What is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture)

What is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture). In this blog, we will introduce Public Key Infrastructure, how it works then explain each components of PKI. Let’s get started.

PKI is a crucial component of IT strategic backbone. It is very important because it helps organizations establish trusted signature, encryption and identity between people, systems, and things. It will secure you digital world by protecting sensitive data and communications and verifying digital identities.

What Is Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)?

Public key infrastructures are tools utilized for creating and managing public keys for encryption, a method for safe data transfer on the internet. At present, PKI is installed in every web browser, and it supports securing public internet traffic. Organizations can use it to secure the communications they use to send back and forth and ensure all connected devices can safely connect. One of the vital concepts in association with PKI is the cryptographic keys that are a vital part of the encryption process and helps in authenticating various people or devices attempting to communicate with the network.

Public key infrastructure is very important because it manages encryption and authentication that helps in making reliable, safe communication online. For any enterprise, PKI can assist in knowing about an intruder who is trying to gain access to their network through any connected device. Thus, it keeps the organization away from all kinds of threats.

How does PKI work?

In this part of article what is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture) is to understand PKI functions. It executes two kinds of technologies: keys and certificates. A key is a long number used for the encryption of data. By utilizing the key formula, every element of a message is encrypted. Suppose you have some message to write where each letter is substituted by a letter after it, then, in that case, A becomes B, E becomes F, and so on. When someone has this key, they get a non sensual message that they have to decrypt.

The key includes the latest mathematical concepts that are quite complicated with PKI. There are two keys, a private one and a public one. While the public key is available for everyone who needs it and is utilized for encoding a message that anyone sends you, a private key is one that you utilize to decrypt the message once you receive it. These keys are interconnected through a complicated mathematical equation. Even if both the keys are interconnected, it is accessed by a complicated equation. That’s why it is very difficult to establish the private key by utilizing data from the public key.

Vital Components of PKI

You might be thinking about how PKI authentication functions? There are three important components: digital certificates, registration authority and certificate authority. By presenting these elements on a safe framework, a PKI can guard the recognition included and all private data utilized in situations where there is a requirement of digital security like smart card logins, encrypted documents and many more. These elements are important in safeguarding and communicating digital data and other electronic dealings.

Let’s get to know those elements in detail:

Digital certificates

PKI works due to digital certificates, like your driving license. It is a type of electronic document for organizations and websites. Safe connections between two communicating machines are available through PKI as uniqueness between two parties can only be verified through certificates. But how do those devices obtain digital certificates? Well, for internal links, you can generate your certificate. When you need it for commercial sites or on a large scale, you can get a PKI certificate through a trustworthy third party user known as a certificate authority.

Certificate authority

It is utilized to authenticate a user’s digital identities, ranging from individuals to various computer systems to servers. Certificate authorities help prevent false entities and manage the life cycle of digital certificates within a system. They are responsible for examining the organizations seeking certificates and then issuing them depending on their findings. Like someone trusting the validity of your license depending on the government authority, devices will trust digital certificates depending on the authority of the issuing CA. This process is the same as how code signing functions for verifying downloads and programs.

Registration authority

The registration authority is authorized by the certificate authority to offer digital certificates to users on a case by case basis. All requested certificates, obtained and withdrawn by both authorities, are stored in an encoded certified database. Certificate history and other information are stored in a certificate store placed on a specified computer and act as a storage space for every memory useful for certificate history.

Public and private key pairs

These are cryptographic tools that you require for encrypting public key and decrypting private key data on the internet. While the public key encrypts data for prohibiting any unauthorized access, the private key helps in decrypting data and is kept a secret by the owner of the related certificate.

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Features of PKI

  • Establishing the identity of endpoints in a network.
  • Manage all digital certificates automatically.
  • Offers a single console to manage by encrypting the flow of data via the network’s communication channels.
  • Regular certificates scanning
  • Improved certificate security.
  • Enterprise systems integration.

