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In our previous article (How blocks are added to the blockchain), we covered how a new block of data is added to the blockchain and how records stored in a blockchain will become immutable.
In this article, we move on discussing how cryptography works and what role it plays in a blockchain system. We also go over differences between public and private keys of cryptography.
Cryptography is the study of secure communication techniques that prevent third parties or the public from reading private messages and allow only the intended recipient of a message to view its contents. It is the cornerstone of information security, which serves as the basis for delivering secure business applications and services. Modern cryptography concerns itself with the following five objectives of information security:
Cryptography deals with the design of algorithms for encryption and decryption, which are intended to ensure the secrecy and the authenticity of the messages or transactions. Let's start with some key elements in modern cryptography:
Cryptography is a key cornerstone of blockchain technology, along with the consensus mechanism and decentralization. It is used in many different forms, including, for example, wallets (for proof of cryptocurrency ownership), transactions (for PoW consensus), and P2P communication. In this article, we will go over key blockchain-related cryptography topics, including public-key cryptography, digital signatures, cryptographic hashing, and Merkle trees.
Public-key cryptography is a form of cryptographic function in which encryption and decryption are performed using two different keys—one public and one private key. They are generated in pairs. It is also called asymmetric cryptography. The public key can be shared with the public, but the private key is meant to be a secret code only known by its owner.
The keys are used in tandem too. Either of the two keys can be used in encryption, with the other one used for decryption. It is computationally improbable to determine the private key given only knowledge of the cryptographic algorithm and the public key.
Public key cryptography is most used in three ways, to:
We will go over the first two here and discuss digital signatures in the following article:
Public key cryptography is an essential technology underpinning wallets and transactions in the blockchain.
In the next article (What Is a Cryptographic Hash Function), we continue our discussion on cryptography by discussing how its hash function works.
This article is written in collaboration with Brian Wu who is a leading author of “Learn Ethereum: Build your own decentralized applications with Ethereum and smart contracts” book. He has written 7 books on blockchain development.
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