In cryptography, a private or secret key is an encryption/decryption key known only to the party or parties that exchange secret messages. In traditional secret key cryptography, a key would be shared by the communicators so that each could encrypt and decrypt messages. The risk in this system is that if either party loses the key or it is stolen, the system is broken. A more recent alternative is to use a combination of public and private keys. In this system, a public key is used together with a private key. See public key infrastructure (PKI) for more information.
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- Marc Branchaud's thesis, A Survey of Public Key Infrastructures , includes a tutorial on how public key cryptography works and compares several PKI approaches.
- IBM's Introduction to Cryptography also mentions private keys as part of a public key infrastructure.