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Network Security with OpenSSL by Pravir Chandra, Matt Messier, John Viega

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Chapter 8. Public Key Algorithms

In the previous chapters, we discussed almost all of the algorithms used by the SSL protocol that make it secure. The one remaining class of algorithms is public key cryptography, which is an essential element of protocols like SSL, S/MIME, and PGP.

Depending on the algorithm employed, public key cryptography is useful for key agreement, digital signing, and encryption. Three commonly used public key algorithms are supported by OpenSSL: Diffie-Hellman (DH), DSA (Digital Signature Algorithm), and RSA (so named for its inventors, Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman). It’s important to realize that these algorithms are not interchangeable. Diffie-Hellman is useful for key agreement, but cannot be used for digital signatures or encryption. DSA is useful for digital signatures, but is incapable of providing key agreement or encryption services. RSA can be used for key agreement, digital signing, and encryption.

Public key cryptography is expensive. Its strength is in the size of its keys, which are usually very large numbers. As a result, operations involving public key cryptography are slow. Most often, it is used in combination with other cryptographic algorithms such as message digests and symmetric ciphers.

Knowing when to use public key cryptography and how to combine it securely with other cryptographic algorithms is important. We’ll begin with a discussion of when it is appropriate to use public key cryptography, and when it isn’t. We’ll continue our discussion ...

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