys used in Asymmetric encryption are longer and of 1028 bits, 2048 bits, 4096 bits, etc. Conversely, in Symmetric encryption, the key size is smaller: 128 bits, 256 bits, etc.

3. It’s Extremely Useful When There are Multiple Endpoints

When multiple endpoints share the same key for the encryption process, the chances of exposure are high. However, when we use Asymmetric encryption, the private key can be accessed only by the authorized recipient, making the process much more secure.

4. It Helps Make Digital Signatures Possible 

The concept of digital signatures is entirely backed by Asymmetric encryption algorithms. When a person digitally signs a document, it means that they have applied a hash function which provides the information about any modification or alteration done in the documents. To open the digitally secured documents, the recipient must utilize their private key and decrypt the data.

Asymmetric Encryption FAQs

1. What does asymmetric encryption mean?

A symmetric encryption means the application of two different keys for encryption and decryption, allowing the users to encrypt data using shared keys. The key used for encryption is called the public key, and the key used for decryption is called the private key.

2. What is an asymmetric information example?

The Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA) developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 1991 is one of the most well-known examples of asymmetric encryption. It is an example of asymmetric encryption that is made on modular exponentiation and discrete logarithm.

3. Why is it called asymmetric encryption?

Since asymmetric encryption employs two different keys on each side, i.e., the sender and the recipient (one for encryption and the other for decryption).

4. What are symmetric and asymmetric encryption?

Symmetric encryption is a type of encryption that employs the same key for encrypting and decrypting the data in transit, while asymmetric encryption uses two different keys for encryption and decryption.


It is pretty much clear that Asymmetric encryption is great at securing communication between two parties. It is highly effective in transmitting data, whether small or large, to the recipient party without the risk of being stolen. So if you are working on a project that needs an encryption mechanism to protect your user information, the best way is to leverage Asymmetric encryption for a seamless encryption experience.

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.