What are Public and Private Keys?

Public and private keys are one of the core concepts that enable distributed and decentralised systems. They are the cornerstone of securing the network as a whole as well as for each individual, each transaction and operation on a blockchain.

DALL·E 2023-11-19 21.51.46 - A concept illustration for a blog about public and private keys in blockchain technology. The image is divided into two sections. On the left, a vibra


Public Key: A Digital Address

A public key, derived from a private key through a mathematical algorithm, acts akin to an email address. It's a string of alphanumeric characters that is shared with others and is used to receive cryptocurrencies. When someone sends you cryptocurrencies, they send it to your public key, much like sending an email to your email address.

It should be noted that a bitcoin address is not a public key in a cryptographic sense, but is derived from an actual public key created by a wallet - which is compressed and turned into a bitcoin address. However, when referring to bitcoin addresses the term “public key” has become synonymous across the industry. 

Private Key: A Digital Signature

By contrast, a private key is akin to a password to your email account. It's a unique alphanumeric identifier known only to the owner for accessing and controlling the assets associated with the public key. When you send cryptocurrencies, you sign the transaction with your private key, which proves ownership and authorises the transaction. 

Digital Signatures:

Utilising the pair of public and private keys, digital signatures are created. A digital signature, generated by the private key, authenticates the user's identity, ensuring the integrity and security of the transaction.

Encryption and Decryption:

These keys play a vital role in encrypting and decrypting information. Public keys encrypt the data, and only the corresponding private key can decrypt it. This mechanism ensures the confidentiality and security of the transactions and data stored on the blockchain.

Asset Control:

Managing your private keys securely is paramount as losing them means losing access to your assets. Conversely, if someone else gains access to your private keys, they gain control over your assets.

Security Measures:

Employing robust security measures like hardware wallets or secure key management systems helps in safeguarding your keys. Moreover, backing up your private keys and using multi-signature wallets can provide an extra layer of security.

Public and private keys form the crux of security and identity in the blockchain domain. Their symbiotic relationship aids in executing secure transactions, maintaining user anonymity and ensuring asset control. Understanding the pivotal role of these keys and employing stringent security measures for their management is fundamental to safeguarding assets in the digital world.