As part of Entrust’s ongoing celebration of our 20th Anniversary of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), we’re looking back in a four-part series on the pioneers, processes and events that have shaped this ever-evolving technology.

 In the first three parts, we traced the early history of PKI and highlighted some of the challenges and innovations that shaped the technology thus far. Today we look at the future of PKI and the complexities of creating secure policies and practices that extend beyond borders to protect citizens and data worldwide.

The Evolution of Public Key Infrastructure Whats Next for PKI?

For many years, the access and adoption of security solutions based on public-key technology was delayed by patents and government involvement. One primary concern surrounded the ability of users to manage their key material in an effective and secure manner — without becoming a tool for terrorists and enemy states. Today, this issue has been largely overcome.

Another concern often reported was that, should quantum computers ever become a reality, it will become possible to factor large composite numbers and find discrete logarithms in polynomial time — meaning that current public-key techniques will be broken. However, at the moment, this looks like an uncertain and distant possibility. If it were somehow to come about, we would have plenty of warning — and time enough to adapt.

With the long-term success of PKI, it’s no surprise that it has been popping up in an increasing number of situations — from the Web to identity documents to mobile devices to today’s “smart” appliances, remote-controlled home systems and the entire Internet of Things (IOT). PKI’s ability to combine strong protection with cost-effective management and user-friendliness is now at the core of its success. And it is expected to increase sharply as mobile devices proliferate, with more and more “smart” applications and uses.

 The Growth of Mobile

PKI will continue to play a key role in the growth of mobile for trust anchoring, device identity and authentication. As more and more organizations use certificates for secure mobile connection to Wi-Fi and VPN networks, PKI meets the increased demand for safe, secure transmission of all kinds of data.

This includes a wide range of mobile apps, mobile payments, cloud services and access to physical and logical assets. Mobile certificates are also essential in identifying and securing corporate-issued devices and the growing number of Bring-Your-Own-Devices. (BYODs)

Internet of things (IOT)

Widely predicted to be a major factor in future IT infrastructure and identity, the Internet of Things will rely on PKI to play an essential role in a vast number of interconnected applications and devices.

These network-connected things already include ATMs and financial accounts, lighting systems and thermostats, home surveillance equipment, medical devices, smart meters of all varieties, electronic doggie doors, TV’s, home electronics — even planes, trains and automobiles.

All of these require a transparent, consistent form of certificate-based identity authentication. And having dealt with network connected devices for decades, PKI is the ideal solution to deliver and manage large numbers of certificates at high speed.

Even though mobility and IoT are relatively new market drivers, their requirements are essentially the same as those of earlier network connected devices. Given the remarkable strength of PKI and its flexibility in adapting to new applications, one can expect the technology to continue for quite some time, because it does what it does really well.

The Future is PKI

Looking back to the early days of public-key technology, the inherent simplicity of the most popular schemes was a concern to many. How could we place our faith in the long-term security of such simple mathematical operations?

While chinks have been discovered in some of the embellishments surrounding the basic schemes, the technology itself has withstood close scrutiny by countless experts over the past forty years. In many ways, our confidence in the effectiveness of PKI is stronger than ever — and it remains the most practical and cost-effective solution to our ever-growing security challenges.