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Key management refers to management of cryptographic keys in a cryptosystem. This includes dealing with the generation, exchange, storage, use, crypto-shredding (destruction) and replacement of keys. It includes cryptographic protocol design, key servers, user procedures, and other relevant protocols.

Key management concerns keys at the user level, either between users or systems. This is in contrast to key scheduling, which typically refers to the internal handling of keys within the operation of a cipher.

Successful key management is critical to the security of a cryptosystem. It is the more challenging side of cryptography in a sense that it involves aspects of social engineering such as system policy, user training, organizational and departmental interactions, and coordination between all of these elements, in contrast to pure mathematical practices that can be automated.

Types of Keys

Cryptographic systems may use different types of keys, with some systems using more than one. These may include symmetric keys or asymmetric keys. In a symmetric key algorithm the keys involved are identical for both encrypting and decrypting a message. Keys must be chosen carefully, and distributed and stored securely. Asymmetric keys, also known as public keys, in contrast are two distinct keys that are mathematically linked. They are typically used together to communicate. Public-key infrastructure (PKI), the implementation of public key cryptography, requires an organization to establish an infrastructure to create and manage public and private key pairs along with digital certificates.

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