Cryptographic Primitive

A cryptographic primitive is a low-level algorithm used to build cryptographic protocols for a security system. It’s used by cryptographic designers as their most basic building blocks. These building blocks are a part of a cryptosystem, which is a suite of cryptographic algorithms needed to implement a particular security service, such as encryption functions or one-way hash functions.

Because these primitives are building blocks, they are designed to do one precisely-defined and highly-reliable task. Creating and testing a primitive to be reliable takes a long time and is very hard, so designing a new cryptographic primitive to suit the needs of a new cryptographic system is very rare. In this way, cryptographic primitives are similar to programming languages. It’s rare that a programmer will invent a new programming language while writing a new program. Instead, they will use an existing language, just as a cryptographic designer will use an existing primitive to avoid the time-consuming and error-prone work of creating a new primitive.

Common cryptographic primitives

  • One-way hash function: A mathematical function that takes a variable-length input string and converts it into a fixed-length binary sequence.
  • Symmetric key cryptography: An encryption system in which the sender and receiver of a message share a single, common key that is used to encrypt and decrypt the message.
  • Public-key cryptography: Also known as asymmetric cryptography, a system that uses a pair of keys a public key and private key. Any person can encrypt a message using the receiver’s public key, but the encrypted message can only be decrypted with the receiver’s private key.
  • Mix network: A routing protocol that creates hard-to-trace communications. A chain of proxy servers encrypted using public-key cryptography are used to take in messages from multiple senders, shuffle them, then send them back in random order to the next destination.
  • Private information retrieval: A protocol that allows a client to retrieve database information without the owner of the database knowing what specific information was retrieved.

Abby Braden
Abby Braden
Abby Braden is an award-winning writer and editor for websites such as,, and, where she covers technology trends and enterprise and SMB project management platforms. When she’s not writing about technology, she enjoys giving too many treats to her dog and coaching part-time at her local gym.

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