Pros of PKI

  • Flexibility – The publishing process is under your control and you are not restricted from accessing the cloud. On-premises can be more flexible in terms of adaptation based on business needs and capacity.
  • Cost Effective – While some start up costs may seem confusing, a fixed PKI algorithm ultimately makes things much cheaper for organizations.
  • Government approved – PKIs are often used by government and public organizations. These organizations have always considered PKI to be strategic in their security goals. Defense, health and bankers also rely on PKI for verification and authorization.
  • Security – Companies that store sensitive information must adhere to a high level of security and privacy protocols in the local environment.

Cons of PKI

  • Maintenance – One of the biggest disadvantages of PKI is the amount of resources needed to get started. PKI can be costly overhead, and although it can be outsourced, policy design and the assignment and training of administrative users can be time consuming, and expensive.
  • Requires dedicated IT support – You will requires a dedicated and knowledgable IT team to support and manage possible risks and problems that may arise.
  • Requires backup – You will need to implement proper backup and recover strategy to protect your data. If downtime occurs, it will be more costly and the recovery process more complex.

In this part of what is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture) we shall understand what PKI is needed for most: 

PKI use cases

  • Securing  your email (by encrypting messages) and protecting your data.
  • Code signing.
  • Client server authentication.
  • Secure Browsing (via SSL/TLS).
  • VPN authentication.
  • Wifi authentication.
  • Offers Network Security.
  • Secure Code signing.
  • File sending security.

Importance of PKI

PKI is important for some high security situations. Digital signing and public and private cryptographic keys make PKI offer trust that you can use for securing various applications. Suppose you are transferring data from a MAC workstation to a Mac server, then how you will know that you are transferring data to the server and it’s not a hoax? Digital certificates verify the integrity and recognition of both parties. They assist in verifying that a specific public key belongs to a specific entity. When a certificate is issued by any source that the server knows and trusts, the server accepts this certificate as identity proof.

There are several ways in which PKI security can be used, such as:

  • Safeguarding emails.
  • Safeguarding web linking.
  • Software needing digital signing.
  • Applications requiring the digital signing.
  • Encrypting files.
  • Decrypting files.
  • Authentication of smart card.

Challenges that PKI face

In addition to all strengths of public key infrastructure, there is also some room for enhancement. PKI depends highly on the reliability of the related certificate authority and registration authority, which do not function at the ideal level of scrutiny and thoroughness.

Another limitation is no multi factor authentication in a lot of frameworks. Even after the world’s capability to blow using passwords, PKI is slow to combat the threat with varied authorization levels before making an entry.

Additionally, the exclusive use of PKI is never ideal. PKI is so unusually complex that users would decline the addition of PKI authorization by interchanging for a more convenient and good security process.

PKI technology is highly popular for its incapability to adapt easily to various advancements in this digital world. Many users are not happy with PKI’s lack of ability to support all new applications for enhancing security, scalability, and suitability.

PKI Architecture

PKI architecture offers a description of all components that help in creating, using, and managing organizations’ PKI. This involves everything from servers and HSMs that host CA to various components of the CA like CRLs and root certificates. PKI architecture mainly refers to public and private PKI. While public PKI refers to PKI that are inevitably trusted by maximum browsers and devices, private PKI refers to PKI utilized to safeguard the internal network.

PKI Architecture types

Two-Tier Architecture- that has Root CA and the Issuing CAs in the PKI.

Three-Tier architecture– it includes a Root and Issuing CA, but also has Intermediate CAs sitting between the Root and Issuing CAs. The Intermediary CAs is additional layer to the certification path. The three tier architecture is the most secure, as there are more links in the chain that would need to be broken by attackers.

Thank you for reading what is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture), we shall summarize.

What is a Public Key Infrastructure Example (PKI Architecture) Conclusion

Nowadays, there are a lot of applications that look for authentication. In several places, certifications are required. This is not possible without PKI. The priority for most organizations is to provide a highly secure and very robust PKI setup that issues and manages digital certificates so for safe data transfer PKI is also necessary. Whether you are looking to secure communication for your establishment, IoT devices, or personal email, PKI is the most appropriate way to get complete security.

Introduction of private cloud, public cloud, DevOps  and various microservices introduced a wide range of areas to secure and protect. A Public Key Infrastructure provides trusted identities to users and devices and also a secure channel for communication that flows.  

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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