What is PKI and Why Does it Matter?
Do you know what a network security key is? Simply put, it’s the password that you need to input before your local network will allow you to connect. Think about your home network: Is there a special WiFi for everyone to use on the premises, and it’s locked so that the network isn’t flooded with passersby?
Network security keys increase the privacy and speed of your Internet browsing because outsiders can’t add to the traffic or spy on insider communications. Public WiFi is risky to use for this exact reason.
Public key infrastructure, commonly written as PKI, takes the concept of network security a step further and secures the data in transit as well. It was invented by the American government in the 60s to better secure internal communications. Nowadays, it’s an oft-used tool by businesses and you need to understand how and why you’re expected to protect PKI.
What is PKI?
Crucially, PKI encrypts data and verifies the identities of both communicating parties. Your email platform might use this, for example, to warn you when unencrypted messages from outside the organization come through. Meanwhile, you can still send confidential files directly to your coworker because they’re within the same organization, and you don’t have to worry about outside parties spying on your contracts or top-secret projects.
These digital certifications also allow you to connect your phone, and other less-secure devices, to securely communicate with better-protected systems since the Internet of Things is notoriously rife with security flaws compared to what, say, your work computer can handle. PKI also authenticates devices trying to connect to your VPN so that you can ensure threat actors and outside parties aren’t snooping on your private web searches.
PKI works through a complex system of encryption and identity verification, but the bottom line is that it helps secure communications in a time where we do a lot of things digitally. Think about it: You probably use cloud computing, the Internet of Things and a host of other technologies during your workday. With hybrid and remote work an important factor to a lot of employees, our online presences are only growing and we need protections like PKI designed to maintain data privacy and integrity.
Why PKI Matters to You
So how much do you actually need to know about this when going about your everyday life? Well…whenever you’re communicating private data!
Protected networks typically have some sort of verification before you can connect new devices to it. Once you acquire a PKI certificate, they know who you are and what you’re doing on the network. One of the immediate benefits of this is that it keeps out unintentional or intentional threats; but it also allows your security team to track any suspicious behavior or users and flag it for immediate review. The faster you detect data breaches, the faster you can take remediate action.
This is just one of the many information security terms that you’ll come across on your journey to complete cyber-safety. You probably already have some practical experience in using PKI and you just didn’t have the name for it yet! Now you know why public key infrastructures are put in place and why it’s important for you to keep your authorized devices to yourself.