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Arnaud Dagnelies
Arnaud Dagnelies

Posted on

Why public/private keys is bad terminolgy

This is a rather small historical technology detail, but I think it is a bit sad that cryptography coined the "public and private key pair" terminology.

I think it causes confusion for those unfamiliar with this subject. For example "Why are there two keys?!", "Why is one public and one private?", "If I want to SSH to a remote server using a key pair, which one should I put there?"...

I think it would have been much more clear if the public key would have been called a "lock", and the private key simply the "key". Everything would fit together more nicely. It would be more intuitive and easier to grasp, even for noobs.

I even think it would have improved the overall security. For instance, I have often seen the wrong key or even both keys placed in various places because it wasn't clear for users which of the two keys belongs where.

The take-away is to please think of the public key as a lock. You can place it everywhere, like on a door, but never let your private keys lay around. ;)

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