What Is a Public Key?
A public key is a cryptographic key used to encrypt messages intended for a particular recipient. A more technical definition of a public key is a series of letters and numbers used to encrypt plaintext into ciphertext. Because of this, public keys can be freely shared, as opposed to private keys, which must be kept secret. This ensures that only the owners of the private key can decrypt a message. Its most well-known use case in the crypto space is as a crypto wallet address.
How a Public Key Works
Public and private keys are the foundation for the public key cryptography system, where every public key is paired with a private key. Think of the private key to a front door that only the owner has: This ensures that only the owner has access to the premises. In the case of encrypted messages, this private key is used to decrypt messages that are encrypted with public keys.
Although hackers can attempt to tap into the server to intercept the message, they ultimately cannot understand the message because they do not possess the private key used to decrypt it.
Together, the public key cryptography system ensures the security of communication and the exchange of data. This system can prove the authenticity of a message, ensure the message is not tampered with, and maintain confidentiality.