Keys are used in encryption to provide additional security to a user or system. The two primary examples of encryption keys are symmetric and asymmetric keys. A symmetric key, or a secret key, works for both encryption and decryption, and if this key remains secret, then the system provides authenticity of the key and the message’s contents. Asymmetric keys, on the other hand, are know as public keys because it has precisely matched number of keys and can be posted publicly for one party to use. The latter of the two keys is preferred and easier to manage.
Key management involves the sharing, storing, safeguarding, and activation of keys. This focuses on keys at the user level, which are consists of it being between a user and a system or between multiple users. While key management is necessary and crucial, it can be difficult to maintain the integrity of an encrypted system and if done incorrectly, it can also undermine the security’s effectiveness in the entire system.
Key management is complex due to it increasing with the size and complexity of the environment. This can result in many threats targeting and attempting to compromise a key. Some examples of these major threats are weak keys, incorrect key usage, insecure movement of keys, poor key storage and poor key protection. The complexity of key management also arises when the same key is shared. By sharing the same key, there are potential issues with the loss of the keys, which would impact the loss to access systems and data (Jatin). Sharing keys can open up the risk of issues such as man-in-the-middle attacks. However, there are protocols, standards, tools and software packages available to aid in the support of key management.
One thing contributing to the support of key management is the length of an encryption key. The length of an encryption key may affect the overall strength of an encryption algorithm. According to IBM, the key length is equal to the number of bits in an encryption algorithm key. The key length determines the maximum number of combinations needed to break an encryption algorithm (IBM). Therefore the length of a key should be complex as to ensure that sensitive data is protected and secured. While a shorter key can indicate weaker security, this is not always the case. Similarly, a longer encryption key does not necessarily guarantee stronger security but it is more likely to provide a stronger encryption (Oracle Corporation).