Most people are aware of the basic idea behind cryptography — hiding a message with a code that can only be decoded by your intended recipient. However, this basic description conceals a wealth of complexity. Once you start reading about different encryption methods, schemes and (even more complex) encryption algorithms themselves, it’s easy to get confused.
One of the primary differences between encryption methods is symmetric and asymmetric systems. As we mention in our introduction to cryptography, both types have a role to play in security, but each is suitable for different purposes.
There are key variations between these types of cryptography, and each offers different advantages.
What is (a)symmetric cryptography?
The principles that underpin both types of encryption are widely used in many systems; the most common use of both symmetric and asymmetric encryption is in public-key cryptography, and this is the most useful context to explain how they differ. If you’re unsure what public-key cryptography is, this primer on PKI security is a good resource before going further.
Here is the difference: In symmetric encryption, the same key is used to both encrypt and decrypt data. In asymmetric encryption, we make use of a pair of keys