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Difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric Key Cryptography

Author : Pankaj Kumar
Last Modified: October 6, 2023 
Difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric Key Cryptography Featured Image

Introduction

Scammers and other cyber criminals are getting more active in today’s society, harming millions of consumers. It is essential to encrypt everything to stop these people from stealing priceless data. Fortunately, three alternative encryption techniques may be used: symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption, and hash functions (Keyless). In this blog, we will be mainly focusing on the difference between symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography, and will also be explaining them both in detail.

Before getting into symmetric key cryptography vs asymmetric key cryptography, let’s first understand the basic terms, i.e., cryptography.

What is Cryptography?

Data must be encrypted using a method that only parties with the proper authorization may decipher. It shouldn’t be simple for third parties to read it in case of any leakage or assault. In general, the cryptography process changes plaintext (readable data) into ciphertext (enciphered data). The cipher is a set of two algorithms used to encrypt and decode data afterward. Furthermore, special keys have been used together with algorithms. Without them, we couldn’t read the data even if we possessed ciphertext and the algorithms.

Types of Cryptography

Now, we have a basic understanding of what cryptography is. Let’s now understand some of the important cryptography terminologies.

Cryptography Terminology

Below, we have explained the basic cryptography terminologies.

Encryption

It involves utilizing cryptography to secure information. This method of locking information encrypts the data. Learn the difference between Encryption and Hashing.

Decryption

It is the process of applying cryptography methods to unlock or decode the encrypted data or information.

Key

For both encrypting and decrypting data, you need a password. Cryptography utilizes a variety of key types. Only the sender and the recipient of the information are aware of it.

Let’s now focus on symmetric key cryptography vs asymmetric key cryptography.

Difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric Key Cryptography

Below we have explained the basic difference between the two in a tabular form on the basis of various factors.

FactorsSymmetric Key CryptographyAsymmetric Key Cryptography
Size of cipher textThe same or smaller than the original plain textThe same or larger than the original plain text
Data sizeUsed for large amounts of dataUsed for small amounts of data
Resource UtilizationLowHigh
Key Lengths128 or 256 bits2048 or higher
SecurityLess secure as only one key is used for both encryption and decryptionMore secure as two keys are used, one for encryption and the other for decryption
Number of keysOne key for both encryption and decryptionTwo keys, a public key and a private key, one for encryption and the other for decryption
TechniquesProvides confidentialityProvides confidentiality, authenticity, and non-repudiation
ConfidentialityOnly the key holder can decrypt the messageOnly the private key holder can decrypt the message
SpeedFastSlow
AlgorithmsExamples: 3DES, AES, DES and RC4Examples: Diffie-Hellman, ECC, DSA, and RSA

Summing up, the major difference between the two is – Symmetric key cryptography uses a single key for both encryption and decryption, making it faster but requiring secure key distribution. Asymmetric key cryptography, on the other hand, uses a pair of keys (public and private) for enhanced security and key management but is slower in comparison.

We have explained the difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric Key Cryptography. To understand these differences better, let’s focus on symmetric and asymmetric cryptography in detail.

What is Symmetric Cryptography?

One key is used for both encryption and decryption in symmetric encryption. The algorithm and key combine to encrypt the original sensitive information by converting plaintext into ciphertext. This is effective for storing data that has to be decrypted at a later time. The use of a single key for encryption and decryption raises concerns because if the key got compromised, all the data it has encrypted would also be at risk.

As you can see in the image below, only a single key is used in symmetric key cryptography.

Symmetric Key Cryptography

One such example of symmetric cryptography is bank transactions via payment applications. To prevent identity theft and fraudulent charges, personally identifiable information (PII) must be protected when used in payment applications.

Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of symmetric cryptography.

Advantages of Symmetric Key Cryptography

Some of the advantages of symmetric key cryptography are:

  • Easier to use and implement
  • Fast compared to asymmetric encryption
  • Less resource utilization
  • Suited for managing and sending larger data volumes

Disadvantages of Symmetric Key Cryptography

Apart from the advantages that it can provide, there are some disadvantages. These are:

  • Sharing encryption keys safely is more difficult with symmetric encryption, and there are fewer possibilities of doing so.
  • Since it is unsuitable for different users, symmetric is not very scalable.

What is Asymmetric Cryptography?

Asymmetric cryptography, commonly called public key cryptography, is a more recent technology than symmetric encryption. A plain text is encrypted using two keys in asymmetric encryption. Over the Internet or a vast network, secret keys are exchanged. It prevents malicious individuals from misusing the keys.

Asymmetric cryptography uses two related keys to increase security since it is crucial to keep in mind that anybody with access to the secret key may decrypt the message. Anybody who wants to send you a message may get a public key. The second private key is kept secret so that only you are aware of it.

Asymmetric Key Cryptography

A message encrypted with a public key can only be decrypted with a private key. Since the public key is accessible to the whole public and may be sent via the Internet, security is not necessary. Asymmetric keys are far more effective in ensuring the confidentiality of data sent during transmission.

Let’s now discuss the advantages and disadvantages that Asymmetric cryptography can offer.

Advantages of Asymmetric Key Cryptography

Some of the advantages of Asymmetric key cryptography are:

  • There is no issue with key distribution since asymmetric encryption uses two keys, one public and one private.
  • Once again, communicating with several parties is simple when using a pair of keys, which is how it is more scalable in huge networks.

Disadvantages of Asymmetric Key Cryptography

Asymmetric key cryptography also has some disadvantages, these are:

  • Performance-wise, asymmetric encryption is slower than symmetric encryption.
  • Due to its large key sizes, asymmetric encryption is not that simple to maintain and apply.

Now we have compared Symmetric Key Cryptography vs Asymmetric Key Cryptography.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1 – What is the difference between symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography?

The main difference between symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography is that in the case of symmetric cryptography, there is only one private key which is used for both encrypting and decrypting data. Whereas, in the case of asymmetric cryptography, two keys are used: one is public, and the other is private key.

Q2 – What are the 2 main types of cryptographic algorithms?

Two main types of cryptographic algorithms are:

  • Symmetric key cryptography
  • Asymmetric key cryptography

Q3 – What is another name for symmetric cryptography?

The other name for symmetric key cryptography is secret-key cryptography.

Q4 – Is RSA asymmetric or symmetric?

RSA is a type of asymmetric key cryptography. It uses two keys: a public one for encryption and a private one for decryption.

Conclusion

In this blog, we have covered the fundamental difference between symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography, and we also have explained symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography in detail for better understanding.

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