Definition - What does Encryption Key mean?
An encryption key is a random string of bits created explicitly for scrambling and unscrambling data. Encryption keys are designed with algorithms intended to ensure that every key is unpredictable and unique.
The longer the key built in this manner, the harder it is to crack the encryption code. An encryption key is used to encrypt, decrypt, or carry out both functions, based on the sort of encryption software used.
Techopedia explains Encryption Key
Encryption is a type of security that converts data, programs, images or other information into unreadable cipher. This is done by using a collection of complex algorithms to the original content meant for encryption.
Symmetric forms of encryption systems make use of a single password to serve as both decryptor and encryptor. Symmetric types use algorithms that are very safe. One of such type was adopted by the US Government as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to store classified information. However, one drawback is that since a single key is shared, it can be leaked or stolen. As part of key management, it is very important to change the key often to enhance security.
Public asymmetric encryption systems make use of highly secure algorithms as well, but using a different strategy for encryption and decryption. The asymmetric encryption method uses two keys, referred to as a key pair. One is a public key, and the other one is a private key. The public key can be freely shared among various users as it is only meant for encryption. The private key is not shared, and is used to decrypt anything that was encrypted by the public key.
The algorithms used in the encryption process depends on the key pair. In order to reverse the encryption process, only the private key of that particular key pair can be used. The message or mail is then delivered to the public key owner. When the mail is received, the private key requests a passphrase before the decryption process. In order to maintain optimal security, this passphrase must be delivered manually; however, the software lets a user locally store the passphrase so that messages may be automatically decrypted.
Since the key that causes decryption is not shared, asymmetric encryption is believed to be more reliable when compared with symmetric encryption.