Public and Private Keys
Applies To: Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2
In public key encryption, two different keys are used to encrypt and decrypt information. The private key is a key that is known only to its owner, while the public key can be made known and available to other entities on the network.
The two keys are different but complementary in function. For example, a user's public key can be published within a certificate in a folder so that it is accessible to other people in the organization. The sender of a message can retrieve the user's certificate from Active Directory Domain Services, obtain the public key from the certificate, and then encrypt the message by using the recipient's public key. Information that is encrypted with the public key can be decrypted only by using the corresponding private key of the set, which remains with its owner, the recipient of the message.