Private vs Public Keys: Know The Difference
















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Private vs Publ...


Private vs Public Keys: Know The Difference

8 mins read / updated on Tue Nov 21 2023


What is a Private Key?

A private key is akin to a unique cryptographic password reserved only for the wallet's proprietor. Its primary role is to serve as a safeguard for your cryptocurrency wallet. Realize that should anyone stumble upon your private key, they'd wield control over all your stored cryptocurrency, granting them full autonomy over its use.

Even though private keys are fundamentally numeric sequences, many times, you might never confront yours face-to-face. With user convenience in mind, several wallet services transform your private key into an easily memorable format.

Numerous wallets employ something termed a "seed phrase" or a "secret recovery phrase" to facilitate wallet access. Should you decide to establish a crypto wallet with MetaMask, you'll be presented with a seemingly arbitrary sequence of words, which serves as the key to your financial assets. This easy-to-recall sequence of words houses your actual private key deep within the software's recesses.

From a technical lens, the core duty of the private key is to endorse transactions involving your funds. Without the endorsement of your private key, the network cannot verify transactions that involve your assets. Enter the public key, which shields the transaction, allowing only the relevant private key to decipher it. This innovative mechanism goes by the names of public-key cryptography, PKC for short, or even asymmetric cryptography.

What is a Public Key?

Imagine the public key as the digital mailbox for your cryptocurrency. Just as the private key authenticates and validates ownership over a specific blockchain address, the public key facilitates the receipt of cryptocurrency. Drawing a real-world parallel, consider the public key like the address on your house's mailbox. Anyone can locate and deliver items, or in the context of crypto, funds, to this address.

It's somewhat analogous to sharing your bank account details to facilitate incoming deposits. You can disseminate this information without concerns of unauthorized withdrawals or breaches into your account.

Private Key vs Public Key: How Do They Work?

Armed with insights on private and public keys, it's essential to delve deeper into their operational nuances. While both play distinct roles, they are instrumental when effecting transactions or endorsing approvals. Their interaction dynamics pivot on the specific operations you wish to execute using your crypto wallet.

Encryption and signing emerge as the primary tasks undertaken by these keys. Encryption shields crucial information, ensuring it's accessible only to its designated recipient. Conversely, signing affirms the legitimacy of a transaction, assuring it remains unaltered. Notably, while public-key encryption is pivotal in diverse security scenarios, it finds limited application in conventional public blockchains. Herein, the primary activity revolves around signing.

Diving deeper into the mechanics:

When aiming to transfer 1ETH to your buddy, Alex, through the Ethereum Network, you'd first require Alex's blockchain address, derived from his public key. Analogous to you, Alex possesses a pair of public and private keys. The latter exclusively controls the address associated with his public key.

Initiating an Ether transfer mandates a transaction request. This request elucidates the transfer quantum and the beneficiary, Alex, in this instance. Your crypto wallet then employs your private key to authorize this transaction. This endorsement resembles a digital DNA trace, signaling your intent and identity to the blockchain. The transaction specifics, merged with your signature, ultimately become an integral part of the transaction data.

Post transaction-signing via your private key, the transaction and its signature are disseminated across the network. Consequently, every network node can scrutinize this transaction. Ethereum's validating nodes subsequently cross-check the signature against your public key, thereby affirming your identity and fund ownership. They further assess the validity of Alex's address and the transaction's overall integrity. Upon satisfying all requisite conditions, the transaction attains confirmation, leading to the transfer of 1 Ether from your wallet to Alex's.

Reemphasizing a salient point: Throughout this procedure, you, as the private key's custodian, singularly possess the authority to endorse a transaction impacting your funds. Given that your blockchain address springs from your public key, which traces its origin to your private key, your funds remain invulnerable as long as your private key remains undisclosed. Sharing your public key, your address, and your transaction signatures does not compromise fund security, showcasing the genius of trapdoor functionalities.

Pros & Cons of what is a Private Key?


Private keys present a swifter and more straightforward approach to encryption. They operate on a singular, invertible mathematical operation, making them more resource-efficient compared to symmetric encryption. Using private keys, encrypted content can be relayed over a network. Even if potential interception looms, the risk of decryption remains non-existent since the key isn't sent alongside the data. To ensure receiver authenticity, a private key adopts password authentication. Only a system possessing the confidential key can decrypt the communication.


This approach relies on unsecured channels for key transmission. Exposing the data-unlocking key to outsiders is perilous. It fails to confirm the sender's origin and authenticity, leading to potential disputes and confusion. If segregating data or funds is the goal, multiple private keys become necessary. Excessive keys can become cumbersome, and continuously sharing new keys can heighten risks. Non-revocable digital signatures are beyond its capabilities.

Pros & Cons of What is a  Public Key?


Public key encryption delivers considerable safety in open environments, such as blockchains. Its prime advantages encompass Confidentiality, Integrity, and Authenticity.

1. Confidentiality: Blockchain's inherent design ensures data secrecy via a key pair. The dual keys—public and private—safeguard transmitted data from unauthorized access. Data is encrypted through the public key and decrypted via its corresponding private key, ensuring confidentiality.

2. Integrity: Along with data encryption, public key encryption upholds data fidelity. With end-to-end encryption in place, users can trust that the transmitted data remains unaltered.

