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Public Key Infrastructure - UPSC Current Affairs

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a comprehensive system that enables secure electronic information transfer. It involves roles, policies, software, and hardware to manage digital certificates, encryption, and authentication, ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity in network activities like e-commerce and confidential email.

Jun 19, 2023

4 min read

In today's digital age, where sensitive information is transmitted over networks, ensuring the security and authenticity of data is of paramount importance. This is where Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) comes into play. PKI is a comprehensive system that encompasses roles, policies, hardware, software, and procedures to manage digital certificates, encryption, and authentication. Its primary purpose is to enable secure electronic transfer of information, making it crucial for activities like e-commerce, internet banking, and confidential email.




At the core of PKI lies the binding of public keys with specific entities, such as individuals or organizations. This binding is established through a registration and issuance process carried out by a Certificate Authority (CA), a trusted third party. The CA verifies the identity of entities and issues digital certificates that link their public keys to their identities. Additionally, a Registration Authority (RA) may be delegated by the CA to assist with the validation and authentication of certificate applicants.


Components of PKI:

A PKI system consists of several key components:


1. Certificate Authority (CA): The CA is responsible for storing, issuing, and signing digital certificates. It plays a crucial role in establishing trust in the authenticity of public keys.


2. Registration Authority (RA): The RA is delegated by the CA to authenticate certificate applicants, process revocations or suspensions, and handle other administrative tasks. RAs do not have signing authority but assist in the certificate enrollment process.


3. Central Directory: A secure central directory stores and indexes the digital certificates, ensuring easy access and retrieval when needed.


4. Certificate Management System: This system manages certificate-related tasks, such as access control, certificate delivery, and the overall administration of the PKI infrastructure.


5. Certificate Policy: A certificate policy outlines the requirements and procedures of the PKI. It helps external entities assess the trustworthiness of the PKI and its processes.


Capabilities of PKI:


PKI provides three essential capabilities known as Confidentiality, Integrity, and Authenticity (CIA) to ensure secure communication:


1. Confidentiality: PKI employs encryption techniques to protect data from unauthorized access. It ensures that even if intercepted, the data appears as gibberish to malicious entities.


2. Integrity: PKI verifies the integrity of transmitted data, making any tampering or changes evident. This enables the detection of unauthorized modifications and ensures the data remains intact and unaltered.


3. Authenticity: PKI establishes trust in the identity of entities involved in communication. It enables server-side authentication, validating the identity of servers, and client-side authentication, verifying the legitimacy of connecting entities.


Design and Methods of Certification:


Public-key cryptography is the foundation of PKI, enabling secure communication over public networks. The system involves the creation, storage, and distribution of digital certificates, which validate the association between public keys and entities. X.509 is the widely adopted standard for public key certificates.


There are multiple methods for certification within PKI. Certificate authorities (CAs) play a central role in issuing certificates and establishing trust. Additionally, the web of trust approach, implemented in systems like PGP and GnuPG, allows self-signed certificates and third-party attestations to validate public key information.


Future Directions:


PKI continues to evolve to meet the evolving needs of digital communication. Decentralized PKI, utilizing decentralized identifiers (DIDs), eliminates dependence on centralized registries and certificate authorities. This approach offers enhanced security and control over key management.




Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the backbone of secure digital communication. It provides the necessary mechanisms to establish trust, authenticate entities, and protect data confidentiality and integrity. As technology advances, PKI will remain a crucial component in safeguarding

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