3. Authenticity: Establishing user genuineness is paramount, and public-key systems excel here. Digital signatures on each transaction prevent impersonation, reinforcing confidence within blockchain nodes about the sender's legitimacy.


However, public key systems have their challenges.

Speed: Secret-key encryption methods are often speedier than existing public-key counterparts. A fusion of both can deliver enhanced security of public-key systems with the speed of secret-key methods.

Mathematical processes' capability to encrypt data is limited by the data volume. Large datasets lead to prolonged encryption times, consuming more computational power.

2. Security: If the confidential private key is inadvertently disclosed or accessed, all data encrypted with it is compromised. Once this key is publicized, reverting or re-encrypting the data is futile.

3. A node, upon misplacing its private key, loses access to its data. Transactions become impossible, and the data encrypted with this key remains out of reach.

Difference Between Private Key and Public Key

In terms of definition, public key encryption operates on a dual key system, using both a public and a private key to encrypt and decrypt data. In contrast, private key encryption leverages a singular, often referred to as a secret key, for both encryption and decryption processes.

When we examine their types, public key encryption is categorized as asymmetric encryption. This classification arises due to the different roles assigned to the two keys. On the other hand, private key encryption is characterized as symmetric encryption, signifying that a single key performs both the encryption and decryption tasks.

From the perspective of the sender and receiver, in public key systems, there's no uniform key between the two parties. The sender shares the private key with the receiver. In stark contrast, within private key systems, both the sender and the receiver utilize the exact same key. This key is securely shared between them, ensuring that both can encrypt and decrypt messages or data.

In terms of performance, the use of two distinct keys in public key systems means the sender and receiver follow different encryption and decryption protocols. In contrast, private key encryption boasts efficiency; the unified key approach speeds up the entire process.

Secrecy is another distinguishing aspect. Public keys, by design, are accessible to all, ensuring that anyone can encrypt messages intended for a specific receiver. However, private keys must remain under wraps, known only to the pertinent parties. This level of secrecy ensures that only the rightful receiver can decrypt messages sent to them.

Lastly, when it comes to the potential loss of these keys, the public nature of the public key makes it resistant to being lost. On the other hand, the private key's loss poses a significant risk. Given its pivotal role in decryption, it's essential that it's stored securely, with many experts recommending offline storage. Losing this key means that accessing the encrypted content becomes impossible.

Public and Private keys in Cryptocurrency

Having delved into private and public keys, it's evident that these keys underpin blockchain tech. Absent these keys, assets on public networks might be vulnerable to malevolent actors. The beauty of cryptographic functions ensures that in cryptocurrency transactions, participants are insulated from potential threats within the network.

Grasping their role in blockchain transactions and their origin is vital. Essentially, your private and public keys pave the way to truly possess and manage your acquired cryptocurrencies. This concept is fundamental for Ledger.

While traditional banks and mainstream exchange platforms may restrict full access to one’s assets, Ledger gadgets always grant unrestricted access. Ledger's ethos champions self-custody, implying sole control over one's private key, thus ensuring unimpeded access to funds.


Q: What is the difference between private and public keys?

A: Private and public keys function within an encryption system. Public keys are open for everyone to see and are used to encrypt data, while private keys remain confidential and are used to decrypt data.

Q: What is public key and private key with example?

A: For instance, if Alice wants to send an encrypted message to Barbara, she'll use Barbara's public key to encrypt it. Once encrypted, only Bob, with his private key, can decrypt and read the message.

Q: What is the difference between public and private keys in crypto?

A: In cryptocurrency, public keys serve as addresses to receive funds, while private keys authorize transactions and grant access to the funds. The private key must be kept confidential to ensure the security of the assets.

Q: What is the difference between public key and private key in SSH?

A: In SSH (Secure Shell), the public key is used to encrypt data, and the private key is used to decrypt it. A user shares their public key with a server, while the private key remains on the client's side and is never transmitted. The combination ensures secure communication.

Q: Why is it safe to share a public key openly while keeping the private key secret?

A: A public key's purpose is for encryption, and even if others have it, they can't decrypt data without the corresponding private key. The private key, on the other hand, grants decryption access and thus must be kept confidential.

Q: Can I use my public key to recover a lost private key, or is the process more complex?

A: No, a public key cannot be used to recover a lost private key. The relationship is one-way: a private key can generate a public key, but not vice versa.

Q: What is the risk of sharing my private key accidentally, and how can I mitigate this risk?

A: Sharing your private key accidentally exposes all encrypted data or assets associated with that key. To mitigate this risk, always store your private key securely, preferably offline, and never share it with anyone.

Q: What happens if someone gains access to my private key in a cryptographic system?

A: If someone accesses your private key, they can decrypt messages meant for you and authorize transactions on your behalf, potentially leading to data breaches or asset losses.

Q: Can a public key be used to decrypt data that has been encrypted using the corresponding private key?

A: In certain systems like public key infrastructure, yes, data encrypted with a private key (often a digital signature) can be decrypted with the corresponding public key. This mechanism verifies the authenticity of the sender.

Q: Are there any scenarios in which a public key is more advantageous than a private key, or vice versa?

A: Yes, scenarios vary based on the intended purpose. For example, when establishing identity or authenticity, a public key decrypts data encrypted by the private key. However, for secure confidential communication, a private key is essential for decrypting messages encrypted with its corresponding public key.


Zainab Saberi

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